The fight for inclusion and fair treatment of Persons with Disability is an ongoing challenge, one that needs not just advocates, but champions willing to push the envelope. Lauro Purcil is one such champion, a familiar face in the advocacy landscape for his lifetime of passionate action on behalf of Persons with Disability.
Leading the movement for inclusion and equality
Lauro is a senior education program specialist with the Bureau of Learning Resources of the Department of Education. His areas of responsibility at DepEd include the production of Braille textbooks and audio textbooks alongside the other blind and visually impaired staff of the Braille Production Unit, but his work goes beyond the walls of his office.
Over decades of advocacy work, Lauro’s credentials include an appointment to the National Anti-Poverty Commission as a member of the sectoral council of Persons with Disability, as well as consulting for World Bank projects and the international Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). He also represents Asia Pacific government employees with disability in the International Labour Organization (ILO), and in the Public Services International (PSI) world assembly. All his work, he explains, is in the service of human rights advocacy for Persons with Disability, and that goes back to the fundamentals, which include accessible education.
“Ang kapansanan ay hindi hadlang para makapag-aral,” Lauro points out. “At ako naman, kita niyo, maliban sa pagiging bulag, may kapansanan pa ako sa pagsalita. And yet, because I have parents who supported me, at tinuruan ako ng parents ko na lumaban, and nung pumasok ako sa UP, lalo akong natutong lumaban, ginawa ko talaga ang lahat para makapag-aral.”
(“Disability is no barrier to education. Look at me: besides being blind, I have a speech disability too. And yet, because I have parents who supported me, who taught me to persevere, when I went to UP, I really learned to fight for my rights. I did everything possible, so I could study.”)
Lauro believes that there is always more that can be done: “To do more for Persons with Disability, the solution really is the education of both the family and the children with disability. Gawan natin ng paraan para maniwala sila sa sarili nila. (Let’s help them believe in themselves.) It has to start in the family.” In a similar spirit of support and camaraderie, he takes it upon himself to look after the interests of his colleagues, doing his best to make sure they are respected and treated fairly.
Recognizing capabilities, breaking stereotypes
One goal that Lauro feels very strongly about is recognizing the capabilities of people with visual impairment, and breaking stereotypes about what they can do for a living.
To illustrate his point, he contextualizes it with the massage profession: “Ang common impression sa bulag, hanggang masahe lang. In fact, ang nagpaaral sa akin, masahe. Nung nag-aaral ako sa UP, ako’y masahista din. Yung kinikita ko sa masahe, yun ang pambayad ko sa reader ko, pambili ko ng mga tape recorder, cassette. Okay yung massage. In fact, may kilala akong masseur na yung income nila is higher than the salary here: mga PhP15,000 to PhP25,000 [a month]. Eto yung problema: [sa Braille Production Unit] ang mga salary grade level, PhP12,000, PhP14,000 [a month] at the highest. And may ibabawas pa. That’s how miserable the salary grades are here for us.”
(“The common impression is that the blind can only work as massage therapists. But it was massage that put me through school. When I was studying in UP, I was a massage therapist too. What I earned, I used to pay a reader, to buy a tape recorder, cassettes. So massage is pretty okay. In fact, I know some massage therapists who earn more than what we make here: around PhP15,000 to PhP25,000 [a month]. The problem is that in the Braille Production Unit, the salary grade levels are PhP12,000, PhP14,000 [a month] at the highest. And then there are deductions. That’s how miserable the salary grades are here for us.”)
Purcil shares that his colleagues at the Braille Production Unit are exceptionally well-trained in their unique field, complete with master’s degrees and decades of experience, but are compensated poorly, with no meaningful change to their salary grades over time.
Paving a brighter future
Lauro minces no words about how the government needs to do so much better for its blind and visually impaired employees, and how he will fight for that fact for as long as he still can. “Maliban sa salary grade level, sana magkaroon ng standard of training na talagang thorough training, not yung incremental training na wala namang kuwenta. (“Aside from the salary grade level, there should be a standard of training that’s really thorough training, not incremental training that doesn’t do anything.”) These are the things I’m working on. I’m about to retire in three years. Hopefully that’s something I can leave behind, that before I retire, DepEd can be convinced that the salary grade level of the people here is increased, and [there will be] a real sense of career development training.”
The government needs to do more for Persons with Disability in the realm of development and education, and there should be no more compromises or excuses, Lauro demands. “In 1907, education for the visually impaired was introduced. It has been 111 years since, and we are still only able to provide access to education to only 3 to 5% of school-age children with disability. And 95% of those children with disability, until they age, they have no access to education. That’s because our education system is segregated. It is the duty of government to provide education, including accessible learning materials, to all children. That should be budgeted. Hindi pwedeng ikatuwiran na walang pera. We have to improve our educational system. Itigil na natin yung segregated system. Gawin na nating inclusive.” (We can’t say, there’s no funding. We have to improve our educational system. Let’s do away with the segregated system. Let’s make it inclusive.)
Thanks to the fearless efforts of advocates like Lauro, more and more agencies, institutions, and employers are heeding the call to do right by PWDs, and recognize not just what they can do, but also how rare those proficiencies are. With agencies such as the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) fully capacitating and building the ranks of their PWD employees, along with entire municipalities such as Carmona, Cavite putting PWD engagement at the forefront of their governance, the future of inclusion grows ever brighter.
This is a part of the May 1% Ka Ba? series of special features on Persons with Disability thriving in a variety of workplaces, both in the private and the public sectors. If your organization dedicates one per cent of your workforce for Persons with Disability, or wants to know to make your workplace disability inclusive, email us at email@example.com.