I have been living with physical disability since I was 18 months old. I have experienced the challenges of being a woman with disability, and this made me a staunch advocate of disability inclusion in all areas of development.
Queensland University of Technology has been greatly instrumental in pursuing my advocacy and in developing my career. In 2012, I was a part of the Benchmarking Team on Inclusive Education in Australia, together with high officials of the Department of Education. My thirst for learning about inclusive education was quenched when I saw how basic education environments in public and private schools were made accessible and conducive to children and youth with disabilities. After that benchmarking, I studied the different policies and settings in other countries, which also allowed me to contribute more with confidence in policy development, programs and services on Inclusive Education bills. I also developed training modules on disability awareness and sensitivity for teachers, parents and other education stakeholders. The testing ground was the Convention for Special Education teachers in 2014 where I spoke in front of 2,500 teachers on the future of Inclusive Education. I can still remember the applause and so many teachers surrounding me after the session. They were all inspired about the future. Impacts followed and the most remarkable ones were these:
- As the head of the National Council on Disability Affairs (NCDA), I led the development of Results Based Framework on Disability Inclusive Development, hosted by QUT for representatives of government agencies, from 2012-2019. I saw this opportunity to include disability in government monitoring system to introduce disaggregation of data based on disability. After the training, the team worked on the development of Results Based Monitoring Tool on Disability. It was presented to different government agencies and was proposed for the approval of NEDA as government official monitoring tool on disability inclusion. The tool was included in the monitoring and evaluation of the Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022, based on thematic areas. We were already happy on that achieved milestone.
- Through my participation in the Framework on the Development of Disability Resource and Development Center, again hosted by QUT for NCDA member agencies, we envisioned a resource center to be the model of accessibility of built environment, accessibility of information and communication technology and to serve as a venue of activities empowering persons with disabilities. It was promoted for replication of local government units to serve as a venue for capacity building and enhance full participation of persons with disabilities in sector development. The building was funded by the Department of Public Works and Highways, after several meetings and defending the significance of the project. A five-story building is now standing at the compound of NCDA.
Exposure to disability policies and services motivated me to master disability inclusion in all areas of governance and confidently discuss and contribute to a meaningful argument on disability inclusion and building the capacity of persons with disabilities to represent their organizations in local decision-making bodies.
After my early retirement from government service, I started to establish myself as a resource person, consultant and trainer on disability inclusion, gender equality and human rights- based advocacy. I was contracted by DFAT -Australia Disability Inclusion Consultant, DFAT- Investing on Women as Trainer in Influencing Gender Norms and several local government units and national government agencies.
I, Carmen Reyes Zubiaga, have 15 years of experience working with local and national government on policy formulation and program development on disability inclusive governance in coordination with all government agencies, civil society organizations and organizations of persons with disabilities for monitoring and evaluation of existing policies, programs and services on disability. My last seven years as Executive Director of the National Council on Disability Affairs was an opportunity to push disability inclusion in all areas of government operations, especially in community based inclusive local governance, economic empowerment, accessibility of built environment and public transport, disaster risk and reduction management, peace and humanitarian actions and political participation of persons. It was in my term that Disability Awareness and Sensitivity Training Workshops were conducted for frontliners, program planners and executives with the goal of making government programs and services responsive to the needs of constituents in accordance with each agency’s mandate. All thanks to the opportunities provided to me by QUT and Australia Awards.