#RealiTalk: International Day of Persons with Disabilities with Daphne Marie Siega

For our last #Realitalk feature for 2021, we talked to Pinoy Climate Reality Leader Daphne Siega on the need for a disability-inclusive approach when taking action to address climate change.

Daphne is a writer, environmental advocate, and special education teacher who co-founded R.E.E.F.S (Ripple Effect: Empowering the Future towards Sustainability)—a non-profit organization that empowers local communities to conserve the ocean ecosystem by educating and promoting sustainable local livelihoods.

For Daphne, ensuring an inclusive, equitable, and sustainable future for persons with disabilities (PWDs) will be a long and meandering journey that will require the involvement and collaboration of all public and private sectors. All sectors must work together to provide PWDs with better access to resources, healthcare, information, and services necessary to adapt to the effects of climate change.

People with disabilities are a resource, not a burden. As a special education teacher, you have worked with children and youth who have a variety of disabilities and special needs. What do you think is the role of persons with disabilities (PWDs) in ensuring a holistic response to the climate crisis that truly leaves no one behind?


Daphne: We are all created uniquely and distinctively. Being endowed with special gifts comes with the need to respond to a challenge. Just a brief background, I started my career in the corporate sector, both locally and abroad. I was grateful for the experiences and learnings, yet I was searching for something deeper, something more meaningful. I had the privilege of working with Students With Additional Needs (SWAN for short) and I began to view the world differently. They taught me how to enjoy the simplest of things. They also showed me that what is most essential in life has been provided to us in abundance, and that is nature. It has been helpful to humans, it is a great source of oxygen, it eases muscle tension, it is good for the heart, it is beneficial to our mental health, and most importantly, it strengthens our immune system.

PWDs speak to us in volume, that nature and people (with or without disabilities alike) must work together in harmony. In their own capacities, PWDs can make a significant contribution starting from their own home, where parents play a crucial role. These include food waste reduction, vegetable gardening, choosing foods with less packaging, water conservation, trash segregation, unplugging electronic devices when not in use, and many more. Things done repeatedly become a habit until they become part of their daily living.

We need to understand and appreciate the very foundation of our existence before we dive into the complexities. For humans to prosper and thrive, we must protect our forests, oceans, and soils. Action must be taken collectively, leaving no one behind, before time runs out. 

Last year, the United Nations released its first-ever report on disability rights in the context of climate action. Why do you think it took so long for the rights of PWDs to be mainstreamed in climate conversations? 


Daphne: In an article published by Human Rights Watch, women, indigenous peoples, and youth sectors have successfully become part of discussions around climate action. On the other hand, the involvement of the PWD in terms of the climate crisis has been overlooked—a sector that has been vulnerable and voiceless. 

According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, the estimated Philippine population for the year 2020 was 109 million. Out of this number, approximately 53 million are women, 17 million are indigenous peoples, and 19 million are youth. Based on the 2010 Census, the population of PWDs in the Philippines is approximately 1.8 million, or a prevalence of about 1.7%. There has been no updated data available to date, part of the challenge perhaps is the data collection and consolidation since there are different types of PWDs, such as physical, developmental, behavioral/emotional, and sensory impaired disorders. Aside from these, there are also different subcategories under each type. These aspects may possibly be one of the reasons why the rights of the PWDs took so long to be mainstreamed and that the support network they receive is insufficient.

However, the United Nations Human Rights Council made history when it finally adopted a resolution on climate change and the rights of people with disabilities were being given impetus. The resolution calls on governments to adopt a disability-inclusive approach when taking action to address climate change. This will mean better access to adequate resources, healthcare, information, and services necessary to adapt to the effects of climate change.
Regardless of which sector we belong to, what we’re fighting for is beyond economic and political progression. If our environment collapses, everything else follows. Being one of the vulnerable sectors, PWDs also have the right to have clean air, water, land, healthy food, and safe environment. It is a challenge to the government, cause-oriented private organizations, and all individuals for that matter to be a voice for the PWDs for they deserve to be heard.
"Regardless of which sector we belong to, what we’re fighting for is beyond economic and political progression. If our environment collapses, everything else follows. Being one of the vulnerable sectors, PWDs also have the right to have clean air, water, land, healthy food, and safe environment."

Disability inclusion is an essential condition to upholding human rights and sustainable development. Do we have existing policies and programs in the country that integrates disability inclusion in critical policymaking and planning processes? 


DaphneOur constitution is a vital symbol of democracy in the country. It upholds a just and humane society wherein individuals have equal opportunities to succeed in life. It also serves to protect and conserve our natural environment including but not limited to our forests, mangroves, wildlife, and flora and fauna. The aforementioned are the fundamental principles of our policies and programs related to disability inclusion. Specifically, under Philippine law, PWDs are assisted and protected through Republic Act No. 7277. PWDs are part of the Philippine society, therefore be given full support to the improvement of their total well-being and their integration into the mainstream of society. The state shall adopt policies ensuring the rehabilitation, self-development, and self-reliance of PWDs.

We also have the “Accessibility Law” (Batas Pambansa Bilang 344), an act to enhance the mobility of PWDs by requiring certain buildings, institutions, establishments, and public utilities to install facilities and other devices to promote the realization of the rights of PWDs. They are entitled to participate fully in the social life and the development of the societies in which they live.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of PWDs (UNCRPD), to which the Philippines is a signatory, also provides for the protection and safety of PWDs in natural disasters.


World leaders also promoted a universal, integrated, and transformative vision for a better world via the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a blueprint to achieve a healthier, more sustainable future for all. PWDs are referenced in various parts of the SDGs, specifically in parts related to education, growth and employment, equality, accessibility of human settlements that are inclusive, safe, and sustainable. 


"To promote equality, we must provide opportunities for education, employment, healthcare, and political participation. Consequently, PWDs will be empowered to lead more independent lives and contribute to the well-being of their families and communities, thereby creating together a more inclusive economy."

How can the government and the development sector ensure the inclusion of PWD rights in global, national, and local climate action planning?


Daphne: In the context of biophilia, our relationship with the natural environment is innate. Our planet, in its essential nature, is the motion and exchange of energy and information. This movement will continue to flow freely when the government, international and local organizations, as well as the private sector, work hand-in-hand with communities including PWDs when it comes to implementing and adopting policies related to climate action. Listed below are the following propositions:

  • Implement universal designs and create green spaces like parks, playgrounds, and community gardens. These spaces can promote positive social interactions and help improve physical and mental health;
  • Promote and showcase existing projects where PWDs are actively involved to serve as inspiration to other districts and communities; 
  • Provide recognition and incentives to PWDs who are environmental champions and advocates;
  • Invite PWDs as guest speakers of environmental events, either virtually or physically;
  • Obtain updated roster of PWDs and coordinate with concerned LGUs as part of the disaster management plan;
  • Recognize the needs of PWDs as a demographic variable to tailor public health programs and policy development;
  • Involve and take part in local and global environmental activities like tree planting, composting, clean-ups, and so forth; and
  • Appoint a representative on a municipal, provincial, and national level to attend and participate in any climate-related meetings especially when crucial decisions or new policies are to be made.


Moreover, as we address the technical aspects, it is also imperative that we, as individuals, examine and re-evaluate how we can serve humanity. We are all capable of giving, loving, and showing appreciation to mother nature and our fellow human beings, including the PWDs. When we share a part of ourselves, our talent, our time, we can make a difference in this world and make it a better place for generations to come.

What is your hope and vision for the Philippines when it comes to advancing the principles of equality, equity, and inclusion in the context of PWD rights?


Daphne: Another aspect that needs to be addressed in advancing the principles of equality, equity, and inclusion is the inculcation of values. This may directly or indirectly come from our family-community-school relationships. Values are important because they influence our thoughts, feelings, opinions, and actions. They shape our life experiences. The trust and respect that are fostered help cultivate positive relationships. Value-laden measures play a significant role in the attainment of our desire to improve our society. We must cultivate our inner values with integrity and compassion. Love, compassion, justice, and peace flow generously when we are grounded.

In closing, it is a challenge for all of us to be more appreciative of the beauty of others—to see the ability and capacity, not the disability. May we guide them as they blossom and reach their fullest potential.