Persons with disabilities are seldom covered by the media and when they are featured, they are often negatively stereotyped. That is why the United Nations continues to emphasize how stories that media reports “can deeply influence public opinion and establish societal norms”.
Covering and telling the stories of struggle, survival and victories of children with special needs and that of their parents, made me see the vital role of media in further empowering persons with disabilities to improve their lives, give them a voice and promote their inclusion in society on an equal basis with others.
The case of students of Happy Beginners School of Learning who started to gain attention when they were gradually featured in mainstream and social media not as pitiful, deprived or incapable members of the community but as happy, productive and very capable and highly-skilled individuals is a concrete example.
The first time I got to meet the students and witnessed how capable, smart and gifted each of them are, I was deeply moved and motivated to help spread awareness about them, not as objects of medical treatment or charity but as inspiring and productive human beings who can be likened to superheroes who have accomplished great feats.
Among their greatest feats was going mainstream for the first time, during the 36th Negros Trade Fair in Glorietta, Makati. The very popular trade fair showcased the skills of children with special needs in the week-long fair that gained the attention of many, including prominent personalities, government officials, specialists and those who share the same advocacy with me.
That exposure opened more doors for these children to show the world what they’ve got! And in the recent “Locally Yours” Trade Fair at the Ayala Capitol Central in Bacolod City, they and their products were once again featured as one of the best local gift ideas this Christmas season.
Jonah Javier, Local Economic and Investment Promotions Officer-Designate of Bacolod said 19 local exhibitors, including the group of students with special needs were invited to take part in the trade fair, to give them access to buyers.
“This is a chance for them to showcase their products especially that the local government has passed Executive Order No. 53 adopting the program of the Department of Trade and Industry which is ”Buy Local, Go Local. So this is one way for them to access a bigger market in the mall,” explained Javier.
Precious Geronimo, school directress, expressed happiness over the gradual recognition given to the students with special needs by different sectors and now, by the LGU of Bacolod. “We are thankful for all the officials, groups, individuals and sectors that are extending assistance especially after our participation in the Negros Trade Fair in Makati. We are happy that we can market the products of our children here in Bacolod. The profit generated from the sales of products in trade fairs that we participate in are deposited to the individual savings accounts of the students,” said Geronimo.
Chin-Chin Sian was looking at the exhibits one afternoon. When she passed by the booth where 8-year-old Esau Garbo of the Transition Class was busy decorating a lamp made of capiz shells and a 15-year-old student from the Pre-Vocational Class was painting a native bag, she could not help but stop and ask about the products made by students with special needs.
“The stories of the children, their struggles and how they are able to make these beautiful products with their hands, it really is very inspiring and admirable. This is nice that they are keeping themselves busy and productive. This really makes the children feel special and valued. We really need to take care and support these children who are special,” emphasized Sian, who bought bottles of sandwich spread and other products made by the special students.
School Principal John Romeo Dela Torre happily shared the story of the school and the students.
“Whenever we participate in trade fairs, we make it a point to talk to people who visit our booth because a lot of people still are unaware about our children with special needs and their abilities. A lot of people need to be educated about our children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Like we have to explain to them why children with autism have sensory issues and what they can do in case sensory issues are triggered. They actually get inspired after hearing the stories of our special kids,” said Dela Torre.
The stories of these wonderful and very special students will never be heard if the media will not give them space and airtime to be heard, understood, recognized, supported and valued.
As UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs puts it, “the media can be a vital instrument in raising awareness, countering stigma and misinformation. It can be a powerful force to change societal misconceptions and present persons with disabilities as individuals that are part of human diversity”.*