Friday morning we went with Caroline to a brunch at a restaurant in a very upscale part of Medan. We met with government officials and business organizations to discuss disability employment. If I have not mentioned this before, the main language of Indonesia is Bahasa Indonesia. There are many different dialects in Indonesia and many different ethnic groups, but Bahasa Indonesia is understood nationally. The U.S. Embassy provides a translator for me; the translator at that brunch, Kalid, had no idea what he would encounter later in the day.
First, I told my personal story, and then I delivered a presentation about employment and ending stigma. After I was finished, I opened the floor to questions and discussion. I was surprised at the candor of the att
endees. They told me they did not think there was much hope for people with disabilities gaining employment in Indonesia for several reasons. First, the unemployment is very high for disabled and non-disabled people in Indonesia; no one sees much opportunity at all. The second reason they gave was due to lack of skills and education of Indonesians with disabilities.
The attendees did not talk about stigma until I brought it up. I explained that in the United States, the disability community also started with little hope of employment, but they fought for their rights and partnered with champions from the government for years until the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed in 1990. I told them they could be the champions—the business leaders and government leaders. They have a disabilities law in
Indonesia. It is called Law Number 8, but it is not enforced at all. It is hard to believe that it is legal for employers in Indonesia to reject job applicants based on health issues and deem all applicants with disabilities excluded.
I believed we made progress at this meeting, just by talking about the plight of Indonesians with disabilities. This has not been brought to the forefront before and I applaud the Consulate for arranging this meeting. They are making a difference!
After this meeting, there is one thing we were really interested in finding—coffee! Mary and I went out and bought an inexpensive suitcase and then we went to a coffee place at the recommendation of Caroline. We bought enough coffee to fill up the suitcase. When I get back to the U.S. we will have a coffee tasting at the Bender office.
Later that day, we went to the Consulate’s residence for a meeting with the disability community – I loved it!! This is when my translator had his “first of a kind” experience. There were about six deaf people in the room and there was no interpreter. I insisted we figure out a way to communicate, and so we did. I spoke in English. Caroline interpreted what I said to the entire group in Bahasa. Kalid, my translator wrote it down in Bahasa and gave it to the “designated sign language interpreter”, who was a deaf man who knew sign language. He then shared my message in sign language to the deaf people in the audience. Wow! What an experience…but it worked.
My message to the disability community has been consistent throughout our trip; they need to be the change or change will not happen. They need to be “ADAPT” or Justin, or Judy, but first they must get organized. It will not happened without them. I told them step one is to organize. The deaf community may likely be the leaders of this new movement. They have groups in the other provinces and they need to get together. It will take time, but they need to start. I love these people and I had a great meeting and a great day!