Six problems that exclude disabled people in Indonesia from public life

A disabled farmer with his buffaloes at a rice field in Vietnam. The latest data show the exclusion of people with disability from the workforce results in a loss of potential GDP of between 3% and 7% per year. www.shutterstock.com

Six problems that exclude disabled people in Indonesia from public life

To commemorate International Day of Person with Disabilities on December 3, 2018, we are publishing a series on rights of people with disabilities.


In 2011, Indonesia ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In 2016, the country issued a law that acknowledges the rights of people with disabilities and that they should be treated equal to those without disabilities.

Indonesian organisations focusing on the issue of disability have praised this law for introducing a more equal perspective for people with disabilities. It provided a framework to look at the issues in a bigger context, seeing these not only as an individual problem but as the result of the interactions between the individuals and their environment.

But, two years after the law was enacted, Indonesia still fails to involve people with disabilities in public life and in the development process. This can be defined as a process of improving people’s welfare not only in economic aspects but also social, political and health aspects. This process includes designing, implementing, monitoring and evaluating the development.

The failure to involve disabled people in the development process stems from stigma against people with disabilities, which exists both among the public and in government. Below are six problems that perpetuate exclusion of people with disabilities.

1. Systemic barriers

Research has shown that including all elements in society – including people with disabilities – in the development process brings more economic benefits. The latest study shows that excluding people with disability from the workforce has a cost of lost GDP potential of between 3% and 7% per year.

To ensure a disabled person can take part in the development process, principles of participation, non-discrimination and accessibility must be upheld.

But Indonesia have yet to uphold these principles to support people with disabilities.

People with disabilities have limited access and space to share their voice in planning development policies, blocking their participation.

The government tends to discuss development policies in forums that are not disability-friendly. A forum is considered disability-friendly when people with disabilities can access the location.

Aside from access, the forum needs to provide tools that can accommodate disabled people’s needs to express their opinions. Examples of these tools include devices for hearing disability and sign language translators.

Most development meetings in Indonesia, however, do not provide facilities for people with disabilities.

The latest data show that people with disabilities participated in only one-fifth of development planning meetings in 70 surveyed locations.

A similar problem is believed to have caused low participation by people with disabilities in the 2014 presidential election. Only 2.95% of people with disabilities voted in the election due to poor access to voting booths.

2. Insufficient budget

Based on my findings, the government allocates a mere 0.015% from the national budget for disability-related issues. The allocation is only Rp309 billion, from a total national budget of Rp2,080 trillion (US$144.7 billion). Most of this budget goes to salaries, leaving only Rp76 billion to be used.

By comparison, in Australia such allocations total up to 1.1% of its 2016 budget. Australia has been considered one of the developed nations that care about the issue of disability.

As well as being small, 90% of the disability-related budget in Indonesia is given to one ministry, the Ministry of Social Affairs, despite the fact that disability is a cross-sectoral issue.

Aside from the salaries, the budget should be allocated to different ministries to empower people with disabilities and create disability-friendly public spaces and better health services for them.

3. Weak law enforcement

Even though Indonesia has enacted a law on people with disabilities, the government has not yet issued government regulations for implementation.

Additionally, Indonesia does not have a mechanism to monitor disability issues. There is no agency that ensures the government is doing its best to ensure disability inclusion.

4. Public sector lack of awareness

Weak law enforcement results in lack of awareness among officials of the changes brought by the new law and what is expected of them in each of their agencies or administrations.

Based on my observation, only officials at the national-level government know about this. But, as these officials continue to be rotated around, the transfer of knowledge was found to be lagging.

As a result of this, many regional officials tend to treat disabled people as a charity case without any intention to empower then.

5. Conflicting data

Indonesia does not have reliable data on the number of people with disabilities in the country. This can happen due to disagreement over the definition of disability by different ministries. So far, each government institution has its own version in determining the number of people with disability.

The latest research from the Ministry of Health states that the proportion of people with disabilities aged 15 years and above is at 11%, based on its 2013 research. Meanwhile, figures from other institutions are different.

The different interpretations of the number of people with disabilities has made the process of designing an inclusive development policy difficult. Accurate calculations are required to ensure that the policy matches with the problems.

6. Social stigma

People with disabilities face discrimination as most people underestimate them and even consider them incapable.

This stigma has contributed to the low education of people with disabilities. Families of disabled people tend not to enrol them. If they do go to school, they become the subject of bullying, making them reluctant to finish their education.

The latest data show less than half (46.21%) of disabled people from the age of 7 to 24 attended school. Up to 65% of people without disabilities within that same age group attended. The low education level of people with disabilities hampers their participation in the development process.

Many disabled people cannot find jobs. The data recorded that only 24% of people with disabilities aged between 18 and 64 were recruited in 2015. The recruitment rate for people without disabilities within the same age group was 42.8%.

What we can do about it?

Eliminating stigmas against people with disabilities is the first step in eliminating the barriers to inclusive development.

The government must also ensure adequate infrastructure to encourage participation of people with disabilities in the development process.

The government must ensure that people with disabilities have access to forums and discussions on development. Facilities like hearing aids or sign language translators must be made available so people with disabilities can express their ideas in these forums.

The government must not allocate the budget in one ministry only, as disability is a cross-sectoral issue that involves the economy, health, education, politics and culture.

Benefiting from the country’s development is every citizen’s right. And it is also a duty of the government to include all elements of the society, including people with disabilities, in the development process. In this process, we must not treat people with disabilities as incapable as they can also contribute to maximise the nation’s potential.

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