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18 Aug 2023

Dante Rigmalia and the Pursuit of Inclusive Policies for People with Disability

Fighting stigmas that contribute to the social exclusion and marginalisation of persons with disabilities is the most difficult task for Dante Rigmalia, who chairs Indonesia’s National Disabilities Commission (KND).

Despite the enactment of the Disability Law in 2016, people with disability continue to be denied their rights to education, healthcare, and social assistance.

“The community's attitude toward disability is still negative. Many are embarrassed to have disabled family members and hide their whereabouts,” said Dante, who is also a person with a double disability.

"Schools frequently reject students with disability, claiming that they only provide academic learning, which is unsuitable for students with disability. Many people with disability are also not recorded in the country’s administrative system.”

Data from the National Development Planning Ministry (Bappenas) showed that fewer than 30% of people with disability in Indonesia graduated from primary school, and 27.7% did not even finish elementary school. Higher education enrollment continues to shrink, with only 24.5% completing secondary school and 5.1% finishing their higher education.

The low level of education among people with disability has a direct impact on their well-being. As a result of a lack of formal education, approximately 71.4% of people with disability in Indonesia work in the informal sector.

People with disability also have a higher rate of poverty. Around 11.4% of them live below poverty, compared to 9.6% of people without disability.

Efforts to fulfil the rights of people with disability

Dante was sworn in by President Joko Widodo as chairwoman of Indonesia’s National Disabilities Commission (KND) on 1 December 2021. She placed the promotion of public awareness about disability through legislation at the core of all the commission's programs. 

Established in 2020, KND is mandated by the Disability Law No 8 Year 2016. Its main duties are monitoring, advocacy and evaluation to ensure that both government and non-government institutions – at national and regional levels – respect and fulfil the rights of people with disability.

In its first year, KND encouraged regional and central governments to draft a bylaw on disability as mandated by the 2016 law. The bylaw should ensure the inclusion of people with disability in all areas of society, including the workplace, education, social protection and health.

Regional governments, for example, must establish a disability manpower service unit and a disability education unit. Businesses are mandated to employ people with disabilities as 1% of their total workforce as part of affirmative action. In education, Dante stressed that schools should accept students with disability.

KND is currently assisting several regional governments that are drafting the bylaw, said Dante.

To promote greater involvement of people with disability in the development process, KND is in discussion with some ministries such as the National Development Planning Ministry/Agency (Bappenas),  Coordinating Minister for Human Development and Culture (Kemenko PMK), the Ministry of Communication and Informatics (Kemen Kominfo), the Ministry of Education, Culture, Research, and Technology (Mendikbud ristek), Ministry of Social Welfare (Kemensos),  and the local development planning offices (Badan Perencanaan Pembangunan Daerah/Bappeda).

"We are requesting that people with disability be included in development planning. When the central and local governments draft their budgets, they must include people with disability," Dante added.

Inclusive environments for people with disability

Having a double disability – being hard of hearing and having dyslexia – Dante has experienced the struggle to overcome stigma and the stereotyping of people with disability. Being dyslexic was academically and socially challenging for Dante because it was not considered a disability.

She recalled her senior year of high school as the most difficult year of her life, to the point where she almost gave up studying after dropping out. Her dyslexia made it difficult to process information and remember concepts, facts, and events, while the school emphasised rote learning. 

She had to either arrive earlier or stay at school longer for extra lessons. Her hearing impairment added further pressure.

“My disabilities are not visible. So, at that time, my teachers thought I did not pay attention to the lessons. This really affected my psychological state so much that I dropped out of high school. There was a time when I didn’t want to go outside. I was so angry at myself and God,” she said.

Socialising is also challenging for Dante because she frequently forgets people's names due to her dyslexia. People unaware of Dante’s condition assume she is being disrespectful.

Dante said her mother and sister have been her staunchest supporters through her struggles. Her mother enrolled her into a high school equivalency program so that she could get a high school diploma. They also assisted Dante in processing lessons by finding alternative learning strategies.

"My family has been unwavering in their support, even now, because I’m still facing difficulties because of my disabilities. They have never passed judgment on my disability," she stated.

With support from her family, Dante was able to pursue her studies. In 2000, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in math from Pasundan University in Bandung, West Java. Seven years later, she earned a masters degree in special needs education from the Indonesia University of Education (UPI) in Bandung, followed by a doctorate in special education counselling from the same university in 2012.

In 2011, her passion for education for special needs children motivated her to participate in The International Summer School, Special Needs Education, at the University of Oslo in Norway.

Encouraging research-based advocacy

In January 2023, Dante participated in the Australia Awards Short Course on the Role of Government and OPDs (Organisations of People with Disability) in the Implementation of Policy Reform for Inclusive Development.

Dante, along with other participants from disability organisations and policymakers from across Indonesia, spent over two weeks learning how to build their capacity to produce inclusive disability policy.

“In terms of knowledge and the material, the short course strengthened me as a person and as the leader of KND. I learned how to plan for an event, how to do advocacy with various parties using data, how to communicate well and how to be inclusive with all people,” she said.

She said participating in the Australia Awards Short Course helped strengthen the collaboration between KND and various government institutions.

“Prior to taking the course, we had already collaborated with Bappenas and the Social Welfare Minister. During the course, they had the chance to learn about disability together with me and representatives from OPDs. The course has helped me to improve my networking as KND’s chairwoman and a person with a double disability,” she said.

Since returning from the short course, Dante regularly maintains the new networks she gained from the course in KND’s programs and events. Her next goal is to promote research-based advocacy and effective data collection for people with disability.

“I encourage KND to collaborate with various parties, especially with universities, to produce studies about disability which anyone can use as material for conducting advocacy,” she said.

“We also hope to expand the network developed during the Australia Awards Short Course to include other parties in Indonesia and international forums.”

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