I spent four months at State Islamic University Yogyakarta, working with the team at the Centre for Disability Studies and Services (CDSS). In fact, the Centre is so much more than its name conveys. The most impressive aspect of the Centre is the people who are its heart and soul: the 50+ disabled students, 110 student volunteers, 2 regular staff members, 6 researchers/ professors, and the Centre’s Director.
These individuals together make up a small but vibrant community that is committed to the equity and inclusion of disabled students, not only at their university but also within the broader society. These wonderful people welcomed me wholeheartedly and quickly made me a part of their group. And although I was there to give direction and to support their continuing work in services to disabled students, I can truthfully say that I received in return at least as much as I gave. Experiencing firsthand another cultural and social perspective on what it means to be disabled was an invaluable experience that contributed to my personal growth and knowledge of disability. The friends I made and the people I met enriched my life profoundly.
I have worked for decades in the field of disability services in a variety of sectors, including private for-profit organizations, government agencies, and post-secondary educational institutions. My professional background is in social work with a focus on disability. I believe disabled people, as a group, to be among the most marginalized and discriminated-against members of society in the world today. In many contexts it is still generally acceptable to refuse service, employment, or funding to disabled people solely on the basis of their disabled status. They are erroneously perceived as less capable, less deserving, or non-contributing citizens, and many people use this wrongful perception as justification for oppression. It is this injustice that drives me to continue working, studying and researching disability from a critical social perspective. My goal is to help move toward a society in which there is full equity, and in which all people truly include and embrace a diverse human spectrum that includes disabled people.
While I was at SIU Yogyakarta, my job was to work closely with the Director to expand awareness of the Centre within the University and to enhance its profile. My main task was to work with the Centre’s staff in developing a training package to increase understanding of the Centre’s role within the University. I also helped form the Disability Faculty Liaison Committee, whose members, representing the university’s eight faculties, work with the Centre to develop methodologies for accommodating disabled students academically. I also developed procedures for communicating these students’ needs to the University’s faculty.
Typical of the students with disabilities with whom I worked and who benefit from the CDSS programs is Irmalia (Irma) Nurjanah. Irma is studying Community Development and Communications in preparation for a career as a radio announcer. Born with low vision, Irma experienced an embolism at age 15 and became completely blind.
After losing her sight, Irma had to reorganize her whole life, adapting to a new way of experiencing the world and new ways of learning and engaging with her friends. However, her natural drive and intelligence soon reasserted themselves. Counselled by the blind director of a local NGO that advocates for students with disabilities, Irma attended an inclusive high school, where she excelled in her studies and graduated at the top of her class.
Irma is a leader and an advocate in the CDSS community at SIU Yogyakarta. She believes that the services it provides, together with the sense of community and belonging that it offers, have been crucial to the academic success of the students in the programme.
One of AWB’s donors had this to say about Earllene and the Centre:
“In December 2015 I was lucky enough to visit the Centre for Disability Studies and Services at the State Islamic University Yogyakarta. I was amazed to learn that this program is the only one of its kind in Indonesia, and that it survives and supports students with very little funding. The first thing that struck me was the energy of the students, who seemed to have the joy of learning in their eyes. I also got to meet the AWB volunteer from UBC [Earllene Roberts], who was engaged in helping the program be more effective and useful. It was a great experience for me and I wouldn’t hesitate to donate to other AWB worthy causes.”
– Colin Paranchych
Earllene Roberts is the Manager of the Disability Resource Centre at the Okanagan Campus of the University of British Columbia in Kelowna, British Columbia. Earllene became an AWB volunteer in 2015 to work with the Centre for Disability Studies and Services at the State Islamic University Yogyakarta (SIU), located in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. The mission of the Centre is to integrate disabled students into SIU and to provide them with a variety of services. It is the only Centre of its kind in Indonesia. The Centre contacted AWB to help it make a transition from a volunteer-based system to a fully professional disability office.