Despite the fact that Cambodia has an exceptionally high number of people with disabilities due to decades of war, hunger and widespread poverty, it is only recently that they have been given the opportunity to live a normal life and contribute to Cambodian society.
Public efforts aimed at assisting people with disabilities have been ramped up recently. Although NGOs have been working on improving the lives of people with disabilities for nearly two decades, the government just passed a law on the protection and promotion of the rights of people with disabilities last year.
For people without disabilities it may seem like being blind, deaf or having no arms or legs would make life impossible, but for people with these impairments there are many ways to adapt in order to be a functional, productive and independent individual.
“Disabled people can do everything that normal people can do, just by their own means,” said Mey Samith, 30, executive director of Phnom Penh Center for Independent Living. “If they have no legs to walk, they can do manual work. If they are deaf, they can perform work as an engineer.”
Heng Channtey, the 26-year-old senior programme officer of the Cambodian Disabled People’s Organization, said that the main problem facing the disabled is discrimination and prejudice due to their disabilities and poor living condition. Oftentimes, they are forced to just stay at home, without access to education. They are also highly susceptible to abuse and human trafficking.
“Disabled people can live without being dependent on the others if they are given rights and opportunities by the society,” said Heng Channtey. “They have the ability but oftentimes they aren’t given a chance in the workplace.”
“Previously, I didn’t do anything or go anywhere and I was embarrassed,” said Chea Bopha, 25, a member of PPCIL. “But after knowing and working with PPCIL, I can do many things by myself like using a toilet, shopping at the market, doing household chores and expressing my ideas.”
“Like other disabled people, I have to be highly aware of who I am and what I have to do in order to be less dependant and make my daily life better,” said Sean Viboth, 28, a blind Khmer literature graduate student of the Royal University of Phnom Penh. “Although I am educated and competent, I am still worried about the job market in regards to opportunities for the disabled people.”
People with disabilities are beginning to see potential in their own lives, which is the first step to them becoming a crucial part of Cambodian society, however it is now up to the government and private sector to open jobs for them to fill.
“Now we have set up laws and regulations to support disabled people,” said Kho Houth, deputy director of rehabilitation in the department of social affairs. “Especially laws regarding jobs for disabled people because we have seen many educated and capable people with no chance to work.”