Coping with disability is never easy, wherever one may be – and in Cambodia, where support for the handicapped is limited to say the least, life can be even harder especially for those who do not possess the financial back-up to help them navigate through life’s daily struggles. But Cambodians by nature are thrivers, and the absence of state assistance has not stopped those who are living with disability from making use of whatever is available to overcome these obstacles so that they can be a productive member of society.
From makeshift motorised wheelchairs, to crutches fashioned from scrap metals – Cambodians seem to have managed to find a way to turn the lemons that life have thrown at them into lemonades. While the images can be jarring to see, on the other side of the coin, it shows the degree of ingenuity, resilience, and will among handicapped Cambodians to make the best out of an unfortunate situation.
As rudimentary as these aids may seem, these equipments have undoubtedly helped handicapped Cambodians to increase their mobility and productivity. No longer do they need to sit idly while waiting for alms or aid to come – these stripped down devices have allowed them to not only move about, but participate in trade and commerce, which brings to the forefront one crucial question. Why aren’t more funds being allocated to assist the handicapped?
According to a report released by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in 2017, only 0.7 percent of handicapped Cambodians are currently covered by the Kingdom’s minuscule health coverage plan. If only more funds were allocated to help assist Cambodia’s handicapped population – where the number have been estimated to be as high as two percent of the entire population – then not only would their quality of life would improve, as once this subset of the population receives the appropriate aid that suits their needs, their contribution to the informal economy can rise substantially.
On one hand, this may sound like a win-win solution both for the handicapped and the government – but to date, the government has yet to shift enough of their attention to the needs of the disabled, which seems to stem from the general unawareness of the economic contributions that this subset of the population could provide.
While the economic contribution may not be as sizeable as those derived from trade and tourism, the need to provide for the handicapped is just as important – because no matter how different their lived experiences may be, Cambodia’s handicapped are human beings whose rights are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and neglecting to see to their needs, is akin to reducing their humanity by virtue of their disability.