Millions of people with disabilities missing out on essential support in Indonesia

Victoria George

Researchers at the Melbourne Institute, Applied Economics and Social Research, have found there are millions of Indonesians living with disabilities without access to essential aids and with limited opportunities to contribute meaningfully to society.

In the study, the first to examine disability in Indonesia at a national level, Professor Lisa Cameron and Dr Diana Contreras Suarez found that people with disabilities in Indonesia are poorly educated, have worse health and fewer job options than those without disabilities. Disability also dis-proportionally impacts the lives of the elderly and poor.

They estimate there are more than 10 million people living with a disability in Indonesia – about 4.3 per cent of the population - with 13 per cent of households having at least one person with a disability.

The researchers say that 40 per cent of Indonesians with a disability have multiple disabilities – with the most common impairments arising from difficulties with sight, hearing and walking.

Using population census data, Dr Contreras Suarez and Professor Cameron found people with a moderate disability have an average of 4.4 years of education, compared with 6.5 years for someone without a disability. For someone with a severe disability, the average years of education is as low as 2.8.

Most people living with a disability don’t have access to basic assistive devices that would make their lives much easier – such as hearing and walking aids, and glasses.

Researchers say 4.3 per cent of people in Indonesia have a disability.

Eighty per-cent of people with limited eye-sight say they don’t have glasses, while 91 per cent of people with hearing impairments don’t have a hearing aid. Access to prosthetics is also low, with less than a quarter of those who need a prosthetic currently able to use one.

Dr Contreras Suarez and Professor Cameron say some disabilities could be prevented, as 76 per cent of disabilities in Indonesia are caused by diseases and accidents.

The researchers wrote the paper so it could be used as a resource for Indonesian policy-makers to develop measures to meet the needs of people with disabilities, and have made the following recommendations:

  • Promote the inclusion of people with disabilities in the civil service, where they are currently under-represented
  • Improve access to assistive devices, and support their use with training - efforts aimed at those with vision, hearing and walking difficulties will have the largest impact
  • Improve economic opportunities for people with disabilities by improving transport and other infrastructure to be more accessible
  • Instigate social protection that targets households with a disabled member to reduce risk of families caring for dependents with a disability falling into poverty
  • Improve health services and working conditions to prevent disabilities happening in the first place.

The researchers found that effective policy to address these issues up until now has been hampered by a lack of information about the barriers facing people with disabilities – highlighting what the researchers say is an urgent need for better data and analysis.

Professor Cameron and Dr Contreras Suarez carried out the research while at Monash University, for the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.