Setya Adipurwanta, blinded in an accident, is opening a whole series of commercially competitive job opportunities for the blind, deaf, physically handicapped, and mentally ill.
Setya was born in Malang, in 1953, to a poor military family. After high school, he went on for special training as a pharmacist's assistant. He finished this training in 1973 and got a job in a pharmaceutical warehouse in Surabaya where he worked in the purchasing section.In 1976, he became totally blind after a friend threw a blunt tool at him, accidently hitting his eyes. The consequent shock of his blindness left Setya in a state of despair, unsure of himself and his future. He gradually realized that he had to take his life in his own hands and enrolled in a two-year special education program in Bandung. In 1979, he received a degree for teaching the disabled. Immediately thereafter, Setya got a job as a teacher in the school for the handicapped in Yogyakarta. Since then he has been actively seeking ways of improving the lot of the handicapped.Among his major achievements are the first talking library in the country, the first braille flora garden (at Gadjah Mada University), and the first camping fair for blind Boy and Girl Scouts. In his school he created a number of new programs beginning with the introduction of a health service.Now, every Saturday, a physiotherapist, ophthalmologist, ear-nose-throat specialist, and psychiatrist visit the school to give free service. He has also organized a bus equipped for disabled schoolchildren that picks them up and drops them off.Apart from being a teacher, he is a member of the executive board of a coordinating body for activities for the disabled in Yogyakarta, a founder of a community development organization, and a member of the board of Yayasan Mardi Wuta, an organization working for the welfare of the blind.Setya is supported by a dedicated wife who is also a teacher at the school. They have three children, including one who is adopted.
As long as the handicapped cannot get jobs, they will be poor, dependent, and consequently dispirited. The fact that they are not working also contributes to the public's perception that they always need help and therefore cannot work.Setya is setting out to change this destructive pattern on a significant scale. He begins by giving handicapped students broad work experience in school, and then sets up economically profitable workshops that provide work thereafter.In the schools for the disabled, he is creating integrated workshops where teams of blind, deaf, physically handicapped, and mentally disadvantaged students complement one another in, for example, producing uniforms, growing orchids, or cultivating honeybees. These workshops help the special schools fiscally prepare these youngsters to be contributing members of society later.Once a special student leaves school, Setya seeks to provide work in viable profit-seeking workshops. He is demonstrating how the disabled can be effective workers in a variety of solidly profitable businesses, hoping that these success stories will multiply once made known. Typically he mixes disabled graduates with school dropouts, organizing the work so that both sides can learn to work together, thereby helping each to grow in human terms as well as facilitating the work.He is careful to establish workshops only where the economics are good. He has gone into snail production both because it is a task this workforce can do well and because there is a snail exporting company in Yogyakarta, where he has started this work, providing a steady demand. Similar conditions apply to orchid growing, catfish breeding, and pet fish raising. To further stabilize these workshops, he is providing collective marketing support.
In Yogyakarta, seat of many universities and as enlightened a community as there is in Indonesia, only 200 of 20,000 disabled people have jobs. Every year only a few percent of the several hundred special students leaving school find work, which in turn makes it most unlikely that they will be able to afford college or other advanced training.Many parents of handicapped youngsters ask the special schools not to let their children pass their exams because, once they leave school, the parents do not know what to do with them. Since there are no centers where the disabled, after leaving school, can live, they return home and thereafter are unlikely to get further help. A depressing downward cycle of arrested development and dependency sets in, often accompanied by guilt and anger that eats away at the family.The inability of special school graduates to get work is in no small part a consequence of the schools' inability to provide necessary training. This failing is in turn a reflection of how ill-prepared the teachers are to provide such a lead. They have little or no business acumen or training themselves.The inability of disabled graduates to find jobs is also a reflection of how few employers are open to such employees; the motivation is not there, nor are most employers willing to modify their ways of working to accommodate special needs. There are a handful of jobs, but the number is so small that they represent little more than well-intentioned tokenism.
Setya hopes to free the disabled from familial dependency by a comprehensive approach to preparing them for work and then showing that they can indeed do the job and produce competitive profits. His approach begins in school and extends through creating steady markets for their product.So far he has created within Yogyakarta's special schools income-generating work programs involving catfish, orchids, snails, hydroponic agriculture, handicrafts, wood-carving, and hairdressing. As students learn several of these skills and build confidence in their ability to contribute and to work with others, he is laying the necessary groundwork for future employment. The law says that special schools should provide training for work after formal classes are over. However, this stipulation has been almost universally ignored. Setya hopes this law will help him gain official backing for the sort of outside workshops he is starting.For both his in-school and subsequent independent workshops programs, Setya draws on a wide range of resources and allies. For example, the universities provide expert help in setting up hydroponic farming units; the Indonesian Organization of Orchid Lovers provides his orchid-producing units with free seed; and the Yogyakarta Chamber of Trade helps him with marketing.Setya knows that what he can accomplish directly will not scratch the surface of the disabled community's huge need. He is building a comprehensive, economically attractive model from early training in school onward, and he plans to use its success as an active encouragement for others all over Indonesia. He has also designed his program to abolish popular stereotypes about the disabled.Setya's plans for spreading his ideas are as ambitious as the need is great. He is planning a series of regional and national seminars; he has already begun to reach out to the media; he is inviting groups concerned with education for the handicapped to come to see his model at work; he plans to lobby the Ministry of Education; and he hopes to win over the association of teachers in special schools and the national association for the disabled.As more and more disabled people break the invisible barriers and do begin to work, their success will, Setya believes, begin to erode the most important of these barriers, the stereotypes of helplessness and inevitability.