WhatsApp and Advocacy: The Creative Way the Indonesian Disability Movement Fights for Their Rights

WhatsApp and Advocacy: The Creative Way the Indonesian Disability Movement Fights for Their Rights

In these COVID times of lockdowns and social distancing, WhatsApp has emerged as a powerful tool for activism, outreach, and monitoring among DRF grantees. In Indonesia, this free encrypted messaging app has united disability rights activists across the country and has helped organize collective actions on key issues – entirely online. “In Indonesia, grantees are really spread out, so I created this WhatsApp group that consists of our grantees,” says Dwi Ariyani, DRF’s program officer in Indonesia. “I created it not only to share about the programs…or any information from DRF, like if there’s a new policy or new opportunity, but also in this group we discuss any urgent things that are happening.”

In one such example, the 19 DPOs (disabled persons organizations) involved in the WhatsApp group recently learned that two persons with disabilities were disqualified to be civil servants in Indonesia after they’d already passed the civil service exam. Thanks to the group’s online activism, the Indonesian ombudsman became involved in one case and questioned the decision of the Indonesian Supreme Audit Agency (BPK) to terminate the applicant. Indonesia’s 2016 Law on People with Disabilities outlaws this type of workplace discrimination, and 2 percent of the country’s civil service jobs are reserved for applicants with disabilities. However, in the case of BPK, they dismissed Alde Maulana after he became ill during his orientation and training. “The training was physically challenging, and the government needs to provide reasonable accommodations, but they didn’t do that,” says Ariyani. The grantees discussed the case on WhatsApp and decided to issue a joint statement to push the government to review the case. While there has been no final decision, the group is hopeful given the ombudsman’s report.

Fajri Nursyamsi is a researcher with the Indonesian Center for Law and Policy Studies, which is part of the national Organizations of Persons with Disabilities Coalition, another DRF grantee. He helped the WhatsApp group draft the statement, which listed all of the laws protecting persons with disabilities in the workplace. The statement was sent to the media and distributed to other groups via WhatsApp and social media.

“WhatsApp is simple, and many people in Indonesia, especially the activists, use it to communicate,” says Nursyamsi. “I think WhatsApp is also accessible for people with disabilities. It’s easy to use to communicate, to discuss.”

Ariyani and Nursyamsi belong to another WhatsApp group for those involved with the Organizations of Persons with Disabilities Coalition, which is led by the Center for Election Access for Citizens with Disabilities (PPUA). This group is also growing.“It’s a way to discuss strategy and advocacy and also to develop common issues together,” says Ariyani. The group also includes representatives from the Ministry of Social Affairs and other government entities.

Via WhatsApp, the group recently drafted a pétition urging President Joko Widodo to revise a newly issued regulation that attaches the country’s disabilities commission – known as the “Komisi Nasional Disabilitas (KND)” – to the Ministry of Social Affairs. The commission is supposed to be independent, the petition argues, “monitoring, evaluating, and promoting the respect, protection, and realization of the rights of persons with disabilities.”

Attaching the KND to the Ministry of Social Affairs, the petition states, “will limit it in the performance of its role, particularly related to the performance of the Ministry of Social Affairs, which currently has come under much criticism from organizations of Persons with Disabilities for reason that the Ministry views disability from a charity-based approach.”

Over 237 disability rights groups from 34 provinces in Indonesia have signed the petition, and the national coalition, via WhatsApp, organized a webinar and invited the press. The petition’s signees expressed frustration that persons with disabilities had not been involved in the drafting of the KND regulation, as is required under Article 4 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). “The article requires the government to consult closely and intensively with disabled people through representative organizations each time the government makes a regulation or a policy that concerns them,” the petition says, adding that the regulation ignores the CRPD principle of “nothing about us without us.”

Nursyamsi helped draft this petition as well. He says that since joining the coalition, he has come to see himself as a person with a disability in new and important ways. “I got in an accident 20 years ago,” says Nursyamsi, who has a prosthetic leg. “After I joined the coalition, honestly, it’s like something new for me. I feel I’m part of them. I feel my solidarity. I find many things that…aren’t inclusive enough. They don’t count the disability issue. I think that’s my homework. It’s my field, so I think I need to try to study deep on that and just make a legal argumentation that laws in the nation need to be inclusive and consider disability issues in every possible way.”

A petition for judicial review of the KND regulation has since been submitted to the Supreme Court.