The Guinness record holder for having travelled the longest distance in his wheelchair visited Valenzuela City on Wednesday, November 13, to introduce to stakeholders the idea of employing personal assistants as a government service to persons with disabilities (PWDs).
In a reception at the Valenzuela City Government Complex, Korean marathoner and activist Changhyun Choi told representatives of the city government and non-government organizations that with the aid of personal assistants, PWDs can lead lives that are independent from their families.
A local PWD organization president, Abner Manlapaz, expressed his support of Choi’s idea. He said that, “Living with disability comes with extra costs. A PWD often has to spend on assistive devices like wheelchairs, and in some cases, diapers and catheters.”
In the PA system, a PWD is provided with a personal assistant who would attend to his every need. Choi said the system has been adapted by the South Korean government as a free service for PWDs. PWDs apply for the service at support centers, which are private organizations funded by the government.
Choi’s organization, the Bright Future Support Center for Comprehensive Independent Living, was the first to offer the PA system in South Korea in 2005. Choi said the system was based on similar programs in Japan and the USA. Around 600 support centers that offer the service operate in South Korea today.
Choi stressed that PAs are not volunteers but paid employees. The current rate of PAs in South Korea is $ 6 per hour. Bright Future in Daegu City currently employs 25 PAs and serves 30 clients.
In Valenzuela City, the City Social Welfare and Development Office (CSWDO) addresses the needs of the PWD constituents through financial and educational assistances. Early this month, CSWDO has started disbursing PhP 10,000 stipend to 24 PWDs, to help them purchase their sought assistive devices and to finance their medication. The stipend is funded by the national government and is paid out to beneficiaries every six months.
Mayor REX was thankful of the attention given by Choi to the PWDs in Valenzuela City. He remarked, “His brilliant advocacy is a worthy challenge for the Philippine government to adapt.”
Assistance to PWDs is part of Mayor REX’s holistic advocacy to recreate Valenzuela City’s stance as a model of good governance. His straightforward platform dubbed as, “Five Pillars of Good Governance” constitutes the enhancement of present (1) health and social services, (2) education, (3) housing, (4) trade and industry, and (5) job generation. Future programs for PWDs form part of his first agenda which is to further improve existing health and social services.
Since 1999, Choi has been crossing continents as publicity stunts meant to call attention to the plight of PWDs, as well as political issues such as the reunification of North and South Korea. Riding a mouth-control electronic wheel chair, he crossed the Korean Peninsula in 1999, North America in 2001, and the Japanese Islands in 2003. In 2006, he rode through Europe, covering 30 countries and 16,000 km of distance and prompting the Guinness Book of Records to recognize him as the man who has travelled the longest distance crossing continents on a wheelchair.