One morning, Robby Singh woke up to an unusual tightness and numbness in his inner thighs. Turns out, the visual artist had sciatica— nerve pain in the leg caused by irritation and/or compression of the sciatic nerve.
“In my case, it wasn’t addressed right away,” says 38-year-old Robby, who attributes it to overexerting himself trying to lose weight. “Since the first few doctors I went to were just guessing what it was, the condition escalated to having my lower back muscles freeze to protect my injury. This caused my hips to stiffen and my right leg to tighten. I’ve had chronic pain since it started, pero pagrabe ng pagrabe as the years went on.”
Robby’s condition qualified him as a Person With Disability (PWD), or those persons defined by the Magna Carta of Disabled Persons (Republic Act 7277) “suffering from restriction or different abilities, as a result of a mental, physical, or sensory impairment, to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered normal for a human being.” He has been a PWD since 2014. (Read: 3 Uplifting Prayers for the Sick and Healing)
In the Philippines, PWDs are entitled to a number of benefits, including 20 percent discount on restaurants and hotels, medicines, medical and dental services, domestic air and sea travel, and public transportation; 5 percent discount on basic necessities and prime commodities; and priority lanes in commercial and government establishments.
But like their non-disabled counterparts, PWDs have struggled through the pandemic, too. Robby, who uses a cane when he walks, explains what life in a pandemic is like for him.
What daily challenges do you face with your sciatica?
For those who are familiar with the muscle pain you feel on your legs after doing leg exercises in the gym, or for those who’ve experienced stiff neck— ayun, that’s what I feel on my legs 24/7, to the point that I’ve gotten used to it.
So aside from the physical pain, I still have my work, which is painting murals. This takes so much physical strength and mobility. Being injured has affected my work a lot. It has slowed me down too. (Read: Pope Cheers for Teenage PWD on Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage)
But life must go on. No work means no income and no funds to pay for your therapy, medications, rent, and other bills.
How has the pandemic affected your being a PWD?
The pandemic has placed everyone on equal footing in the sense that we all found ourselves with limited work opportunities. (Read: These Rural Women Are Making a Difference in Their Communities)
PWDs were among those who were prohibited from going out— for risk of exposure and infection to COVID-19. Fortunately, my new roommate has a car, so that’s how I was able to get around. I also have a strong immune system (as opposed to a PWD with autoimmune disease), so I practiced the health and safety protocols each time I went out to run errands.
Are there any perks to being a PWD during the pandemic?
Besides the financial aid I received from my local government unit, I was able to use my PWD card to buy food and other necessities at a discounted rate. (Read: This Group of PWDs in Zambales Is in Need of Your Help) I’m also thankful to Grab for giving me the privilege of having a discount code whenever I travel.
What would you like people to know about PWDs?
Disability comes in different forms—physical, mental, psychosocial, and sensory impairments—and sometimes you can’t tell if someone is a PWD. In my case, it’s only when people see me with a cane that they realize I’m a PWD.
It mostly happens in coffee shops. I’ll be lining up and someone will cut in line. Or when I order two drinks, the barista will put them in a cup holder. How am I supposed to carry the drinks when I need my other hand to hold my cane? (Read: Rajo Laurel Says Kindness Is Never Out of Fashion, and We Love Him for It!)
PWDs like to assert their independence; they like to show people na kaya nila. But it wouldn’t hurt to ask them if they need your help. They would really appreciate it.