“I was already a teacher when my hearing impairment started to creep in as a result of an allergy,” intoned Dr. Dorothy Tarol, a Master Teacher II at the Special Education – Integrated School for Exceptional Children (SPED-ISEC) in Iloilo City. She has been teaching in SPED-ISEC since 2005.
Dr. Tarol walked through the room where a group of pre-school students was seated reading and browsing through images on their books. “These are the students under my care and guidance,” she gestured with a “good morning” greeting to which they responded in sign language.
Amiable and with a positive personality, an initial encounter with Dr. Tarol will not hint that this Regional Winner of the 2018 Pambansang Ulirang Guro (National Model Teacher) is a person with hearing impairment.
Slow onset hearing impairment
“I have a profound bilateral hearing loss, and I am considered late deafened,” she casually pointed. “I lost 120 decibels of hearing on both of my ears,” she said, showing her hearing aid as she settled on her desk.
A late deafened is a slow onset type of hearing impairment which occurs after childhood and may be caused by a variety of factors. There were no tell-tale signs of a lurking disability during her early adult life as a college student at the West Visayas State University (WVSU) where she completed her Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education, with specialization in Home Economics.
Transformation amidst a disability
After graduation, she was taken in as a teacher at the Iloilo Central Commercial High School (now Hua Siong College of Iloilo). It was followed by a decade of teaching at the Assumption Iloilo where she handled preschool students and taught English to elementary and high school. She also actively joined in volunteer work and teaching at the University of the Philippines (UP) Visayas and at UP Pahinungod, the UP System’s volunteer arm where she taught in a day-care center for children.
It was around this period that her allergies became more pronounced, disrupting her day-to-day functions. At 35, with so much career happenings on her life, Dr. Tarol lost hearing. Amongst the five siblings in her family, she was the only one who acquired hearing impairment.
Similar to those who acquired a disability at midlife, Dr. Tarol experienced a period of depression. Her sudden inability to communicate came as a shock and made her feel helpless and discriminated. It was difficult for her to put the message across.
“There was denial and rejection from my end for I cannot accept the fact that my condition will change the course, not only of my career but of my life,” she said.
Her journey was long and arduous. Among the first steps to gather acceptance and strength is to increase her awareness about profound hearing loss. She developed her ability to adapt by combining practical observations and researching her condition.
On her process of self-discovery, she earned two Masters: Guidance Education from UP Visayas, and Special Education from WVSU. She also holds a Doctorate on Education with a major in Educational Management at the University of San Agustin.
By bringing up her level of education, Dr. Tarol gained resilience and became the voice of the Persons with Disability in Iloilo.
Going the extra mile
Dr. Tarol realized the many challenges that a Person with Disability confront: communication barriers, low awareness of others on inclusion, inadequate understanding of the unique conditions coupled with the differing degree of accessibility requirements.
“Every [Person with Disability] carries a unique condition that may not be similar to others; hence, the capability and skills development that they need vary from person-to-person. It cannot be one-size-fits-all,” she explained.
In the case of Dr. Tarol, she learned how to use sign language, and with the hearing aid, she lip reads. She advocates for the enhancement of available facilities and overall accommodation for all types of Persons with Disability. She wants to see improvements in the quality of service and support mechanisms, such as assistance desks and sign language interpreters for the Deaf.
Colleagues of Dr. Tarol at SPED-ISEC and the DepEd Division of Iloilo City look up to her with pride, considering her contribution and her drive to go the extra mile to uplift the lives of Persons with Disability.
“She is an extraordinary person, who serves as an example of an empowered woman – a teacher, a guidance counselor, a mother, and as a person who a lot of [Persons with Disability] depend on for help and assistance, especially concerning gainful employment and for their livelihood,” stated Richard S. Lacson, Teacher II at SPED-ISEC and a confidante of Dr. Tarol for over 13 years now.
Her noble intentions were the driving force behind the formation of the Association of Late Deaf, Hard of Hearing Deaf for Education, Advocacy, Research Support, Inc. (ALDHEARS). She formed the association to help address the barriers and the gaps experienced among the hearing impaired and to increase their capacity to be self-reliant.
Vision and mindset for inclusion
According to Clarissa Zamora, the Assistant Schools Division Superintendent and Officer-in-Charge of the Office of the Schools Division Superintendent of Iloilo City, “DepEd possesses an inclusivity mindset, and we give importance to inclusion because we do not consider impairment or disability as a human limitation.”
Zamora, a CESO VI, highlights that DepEd has worked towards providing all types of support to Persons with Disability personnel and teachers in their division. Whether it be through improved infrastructure or training and orientations, they ensure that the necessary budget is allotted and sufficient opportunities are opened to help enable Persons with Disability to perform to their full capacity.
DepEd exercises consistency when it comes to inclusion. It accepts students, regardless of race, religion, and disabilities. “We put our vision into action, and Dr. Tarol is a model when it comes to inclusion at the workplace, which is worth emulating by other agencies,” says Dr. Nerio Eseo, Public Schools District Supervisor for District 1, District of Iloilo City.
The action of DepEd is informed by Republic Act 10524 of 2013 – “An Act Expanding the Positions Reserved for Persons with Disability” which indicates:
“At least one percent (1%) of all positions in all government agencies, offices, or corporations shall be reserved for persons with disability: Provided, that private corporations with more than one hundred (100) employees are encouraged to reserve at least one percent (1%) of all positions for persons with disability.”
DepEd’s efforts to improve inclusion for Persons with Disability is also linked to meeting targets reflected on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and also in compliance to the Program to Institutionalize Meritocracy and Excellence in Human Resource Management (PRIME-HRM) by the Civil Service Commission (CSC).
‘May 1% Na Kami’ and beyond
Currently, the Division of Iloilo City has 108 Persons with Disability at the workplace, comprised of teaching and non-teaching personnel.
“However, DepEd being a huge organization, requires an updated data banking for we still have [Persons with Disability] personnel who are scattered in 66 schools within the division,” explained Gilda Gulmatico, Senior Education Program Specialist and in charge of the Human Resource Training and Development.
The agency is at the front line as far as compliance to a one percent employment for Persons with Disability and it intends to go beyond what the law prescribed.
“Considering that we have an agency-wide effort, we dare say that we already went beyond answering the question of May 1% Ka Ba? – we can declare that May 1% Na Kami,” said Gulmatico, referring to Project Inclusion’s campaign which aims to contribute to building a friendly environment for disability-inclusive employment. In fact, the DepEd Division of Iloilo City is composed of 4% Persons with Disability out of their total population of 2,479 personnel.
For Dr. Tarol, every Person with Disability must learn to understand the disability laws in order to become aware of their rights and which leads them towards empowerment.
“A [Person with Disability] must also learn the tenets of accountability and responsibility if they intend to become effective workers. We must be mindful of ourselves because self-awareness is vital in shaping the kind of attitude that is worthy of respect and emulation,” Dr. Tarol emphasized.
“And we must embrace the value of education,” said Dr. Tarol to her fellow Persons with Disability, “for literacy will help every [Person with Disability] attain resilience, develop independence, and become useful citizens of our society.” (Ted Aldwin E. Ong / Project Inclusion)