INNERview with Krissy Bisda
The eldest daughter of three girls, Krissy Bisda is visually impaired due to a condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa. When she was a kid, one of her eyes was left with clear vision, but it began to deteriorate when she was about to finish high school. She resides in the Philippines and states, “The Philippines has yet to reach the stage where people take People with Disabilities (PWD) in general as productive citizens and people that are really part of the society who is entitled to rights that a person without disability enjoys. It’s a continuous crusade of ours, but in a way this social concern has been improved over the years.”
Krissy, received her degree in Psychology at Philippine Women’s University. She began pursuing her Master’s degree in Development Communications two years ago, but took some time off.
She’s trained to use her cane and travel around on her own, but says that she’s “not permitted to really go out alone.”
“It’s not safe here for women with visual problems like me to travel independently due to being prone for rape, kidnapping and you can’t trust people that they would really assist you to find your way accurately. Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that nobody is kind at all. I think my country is still in the road for PWD acceptance.”
“After college, I was surprised to get a chance to work in an offshore business from United States. I started as an HR Recruitment associate then promoted after 3 years and moved to Marketing communications. After 7 years I finally decided to resign due to very personal reason and I have had variety of jobs which I enjoyed a lot. I wrote a Pre – employment handbook for Job placement officers conducting training for PWD job seekers. I worked as freelance documenter for almost all conferences of Philippine coalition of UNCRPD and landed a full time job at Balsam Brands, (another American owned firm) as a full time independent consultant under HR.”
YVONNE: What age did you learn you had a disability and how were you told?
KRISSY: I knew it by awareness when I was a kid, like 6 or 7, but I felt the real sense of the difficulties and discrimination it brings when I was older. My family didn’t really explain it too formal. We do not talk about it, we rarely do. It’s like, if nobody asks or opens about the topic it will not be discussed, but they are not embarrassed having a child likes me. They never made me feel that I’m a lot different from others. I’m treated very equal/normal, as they would with my other sisters who has no disability. I cannot remember how I knew about it, but as far as I know I’m aware of my disability; but we do not really discuss it piece by piece. It is not a usual topic in breakfasts or in family gatherings. My parents were struggling as well to accept the fact that something is wrong, especially that I’m their first born. They had a different formula as I was growing up. They had been very supportive to my studies, sports and other things while somewhere behind the public, they are trying to adjust and accept my condition. I could not say how hard it is for them or how easy it was for them to go through this experience, for I never seen them look sad or I have never witnessed their actual struggles. Perhaps, they wouldn’t want us to see how they tried to cope up because it would not help me to live normally given the condition I have. I didn’t ask either, I just let it be. It seems like they hid it from me, but it didn’t harm my growing up years.
YVONNE: What do you wish people understood about individuals with disabilities?
KRISSY: I want them to understand the simple logic of diversity. If we are only few among the so called normal ones, then I think it is simple as that of a less popular species of a fish: still a fish which differ perhaps in characteristics or have a very distinctive trait which the normal ones do not have; but in essence, there’s nothing really different at all.
We are not curses to our family, we are not bad luck and most importantly, we never wanted to have a disability if given a choice; we just have to live with this and make ourselves very productive and not a burden to anybody. But thank you for giving us a very challenging environment; we become more determined to excel more than the expectations. We exceed the norms because we believe that winners never quit and quitters never win. We do things differently, but we all arrive in the same output. Persons with disabilities are just like anybody else: we love going out with friends, travel, read books, build a family of our own, get a decent job etc. We are simply like you. I hate the so-called “norms” or “normalcy”; when those without disabilities talk about this, it is drawing a different image that PWDs are not normal at all. I want everybody to know that persons with disabilities do things through an aid of a special software or assistive technique, but at the end of the day, we arrive in the same output as yours with equal or above average quality.
YVONNE: What inspired you to become a self-advocate?
KRISSY: First of all, my parents taught us and inculcated basic life rules like help the needy, appreciate blessings whether it is big or small, be thankful what’s on your plate, help the beggars, take the initiative to reach out if somebody’s in need etc. And being loved well and having been consistently receiving strong support from my family up to now, it inspires me to share what I have with my brothers in disability. I simply appreciate that I was able to go to school, being dressed well, having complete meals daily, finish a degree, got a decent job etc. And these are the things which common Filipinos with disabilities are very unable to achieve despite of their industry and dedication to seek for jobs or at least get scholarships. I’m not officially tied up in any PWD organization, but what I usually do is volunteer my skills and time for their projects/advocacies. I do career talks and conduct awareness speeches in social functions; this way I’m able to share what I can in improving our condition in the society and become one of the advocates that tries to change the social outlook. Whether we are with disability or not, we should always be inspired to share a piece of ourselves because that piece extends a life or improves a life without us knowing it. My current state reminds me every day that I’m in a better position to extend an assistance and with this calling; I just deemed necessary to go out and share whatever I can: be it skills, time or food. I’m always inspired to do so because I gain self-fulfillment; it gives a more profound sense in my life. I may not be a doctor, but with what I do, I think I’m also able to improve or extend lives and it makes me happy that they also enjoy things which I do for a lot of times.
YVONNE: What has been your greatest challenge?
KRISSY: It’s challenging to prove that I’m not an invalid person. It’s challenging to always explain the abilities of those with disabilities. I experienced so much discrimination from companies and universities I tried to apply before. It’s really a challenge to find a place where you belong. It’s the sense of belongingness that we lack because people without disabilities always say and think that we are just burdens of our families, we are just social problems and I can’t take that thinking. It hurts so much. Given a choice, I would never ever want to have a disability because the world is so unfair; it’s hard to find somebody whose kind enough to understand.
YVONNE: What tips would you like to share with parents helping their child(ren) with special needs overcome challenges?
KRISSY: Always support your children even if they have disabilities. Give them the freedom to enjoy their lives. Do not be overly protective. Be the first one to motivate them to go to school, show up in public with confidence and positivity. If a child is well loved and supported, it’s easier for them to deal with the atrocities of life outside their homes. By loving and supporting your children, who knows, they can be the next Helen Keller and other people with noble deeds and excellence known in the world who would inspire all of us. Don’t just support and love your kids because PWDs have a set of rights to follow. Your support and love must not be driven by the laws for us; it should be a genuine one. Success of a child, especially those with disabilities, starts from home; be the huge pathway for them to achieve whatever dreams they may have. Help us discover our talents, be our guide to success and not in leading us to get depressed. Implore us with ways to be empowered and access the knowledge we need. I hope that you provide equal care and concern to us now that we are already born; we hope to feel the same care and love while we are still in the wombs: the time that you have no knowledge that we may have disability.
YVONNE: If there was one thing you can for individuals with special needs, what would it be?
KRISSY: Moneywise. Honestly I do not have the financial capacity to really give out on foundations or organizations. What I usually do is I conduct personality development talks and empowerments to PWDs; especially to those who are job seekers and I also do talks about coping up in college and many other topics. I wrote a pre–employment guide for job placement officers of PWDs and I think it’s helpful. I also volunteer in our community to conduct disability awareness talks and make the people around me understand disability. I personally do mentorship to those PWDs I encounter along the way who need help emotionally or psychologically. I share myself. I physically go there and involve with people. I don’t have an official tie with organizations, but normally they call me and I rush to their office to volunteer or be their guest speaker. Through this simple way, I get to inspire others and convey that there’s hope here in our country given that it is a developing nation.
YVONNE: How can parents help their teenager with special needs cope with school?
KRISSY: It depends on the severity of the case, but generally, providing those with what they need such as uniforms, school supplies and assistive technology, join them in studying. Help them to become independent in managing their studies, but always check what the things they have difficulties with are or is there a school play which they joined that you can watch etc. Educate them with crushes, love and relationships since teenagers begin to develop attractions. Let them feel that even if they have disabilities: it’s fine to have crushes, it’s fine to go out with friends and party. Always tell them how beautiful they are. Somebody would like them even if they have a disability. Teach them self-defense or other ways to protect themselves. As a parent, it’s a never ending process of learning, during your free time, set a time to read and research further about the case of your child and how to particularly manage them. Managing a child with blindness is different from a deaf one. Work and consult your local counselors for PWDs; their advice and help you more in raising your child wonderfully. As you noticed, most of the things I mentioned as to how you manage a teenager is in similar principles to the parenting style once should practice for a teenager without disability. It is for this reason that I believe that we’re not different. We also experience what a normal or common teenager goes through as they grow. As a parent with PWD child, it requires more sensitivity and understanding on the case of disability and relates it to the stage of life where they are in. If there are workshops where you think it makes you better as a parent, I suggest you take advantage of the opportunity; and if there’s a workshop too for your child, encourage them to attend. This is usually given by organizations advocating for persons with disabilities.
YVONNE: What is the overall message you’d like to send to parents of children with special needs?
KRISSY: Just love your child and do whatever you can to make them feel complete as a person. Keep in mind that you never wanted your child to have a disability and so we are. We are the ones who absolutely experience the pain and discrimination because we have the disability itself; it’s harder than you thought. There’s a huge wall between dealing with disability. You feel hurt when somebody mocks or pokes fun on us, but the pain is triple because we are the one who is being laughed at. Educate yourself about the disability your child has; there are so many accessible materials and ways to know more. Their success depends on how you raised them, how you loved and supported them. Let them realize that you are really feeling the joy in having them; do not let them feel that it’s a regret that you keep them alive outside your wombs.
For my PWD fellows: Quitter never wins, Winner never quits. For parents and the society: Love us just as you would for non-PWD.