An Indonesian government minister has been slammed for trying to force a deaf – and mute – child to speak at an International Day of Persons with Disabilities event.
Social Affairs Minister Tri Rismaharini – who is widely known in the country as Risma and whose responsibilities include ensuring the well-being of disabled people – is in hot water after footage emerged showing her apparently trying to force a deaf and mute child to speak publicly at the event to mark International Day of Persons with Disabilities today (Friday 3rd December).
The footage was shared on the social affairs ministry’s official YouTube channel on 1st December.
It shows her apparently trying to make a boy, named in local media reports as Aldi, speak despite being deaf and mute, leading to accusations of ‘ableism’. Ableism is discrimination and social prejudice against people with disabilities.
Risma said: “Now I ask you to speak without using any [assistive] device. Speak, Aldi, you can speak.”
Stefanus, a representative from the Movement for the Well-Being of Deaf Indonesians (Gerkatin), reportedly criticised her on stage via a sign language interpreter.
Stefanus, according to local media outlet Coconuts, said: “Ma’am, I hope you already know about CRPD (Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities). Deaf children must use hearing aids, but not for them to be forced to speak. I was really surprised when you stated [that to Aldi].”
During the exchange, Risma reportedly walked over to Stefanus and put an arm around him, effectively cutting him off before he could finish his sentence.
Stefanus then explained that deaf people have different characteristics and varying degrees of speech capabilities, which is why it is important that people respect the importance of sign language.
But Risma seemingly refused to empathise with deaf people. She said: “So Stefan, I didn’t [mean to] reduce [the use] of sign language. But you know, God gave us mouths, ears and eyes. What I wanted to teach you all, especially the children who use hearing aids, they don’t have to remain mute. That is why I pushed you all to speak, so that we can maximize what God has given us.”
Footage of the incident has been widely circulated on social media and has been overwhelmingly condemned by netizens. The footage has since been taken down from the official ministry channel on YouTube. Risma has yet to comment on the controversy.