VPD – a radio by and for persons with disabilities

Ms. Phoum Leakhena hosts a call-in show on voice of person with disabilities. Photo: UNDP Cambodia

PHNOM PENH – “Welcome to our Global Knowledge programme on the Voice of Persons with Disabilities broadcasting from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap province (FM92.25 MHz) and Preah Sihanouk province (FM88.75 MHz).”

From inside a crammed studio on the ground of a Buddhist pagoda, the announcement by Ms. Phoum Leakhena, an anchor, made debut for the first time a radio programme by and for people with disabilities. Its mission is to provide an airwave channel for them to make their voices heard and to promote their rights and opportunities as equal members in the Cambodian society.

Highlights

  • The number of people with disabilities is around 700,000 or 5 percent of the country’s population
  • People with disability face many barriers including physical, social, economic and attitudinal.
  • They lack access to appropriate, quality and affordable healthcare, rehabilitation, education and disability services.

“We have in Cambodia many radio stations but all of them are broad in terms of audience. The mission of ‘Voice of Persons with Disabilities [VPD]’ is more specific. We are not discriminating against anyone but in this radio we focus on giving people with disabilities the opportunity to express their feelings and voices,” Ms. Phoum Leakhena, 26, said.

People with disabilities in Cambodia number around 700,000 or 5 percent of the country’s population. They face many obstacles in daily life that prevent them from fully enjoying equal rights and exercising their potentials as other citizens in the society. The VPD’s broadcast – although still in its infancy – is aimed at correcting social behavior to treat people with disabilities not as a burden but an asset contributing to development of the country.

The radio is a component under Disability Rights Initiative Cambodia (DRIC), a programme funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) of Australia. The Abilis Foundation in Finland also gave financial support along with equipment to set up the radio.

It was inaugurated in August and housed in the office of Cambodian Disabled People’s Organization (CDPO). Since then the station had been busy working to assemble its team. On 18 November, it, for the first time, began broadcasting various contents that have been developed by its own staff. “My Voice, My Rights” is the name of a weekly roundtable discussion hosted by other anchors.

Ms. Phoum Leakhena, herself a person with disability, hosts the ‘Global Knowledge’ programme, a one-hour call-in show which hits the airwave four days a week. She is assisted by a male co-anchor, 27-year-old Sroun Channy. Through their show they hope to bring topics about science, technology, global current affairs to listeners.

“I am not a person with disability but I want to promote the rights of people with disabilities. Working for this radio will allow me to understand disability issues better and help people with disabilities develop positive thinking about themselves,” Mr. Sroun Channy said. 

 Ms. Phoum Leakhena and Mr. Sroun Channy prepare to start the call-in show programme on the voice of disabilities. Photo: UNDP Cambodia

Having just received some basic training in radio broadcast, the pair’s first day on the job was far from being smooth. Mr. Sroun Channy admitted that he was overtaken a bit by nervousness that forced him to pause amid a live broadcast. This would prompt the radio technical advisor, Ms. Chum Ratha who was watching from the other side of the glass window, to halt the broadcast by inserting a Khmer song.

“Loosen up and try not to sound like reading a speech,” Ms. Chum Ratha suggested to Mr. Sroun Channy, who nodded with a smile in return.

“Before starting the broadcast I had some concerns about their ability to do it. But later I was quite excited to see that they could pull it off and I congratulate them for that,” Ms. Chum Ratha said later. “As this is their first time, the broadcast cannot be expected to have good quality right away. It will take some times and we will train them to improve the quality of the broadcast,” she added.

The Royal Government of Cambodia ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2012, affirming its commitment to improving the lives of people with disabilities. It has also enacted a number of disability laws and strategic plans in recent years.

Nonetheless, discrimination against people with disabilities still persists in terms of to social attitude toward them, lack of employment opportunity, and difficulties in getting access to and using places and buildings, Ms. Phoum Leakhena, the anchor, said.

“We will do all we can to make this radio work well and effectively to improve understanding of the general public about disabilities,” she said.  “This is very important for all aspects of development, which must have participation of persons with disabilities. They may be handicapped in their bodies but not in their thinking, consciousness, and intelligence.”

DRIC programme is implemented jointly by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).