Message at the Beyond Vision Turn-over Ceremony of Braille-embossed Plates to the Museum of a History of Ideas
University of the Philippines, Padre Faura St., Ermita, Manila

As delivered by Harvey S. Keh 
Program Manager, Jesse M. Robredo Foundation, Inc.
Executive Director, Kaya Natin! Movement

Thank you. On behalf of Vice President Leni Robredo and the Jesse M. Robredo Foundation, she would like to express her apologies for not being able to join us this afternoon. But she has prepared a speech that I will be reading, so that [she] can express her gratitude as well to the partners and to the people who made  this event possible.

Eighteen years ago, Roselle Ambubuyog made it to the headlines by being the first visually impaired Filipina to graduate summa cum laude with a BS Mathematics degreefrom the Ateneo de Manila University. Roselle was only six years old when she lost her eyesight. But this did not hinder her from trying to reach her dreams. She worked reallyhard and her journey to the top was not easy. Many doubted her abilities and made insensitive remarks. But these things never stopped her. She persevered and with the help of her family, friends, and teachers, she proved to the world that nothing is impossible to those who are willing to do what is needed to excel. Roselle now works for the access technology industry, developing software and hardware to help people with physical and learning disabilities. 

Imagine what would have happened if Roselle did not have a loving and empowering cocoon of family and friends. Would she even have the courage to go beyond her comfort zone, if she did not have the freedom to move within that inclusive space where PWDs are seen as whole human beings, instead of broken ones? Can you imagine how different life would have been for her?

I love hearing stories of triumph—of how people like Roselle can overcome their difficulties and how they are empowered to let their talents shine. People who develop the will and the discipline to thrive in tight and dark corners are the ones who redefine reality and make the world a better place with their defiant hope.

Perhaps not many of you know this, but my husband’s family has a rare, genetic disease called retinitis pigmentosa. It is a degenerative eye disease that causes severe visual impairment, including complete blindness. In fact, when Jesse was growing up, his father was already completely blind. So, during his childhood to teenage years, Jesse would come home immediately after school to read books and magazines to his father, who made it a point to keep learning new things and excelling despite his disability. By closely watching how his father lived his life, Jesse learned that no disability should stop anyone from reaching his full potential. His father would always remind his children that laziness is the only real disability in this world. 

We are very pleased that this kind of culture and attitude is growing among our people. In Naga City, for example, the PWD sector is highly involved in the process of governance, taking part in actively searching for solutions to the challenges they face instead of adopting a victim mentality. They organized themselves and joined the Naga City People’s Council and because of their participation, the City Hall issued an ordinance requiring companies to hire PWDs. As a result, may persons with disabilities in Naga City are gainfully employed. Naga City also has a resource center for the blind, where those who are visually impaired are given access to resources, such as assistive devices, computers for the blind, and classes for mobility and orientation. 

We wish that these and more are available for every person with disability all over the country. The environment that refuses to exclude anyone does not happen by accident. We all have to create that environment. We all have to be part of creating more inclusive spaces. 

This is a crucial step, if we want to revolutionize our educational system. Museums like this provide the perfect venue in shaping the minds of future leaders and game-changers. It is inside these hallowed halls that society’s values are formed. It is where we celebrate the many great things that bind us as a people.  

Through this project, you have made learning in our country more inclusive. With every Braille-embossed plate, you build communities that encourage Filipinos to excel and go beyond their disabilities. Communities that celebrate the unique gifts and abilities of each person. Communities that promote equality and inclusivity. Communities that stand up for love, empathy, and compassion. 

Once again, thank you very much for your unwavering commitment in serving the Filipino people. Maraming salamat at magandang araw po sa inyong lahat! [applause]