Philippines: Jaime Silva

Personal narratives: What's disability to me?
June 2011

Jaime Silva explains how disability need not be a barrier to achieving your dreams.

Ever since I was a child, I have wanted to design houses for exclusive villages. I had two passions: drawing and mathematics, and architecture enabled me to combine the two. When I was a child, my twin brother Tomas and I were diagnosed with congenital glaucoma, which became worse as I reached adulthood. While my brother can walk using a cane and can see shadows, I became blind at age 28.

I stopped working immediately and flew to the United States to have a series of operations. After each surgery the world became brighter and clearer for a little while, but soon the blurriness and darkness took over once again. I began to lose hope about my future, and eventually my wife and I returned home, after 18 surgeries, where I gave up on continuing my dream of being an architect.

My life changed when I visited a computer school for the blind in Pasay City. After studying for three months, I helped my brother-in-law build a house. It was then that I realized that I could go back to pursuing my dream of being in the architecture field, not as a designer but a 'construction manager.'

After that I managed the construction of single-detached houses and commercial low-rise buildings until I got involved in the construction of the DPC (Directories Philippines Corporation) Building on Chino Roces Avenue. The building owners asked me if I wanted to manage this building, and I immediately said yes. I took courses on property management at the Ateneo de Manila University to prepare for the job. I was also asked to join meetings of the National Council for the Welfare of Disabled Persons.

In 2000 I was asked to head the United Architects of the Philippines committee on accessibility, which led me to give talks on accessibility before members of the organization nationwide. I talked about the importance of access facilities for persons with disabilities in all buildings. My efforts were recognized by the Japan International Cooperation Agency. I stressed that 80–90% of people with disabilities live in the provinces, and that only good access facilities could level the playing field for persons with disabilities. By improving access, the number of rehabilitated people with disabilities could rise from 2–3%.

I just want to be proactive in the things I do: be it my career or helping those around me.