On International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we honor those like Wahyu, an entrepreneur, family man and agent of change who doesn’t let his physical disability define him.
When I Made Wahyu Diatmika was in junior high school, a condition he’s still not sure of began weakening his muscles and by senior high school, it left him permanently unable to walk. It threw his plans off course and becoming a teenager with a disability, he had to learn to readjust to his new life.
Over the next few years he had to navigate a new, uncertain direction in a world and region where people with disabilities are often unfairly treated as second class citizens.
But he had a vision and a dream to be bigger than his current situation. Over time, he worked his way up to a point where he manages his own gaming and internet business in Tabanan, North Bali, and is a happy family man, with another child on the way.
This is his story.
Life changes: the seeds of an entrepreneur
Wahyu was like any normal kid who went to school, played computer games and loved spending time with his friends, while he was growing up in Tabanan, North Bali.
One day, everything began to change.
“In 2002, when I was in third grade in junior high school, I started feeling a problem in my lower back, like reduced muscular power,” he says. “It happened slowly, over time, and when I was in my younger teens, I could still walk quite brightly, up to 30 to 50 metres but by senior high school, I couldn’t walk at all.”
Wahyu really wanted to keep going to school but it was difficult, and he was dealing with feelings of shame about his condition.
Not yet having access to a wheelchair, he had to rely on his brother and father to carry and escort him to school, on days when he felt he could go.
Other times though, he found it extremely hard because of his declining physical condition and coming to terms with it all. On those days when he felt he didn’t have any strength, he would stay at home and quietly play his computer games.
Wahyu put up with more than most to go to school each day but he got through it and graduated.
His life as an adult had just begun but he had so many questions about his future before him.
Navigating an uncertain future
Now he had finished school, he was chartering new territory in an environment where he felt he was the only person with a disability.
Wahyu knew others would see his future as bleak but he didn’t want to give in to those thoughts, taking up any training opportunity, so he could decide what he really wanted to do in life.
He knew who he was – and had vision and dreams.
“When I first became disabled, life still felt so difficult, but I was determined to be and live like everyone else, so, after graduation, I started learning about computers, Microsoft Office and graphic design software at Mahatmiya, which is a training institution for people with disabilities, run by the Ministry of Social Affairs in Bali,” Wahyu adds.
Wahyu grabbed this opportunity and ended up moving his life on campus over a twelve-month period, to train alongside other people with disabilities. It was a revealing experience, showing him that he wasn’t alone – and for the first time, he found he could identify with others who were going through a similar situation.
During his training at Mahatmiya, he had access to a wheelchair but when he was outside and back in his community, he had to adjust again to life without a mobility aid and relying on the help of family and friends.
This was his new reality – but he wouldn’t let it defeat him.
Then a fortuitous moment happened; when he met PUSPADI Bali and his future wife.
Life has other plans
By now, Wahyu knew he wanted to pursue more in computers and gaming and in 2012, he was chosen to participate in PUSPADI Bali’s Soft and Hard Skills Training Program, preparing jobseekers with disabilities for the workforce.
PUSPADI Bali had provided Wahyu with his first appropriately fitted wheelchair, which gave him the independence he craved.
He also valued the NGO’s skills training opportunity, adding, “through the program, I learnt more about computers and met Pak Hendra, the CEO of BOC Indonesia, who was very skilled in the IT field and began studying with him, so I could learn how to turn my passion into a job.”
Life was taking shape for Wahyu and like the saying goes, love happened when he least expected it – he met Luh Mayini, a fellow Soft and Hard Skills Training participant. They started dating and in 2014, they got married, with their baby boy, Putra, arriving a few months after that.
In the same year, he also finally achieved his dream of setting up his own gaming and computing business in Tabanan, Bali.
When the long-held vision becomes real
With IT and business skills under his belt, Wahyu began his gaming centre in North Bali with PlayStation 3s and adapting to the needs of his audience, he gradually rented more PCs for them to use, with a range of games on offer. On the side, he still freelances, making websites and is an online seller for computers and installs them.
He doesn’t take on any negative perceptions of him or disability, in general.
Wahyu recalls, “when I first opened my business, people didn’t discriminate against me but they couldn’t believe that I’d ended up starting my own thing, as people believed I was weak and that it couldn’t be possible.”
He now has more responsibilities and bigger things to think about, drawing strength from his wife and child, as well as those in Indonesia and abroad who inspire him.
Before he knew it, four years passed and his wife is expecting again, with their second child due in the first half of 2019.
Juggling work, family and life
With more life and work experience, Wahyu feels in a much better place.
“Right now, I feel really happy that I have a wife and child and other people may look at me and think I’m not normal, but I feel excellent with my family and business,” Wahyu reflects. “I have my own business and income, so I don’t feel I need to do charity to continue to have a life of my own.”
Like any business, it has its ups and downs, but he deals with it.
“The biggest challenge was when five of my computers died after a lightning strike and I felt down about that but knew I needed to build up my business again, so I assembled five more computers to replace the other broken ones and used the extra money I had saved to buy new ones,” he said.
Wahyu keeps picking himself up, preferring to research the latest gaming trends to introduce into his business.
“I have a dream to have a computer which I can use to set up a studio where I can do live streaming to play games and record videos,” Wahyu says. “I also want to open a shop in Bali which sells gaming equipment and employ all people with disabilities.”
Defying the stigma about disability
Owning a business and having a family are far beyond, sadly, what most expect of a person with a disability. But Wahyu and his wife knows their reality is normal and how it should be. They don’t care what anyone else thinks.
“I have never felt frustrated with other people’s responses about me,” he adds.
Speaking about jobs for people with disabilities, he’s hopeful there are signs of growth. He explains, “it may have been difficult for people with disabilities to find jobs, but the situation is changing, with hotels, factories excetera, opening up opportunities for them.”
Wahyu does empathise with people with disabilities experiencing discrimination and shame – but he wants to see more rising up and seizing opportunities, like he has done.
“People with disabilities need to ask themselves, ‘do I want to build myself or not?’ As some people want to stay in the house and not join something but I really want to see more do so.”
The power of change starts with people with disability but each of us must make an effort in our communities, so we can create a more equitable, inclusive world for all.