Three Dynamic Balinese Women Holding Their Own Against Disability Bias


Women with disabilities are considered some of the most vulnerable and marginalised in society – experiencing double discrimination and often facing numerous physical and social barriers in the workplace, educational sector, and in policy making.

People with disabilities, particularly women, are more likely to experience adverse socioeconomic outcomes than those without, such as less education, poorer health outcomes, lower levels of employment, and higher poverty rates.

PUSPADI Bali is empowering women – and other people with disabilities across Bali and East Indonesia – by providing them with quality mobility aids, skills training and support, so they can reach financial independence. 

We salute all women – including those dealing with innumerable challenges – from gender inequality and parity –  but who make such a valuable contribution in the world.

Here are three, dynamic Balinese women with disabilities who are pushing forward, despite the obstacles:

Meet Sudarmanti:

At 36 years old, Sudarmanti became paralysed after injuring her spinal cord in a car accident in Bali in 2010.

Up to that point, she had been working in the Health Department of the Bali Government in Denpasar, since 1997.

“After the accident, I needed help with everything – from learning how to do daily activities independently, like, transferring myself from the wheelchair onto the bed,” Sudarmanti recalls.

Feelings of uncertainty began to take a grip on her – but she wasn’t giving up. Steeling her resolve, she kept thinking of her husband and two children.

After receiving a quality wheelchair provided by PUSPADI Bali, it rebuilt her confidence and focus to return to work.

“I’m so happy that I can work again and support my family and others who need help,” she said. “My dreams are for my family, as I want to see my kids be successful in the future as well as have a good education, job, income, and life.”

In her health department role, she collects data for evaluations and reports – a job she can competently do with a mobility aid or without. In Indonesia, a law requires a 1% quota of employment of people with disabilities in the public and private sector. There’s a considerable way to go to that end, and PUSPADI Bali has been working with the Bali Government to push through more regulations to enforce the law.

Sudarmanti’s contribution and presence in the workforce, particularly in government, sends a powerful message to those around her, about inclusion, diversity, and ability. She uses her position to share light with others in a similar condition.

“When I meet other people with disabilities, I want to share my experiences and how they can look after themselves and access help,” Sudarmanti said.

Accessibility in Bali, the world’s top tourism destination, is a major barrier for people with disabilities, who rarely can access its stunning beaches, temples, resorts, businesses or public transport.

Sudarmanti is one of many people calling for improved accessibility in Bali, enabling people with disabilities to equally enjoy what this world renowned island has to offer.

Meet Karmi: 

Ni Wayan Karmi didn’t have the opportunity to go to school as a child, born with polio – she learnt to read and count from her younger sister and brother.

Karmi has never let a lack of an education affect her spirit, instead using her sharp business mind to create her own sewing business outside the family home in Badung, South Bali.

Her zeal and determination had been growing since first meeting with our staff for a quality-fitted wheelchair – they also encouraged her to do sewing lessons through the nonprofit Mahatmiya in Tabanan, which she did.

It proved to be a fortuitous meeting. Soon after Karmi completed the sewing training, she saved up enough money to start her own business, which has been running for the past five years.

Most days, you will find her crouched over her sewing machine in the small space outside her home, in a village where it feels time has peacefully stood still.  On average, Karmi makes up to 10 dresses a week for people in her community, from late morning until later in the evening. Piles of colorful fabric and lace are stacked on the shelf and bags near her feet. Karmi is never found too far from her work.

She’s a tireless worker who has learnt to ride the tide of managing a business in good and bad times, always grateful for a job where she has agency.

“PUSPADI Bali has really helped me with giving me a wheelchair and a lot of information about skills training to be a tailor and opening a business,” she said. “Without their support and advice, I would be making and selling canang (Balinese offering) – it would not be a good income.”

She’s enjoying her independence, while exploring ways to take her sewing business forward. It’ll expand her economic opportunities and help the local economy grow.

An empowered woman who is striving towards a better future for herself, like she equally deserves.

“I’m going to keep saving – maybe for a house, car or another project,” Karmi said. “I’m still working on it but I really want to keep building my business, so I can enjoy more time for myself.”

Women’s economic empowerment and closing the inequality gap is crucial, in order to progress women’s rights and developing economies.

Meet Karya:

Born with polio, Ni Nyoman Karya Wati found it difficult to walk – but over time, she has learnt to never let it reduce who she is.

Throughout her youth, she fought feelings of unworthiness and low self-esteem but has now found a place of acceptance.

In the early days when she had surgery on her legs, she had trialled a brace but found it uncomfortable to walk, so she sought the help of our former technician, Nesa, to help her shape a crutch, which she has been using for the past eleven years.

With each person with a disability that PUSPADI Bali supports, we respect their right to choose which appropriately fitted mobility aid they need.

Currently, Karya works as a cashier at a large grocery shop that her family runs, which gives her a sense of purpose, independence and freedom.

“I really enjoy working here because I have developed skills and confidence,” she said.

Her family are her world.

“Family is very important to me and they’ve always supported me and don’t stress me or are strict with time – I can work flexible hours,” Karya said.

A strong, loving network plays such a big role in a person with a disability’s rehabilitation. 

Sadly, there’s an ingrained disability stigma in Bali, wider Indonesia, and in other parts of the world, where people with disabilities are forced to hideaway in shame, even by their own families, because of their physical or intellectual condition. 

Karya no longer carries feelings of shame.

She’s at a stage in her life, where she doesn’t think twice about her disability. Neither should she.

Possessing a sense of inner pride about who she is, Karya is content with her steady job and waiting to see where life leads her.

“I want to have a small family of my own and work and manage everything,” she said.  

Empowering women is not only good for the woman – but for a country and the economy – and should be of the highest priority.

PUSPADI Bali supports women’s economic empowerment, which allows them to exercise their rights and giving them choice about where they want to work, and how long, as well as enabling them to leverage their voice in important economic decisions – or those in their home and community.

Their meaningful participation in these matters is everything and the only way a society can move forward, to increase economic diversification and income equality – women are at the heart of it.

In Indonesia and globally, countries need to develop policies, programs and frameworks which align with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of reducing gender inequality, poverty and others – in order to advance women’s rights – and for transformational change to occur at a community, political and economic level.