Young girls around the world play with dolls. This has not been lost on Rumah Boneka, an Indonesian cottage industry that makes classic wooden dollhouses. Their productions are handcrafted, colorful and will put a smile on the face of any child. Sanny Suheri, the person behind these seemingly magical dollhouses, is not an ordinary man. He was paralyzed after being shot in a hunting accident in his 20s and will spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. This, however, did not stop him from founding his dollhouse shop along with friends in West Jakarta.
Opened in 1974 with a handful of workers, some of whom are disabled, Rumah Boneka is as much about creating independent living options – including driving a car – as it is about making dollhouses. As an Indonesian living with disabilities, Sanny has faced battles such as getting the government to enforce laws for the disabled, which is an ongoing process. Among the key components of a 1997 law is that companies must have one disabled worker for every 100 employees, although companies face no sanction if they do not. Giving the disabled an opportunity to work helps them maintain their dignity and lead fulfilling lives.
Obstacles remain, however. There is still a stigma of disability among the Indonesian public and changing that mind-set is incredibly difficult. But acceptance of disabled Indonesians can improve gradually if civil society organizations work closely with the national government to educate the public.
In the end, Rumah Boneka is not just another small business in Jakarta; it is a form of rebellion against an unjust stereotype and government inaction, despite Indonesia having 17 laws relating to disabled citizens. The dollhouses help children create magical stories, but there is not a happy ending yet. People like Sanny, who see the bright side of life, are the survivors, but millions of other disabled Indonesians are waiting to be freed.