03 December 2020
Category : Opinion
Pamela Salazar, journalist, opens her heart and tells us about how she has faced her disability with courage and passion for life.
“Feet, what do I need you for when I have wings to fly?” (Frida Kahlo)
This phrase defines me. I am 42 years old, congenitally handicapped from birth, but with an indomitable spirit. Living with disabilities is a challenge. My grandmother often says that “I am unique, because God only gives great battles to his best warriors” and, I have accepted this for every moment of my existence.
I look back on my childhood with great affection. I grew up in a large family with aunts, cousins, my maternal grandparents and of course, my parents, my sister and brother. I would not be the woman writing these words today if they had not supported me, they are my greatest love. The strength and dedication of my mother is a divine gift, as is the care and understanding of my father. My brothers have been accompanying my life and teaching me the value of fraternity and my grandmother is an absolute rock who has empowered me since I was a child and given me the courage to fight many battles. My grandfather passed away recently, but his sweetness and endless stories will stay with me forever. Now I have a four-year-old nephew who is the apple of my eye and from him I have learned that, if children are brought up to respect everyone, they accept disability as something inherent to human beings. He does not look at me as being different, but as someone fun, because he can race with his “Aunt Pilu” and be happy. This child pushes my wheelchair and shows me off, so this child, my Martin, is my favourite person on this entire planet.
I went to a private school, because 40 years ago talking about disability more difficult and was synonymous with discrimination and pain, so my parents decided that private education would be better so that I could blossom in an inclusive and friendly environment. That mission was successful.
For me, school was a place where I could grow and where I developed my love for books, words and the history of my country. I continued to study here and I was fortunate that the great-great-grandson of José María Sáenz (Ecuadorian patriot) was my teacher. He inspired my long infatuation with the libertarian feat of Latin America and defined my desire to be a communicator. I wanted to tell stories… I wanted to start with mine, to tell others that there are no barriers and that a disability is no obstacle to dreaming.
It was easy for me to adapt. I am an outgoing person, so I never had problems making friends. University was another great challenge. I went to a girls’ school so I found it hard studying in a mixed environment, but I managed it. I was first in my class and I specialised in print journalism.
Once I had my degree, I discovered that the entire educational process had been nothing compared to the process of finding a job, because even though I had a university degree and a diploma, my abilities were invisible and the only thing that other people could see was my disability . So I was offered jobs as a porter, a cleaner and – of course I do not detract from these trades at all – but I was a professional and wanted to practice my chosen profession.
There have always been plenty of angels around, and there was one woman, the mother of a young man with a disability, who always believed in my abilities. She gave me my first job as a communicator, which was the starting point of my professional career.
In 2007 I had my 19th surgery, it was a routine operation. I was used to it, but it was not what I expected, I could not walk again and it was the first time in my life that I became aware of my disability and I felt very down, as through the wheelchair had taken my essence and independence, which is also why I lost my job. My people, my family and the friends I have had all my life, encouraged and helped me again. I am still not entirely independent now, but I am smiling again, and that’s something.
These days, I look at the world from my wheelchair, and I know that I can conquer it. It is the battle for inclusion, which for me is fairness, not only in terms of disabilities, but also in general. The attitude barrier is still decisive. From my point of view, I would say that being included means walking (rolling) down the street freely, without having to explain why I am using a technical aid. At this point, I should mention that my boyfriend has undergone this process with me. He has learned to live with and understand disability with me, because he loves me. He took on the challenge of overcoming stereotypes and fears.
In this regard, respecting diversity allows us to build an inclusive and supportive world, such as the Bridging the Gap (BtG) project, which entails sustained and responsible work in schools in Ecuador to guarantee the inclusion of children and young people with disabilities. Your contribution guarantees access to education, which is very important for the full development of a person. I know a woman with a disability who dropped out because her school was not accessible and now, at 57 years of age, she has gone back to high school. This anecdote shows the importance of the BtG project, which makes it easier for students with disabilities to get qualifications and to keep their dreams of success.
Lastly, I would say that 3 December is not a celebration. It is a day to raise awareness of disability, to make other people realise the importance of accepting people who are different and start an effective and assertive social process that is summed up in a single word: inclusion.
That is the only way that I can see a different future, where people do not ask me why I am in a wheelchair, where there are no billboards on pavements preventing my blind friends from walking about, where television channels will use sign interpreters to guarantee access to information for people with hearing disabilities. And that is the only way that my brother, Esteban, a young man with intellectual disabilities, will not be treated like a child, and his abilities and knowledge will be appreciated.
This is how I see the future of people with disabilities in the world, I imagine us free, being included, challenging ourselves and smiling because people no longer give us funny looks or feel sorry for us.
Pamela Salazar Pérez. Journalist.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are the sole responsibility of the person who write them.