03 December 2020
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.
28 December 2018
Posteado en : Reportage
There is still a long way to go to include persons with disabilities in all of our daily lives. This is why FIIAPP is working on projects such as Bridging The Gap to make this path ever shorter
“Any restriction or absence in the ability to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered normal for a human being.” This is how the World Health Organization (WHO) defines disability. Definition published in 1980 in its International Classification of Deficiencies and Disabilities (CIDDM).
Likewise, the WHO estimates that more than one billion persons live with some type of disability, which represents 15% of the world’s population. More and more people belong to this group, which is closely related to the ageing of the population and the increase in chronic diseases.
For its part, the United Nations (UN), says that persons with disabilities tend to have fewer economic opportunities, more limited access to education and higher poverty rates. It also highlights that “children with disabilities are four times more likely to be victims of violent acts, the same proportion as adults with mental problems,” demonstrating the need to develop legislation to protect them. It must additionally be added that these people also face a series of obstacles such as transport and access to information.
Access to health, education and employment
Health is considered a fundamental right for society. However, for persons who have some type of disability it is extremely important, since their illness can improve or worsen depending on the healthcare provided, such as rehabilitation.
Although it seems somewhat paradoxical, persons with disabilities need more healthcare on a regular basis, but benefit the least from this right, since 50% do not have access to healthcare. According to the WHO, many persons with disabilities do not have sufficient resources to pay for their treatments, despite the fact that 80% of persons with some type of disability live in developed countries.
However, health is not the only area affected, these difficulties also extend to education. According to data from the National Institute of Statistics, there are currently around 560,000 disabled students in Spain between 16 and 17 years of age. Of these, 16.5% are in special education centres and the remaining 83.5% attend ordinary education. The number of students with disabilities is high but a high percentage of young persons with disabilities do not attend school, 43%.
At the global level, children with disabilities are less likely to attend school, especially if they are poor. We also found inequality in access to education between boys and girls. Therefore, “mechanisms must be improved to integrate girls with disabilities into the education system, and bring gender into the 2030 Agenda“. Says Ola Abu, Director of Research and Global Influence at the Leonard Cheshire charity.
Of the 3.84 million persons with disabilities in Spain, 481,000 are working. In relation to employment, persons with disabilities had a low participation in the jobs market in 2017, since according to INE data, their activity rate was 35%. Likewise, women with disabilities had a smaller presence in the labour market than men, a fact that shows the long journey that remains to inclusion and equality.
The world outlook is not very different since the employment rate of men and women with disabilities is much lower than those without.
Persons with disabilities in the 2030 Agenda
In its commitment to “not leave anyone behind”, the UN’s 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development reflects the importance of inclusion and improvement in the conditions of persons with disabilities. The tenth objective of the 17 in the Agenda deals with the inclusion of persons with disabilities.
As we have previously indicated, persons with disabilities have difficulties when accessing health services. In this context, the UN emphasises that these people are up to five times more likely to face health expenses that are described as “catastrophic”.
Bridging The Gap
It is very important that international cooperation becomes a fundamental tool that allows governments to give visibility to persons with disabilities by including them in their political agendas. In addition to these, both society and institutions must come together to translate the needs of these persons to give them a voice and improve their current situation in the best possible way.
Ecuador, Paraguay, Burkina Faso and Ethiopia have benefited from this European Union-financed and FIIAPP-managed projectBridging The Gap. This project aims to reduce the social exclusion of persons with disabilities in low and middle income countries in Africa and Latin America.
The situation in the countries where Bridging The Gap works is complicated. According to Boukary Savadogo, permanent secretary of the National Multisectoral Committee for the Protection and Promotion of Persons with Disabilities in Africa, “in Burkina Faso persons with disabilities are not welcome.” In order to improve the situation of persons with disabilities in the African country, “Burkina Faso is aligned with the SDGs and the 2030 Agenda”.
It is important that we reflect and try together to improve the mechanisms so that persons with disabilities can have a dignified, full life in which they can enjoy each and every one of their fundamental rights.
19 July 2018
Civil society plays a key role in the inclusion of people with disabilities, especially women, in Sudan. The main challenge is that they become aware of their rights, also at institutional level
6% of all Sudanese citizens are disabled. Although there are specific policies and laws aimed at this group, they continue to be discriminated in their communities in relation to accessing services or their rights.
The main challenge they face is the limited awareness of these specific rights. Therefore, at present, civil society associations are actively working to make people with disabilities in Sudan aware of their rights and how to obtain them, while promoting policies and laws to boost them.
For example, the right to a better education or access to the labour market are two of the main challenges that they face. Universities and schools in Sudan are not well equipped for people with disabilities. Jobs are available, but there are accessibility issues in the work environment.
In Sudan, in addition to associations for each type of disability, the Organization of Women with Disabilities includes all women, regardless of the type of disability they have. This organization works as a network that promotes the exchange of experiences among women with disabilities, which allows them to understand the needs of their colleagues and work together to help and support each other. The organization’s main objective is the social inclusion of women with disabilities in their communities.
One of the success stories of this project was the case of a girl with visual impairment who stopped going to school and stayed at home for 14 years. The organization has now helped her to finish her school education. They sent her to a specialized institution for blind people, they paid her fees and she has now passed the exam to go to university.
Another woman asked for our help to go to university because the Faculty of Education refused entry because she had a hearing disability: how was she going to work as a school teacher if she could not hear the students? Faced with this situation, the organization went to the University to solve the problem and allow the woman to continue studying, which we hope will allow her to develop her professional career as a teacher in the future.
The fact is that access to employment for women with disabilities is still limited in Sudan. Hence, here at the organization we place a lot of importance on the work we are doing together with Bridging the Gap, a project funded by the European Union, coordinated by the FIIAPP and implemented in Sudan through the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation (AICS, for its initials in Spanish). In particular, we work in the state of Gedaref to strengthen the capacities of women with disabilities from rural areas and thereby increase their chances of finding a job or creating business opportunities and cooperatives.
These training activities promote the awareness of teachers, families and people with disabilities about the right to education and the inclusion of women with disabilities in the labour market, which benefits society as a whole. They also work to create a better environment, better accessibility and equipment, and to correctly deal with people with different types of disabilities.
In general, the Sudanese community considers disability as a stigma, although views differ. While some people are accepting of disability, others hide their children from friends and family. They are afraid of having children with disabilities, especially girls, because they believe that they will not be able to protect themselves when they are walking down the street from sexual abuse, for example. Therefore, they keep them inside the house, which becomes a prison for them. Access to education and, subsequently, to the world of work, therefore becomes a liberating experience for them.
Bridging the Gap is a good project because it works with both Government authorities and with people with disabilities themselves. This helps Sudanese society to reduce the gap between people with and without disabilities and for this to be reflected in policies and laws.
In this sense, the role of civil society is key since the country’s institutions usually request their support when they have to address disability issues because officials are not prepared to deal with people with disabilities. Nevertheless, the National Council for Persons with Disabilities is working on a Strategic Plan for People with Disabilities in Sudan that, once approved by the Government, should be adopted by all Ministries.
In the past, women have been poorly represented in organizations related to disability in Sudan. But now it is considered that women have the ability and are prepared within communities to talk about their rights.
Akhyar Omar, President of the Organization of Women with Disabilities in Sudan
About the Project
Bridging the Gap has the backing of Sudanese national institutions and is in line with the country’s development strategy, which includes support for the social inclusion of people with disabilities. The project seeks to help strengthen the participation of national civil society organizations and organizations for people with disabilities in policy formulation processes. The Organization of Women with Disabilities continues to work so that these inclusive policies pay special attention to women with disabilities.
30 November 2017
The Bridging the Gap project aims to contribute to the effective implementation of inclusive policies for people with disabilities in five middle and low income countries: Burkina Faso, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Paraguay and Sudan
According to the World Report on Disability published by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank (WB), disabled people make up 15% of the world population and 80% of these people live in developing countries. These figures make the link between disability and poverty more than evident. However, inclusive development, with its focus on disability, is not yet sufficiently integrated into international cooperation projects.
While developing countries are making great efforts to include the disabled population in the design of their public policies, in practice they still find many difficulties in implementing these policies due to a lack of economic and professional resources.
It is precisely this objective of contributing to the effective implementation of inclusive policies for people with disabilities that Bridging the Gap is pursuing. It is a European Union-funded project to promote the rights and effective inclusion of people with disabilities in five middle and lower income countries (Burkina Faso, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Paraguay and Sudan).
To do this, the project proposes specific actions in each of the beneficiary countries in accordance with the needs raised by public institutions and disability organisations in each country. In Burkina Faso it will focus on improving universal access to health for people with disabilities; in Ecuador, on the right to inclusive education for children with disabilities; in Ethiopia, on promoting an adequate standard of living and social protection for people with disabilities; in Paraguay, on improving the collection and processing of data on disabilities and on promoting inclusive education; and in Sudan on improving universal access to employment for people with disabilities.
The fact that five specific country actions are planned means that it will be possible to obtain visible results and, more importantly, it will allow all the countries to appropriate the results. Bridging the Gap hopes that the good practices generated by this project will be replicable, that they will be taken up thanks to a knowledge management strategy and could be projected at a global transversal level, promoting the mainstreaming of the inclusion of people with disabilities in international cooperation.
The five areas which the project is focussing on are included in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), the international instrument for the protection of the rights and dignity of people with disabilities. Article 32 of the Convention establishes that the party States must ensure that all their actions within the framework of international cooperation, including development programmes, are inclusive and accessible to people with disabilities. In addition, the promotion of the rights of people with disabilities is reinforced by the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the new EU approved European Consensus on Development.
The inclusion of a focus on disability in international cooperation is, therefore, an urgent matter if the Sustainable Development Goals are to be effectively fulfilled and if nobody is to be left behind. Bridging the Gap will work to lay solid foundations to enable it.
The Bridging the Gap project will be officially presented next Tuesday 5 December in Brussels, as part of European Disability and Development Week (EDDW).
Carmen Serrano is the Communication Technician for Bridging the Gap II
07 September 2017
Posteado en : Interview
Olga Montúfar, president of the Fundación Paso a Paso and of the Global Network of Indigenous Persons with Disabilities, talks to us about her experience as an advocate for the rights of indigenous persons with disabilities
Olga was born 38 years ago in Mexico in the heart of the indigenous community of San Miguel Totolapan in the state of Guerrero. Polio left her with a motor disability that prevents her from walking.
An engineer by training, the difficulties she had to face in finding a job in her field led her to decide to dedicate herself to working to defend the rights of people with disabilities.
In July of this year she participated as an external expert in the opening seminar of Bridging the Gap II, a project funded by the European Union and led by FIIAPP aimed at contributing to socio-economic inclusion, equality and non-discrimination of persons with disabilities in low- and middle-income countries through institutional strengthening and more inclusive and responsible policies.
Participating in the project are three cooperation agencies of the European Union (Austria, Italy and Spain), a European organisation of persons with disabilities (EDF), a network of disability and development organisations (IDDC), the Directorate-General for Development and Cooperation of the European Commission (DG DEVCO), as well as the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights, as observers.
What are the main problems faced by indigenous people with disabilities?
The main problem we face is that this dual identity often makes it unclear which administration is responsible for developing the public policies or the programmes to benefit indigenous people with disabilities. The indigenous people with disabilities themselves also experience this same confusion. Many people within the movement of indigenous peoples identify themselves only as indigenous and not as persons with disabilities, and vice versa.
In addition, our active participation is not highly visible, and often family members, lack of economic resources and lack of accessibility limit our participation.
In the case of women, there is also a situation of triple intersectionality and the risk of multiple discrimination based on gender, indigenous identity and disability. What are the specific challenges of this group? What progress has been made in the situation of indigenous women with disabilities?
Indigenous women mainly face the chauvinistic structures of our autonomous governments, educational backwardness and scant support from other indigenous women. These limitations are multiplied in the case of indigenous women with disabilities because the negotiations regarding their participation in society are initiated in their family environment, where our right to autonomy is often not understood.
What measures need to be taken to ensure that indigenous people with disabilities benefit from the protection of the CDPD (Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities) in the same ways as other persons with disabilities?
The most important challenge is understanding the legal pluralism that exists within the indigenous systems and not falling into the trap of identifying indigenous communities with rural areas, because this is not always the case and leads, for example, to policies being designed for rural areas that cannot always be applied to indigenous communities living in urban settings.
The rural areas are governed by the legal instruments the State designs. In contrast, indigenous communities are governed by uses and customs established by their ancestors from their origins, and, over time, they gradually add new agreements for social coexistence suitable for new generations.
Additionally, it is necessary to make a rigorous interpretation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples regarding the rights established by the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. For example, the Declaration does not mention the issue of accessibility, but it does talk about the right to enjoy our territories, which requires that we have mechanisms that guarantee access to them.
Bridging the Gap II involves the participation of a European organisation for persons with disabilities (EDF) and a network of disability and development organisations (IDDC). How do you feel about the incorporation of civil society organisations in international cooperation projects?
Generally the organisations of persons with disabilities are consulted when the projects require our participation, but we rarely have the economic capacity to get to the places where the information and projects are centralised. That makes it more difficult not only to be consulted but also to participate as direct stakeholders in those processes. Therefore I think that it is a very good thing for civil society organisations to accompany the process or to somehow provide input on the life experience and solutions closest to reality.
You participated as an external guest in the opening seminar of Bridging the Gap II. Tell me about your experience at this meeting. What do you think the main challenges of this project are?
For me it was a wonderful experience because it was the first time I had been able to be present at the kick-off of a major project. I consider the main challenge of this and other projects that work on disability and development issues to be the ability to get good information from the fundamental stakeholders. That’s why it’s very important that the organisations of persons with disabilities or of indigenous peoples include indigenous people with disabilities who are still living in their communities of origin, because many of the social organisations and leaders in this field have never been in an indigenous community and they assume that the needs are the same in all of them. But every community is different, just as an indigenous community is not the same thing as a rural area or an urban setting.
14 May 2015
FIIAPP employee Diego Blázquez tells how he faced the challenge of rolling out policies in Tunisia aimed at empowering persons with disabilities in a period of social and political convulsion.
When I arrived in Tunisia during the Christmas season in 2011, every aspect of life in Tunisia was political: how women dressed, how men wore their beards or hair, which mosque you went to, which radio station you listened to or newspaper you read… and also the issue of disability. The challenging context of the political transition and the vulnerability of disability policies, previously under the direct supervision of Ben Ali, resulted in disability ceasing to be a government priority. Nevertheless, in this same context of the Revolution, new organisations of young people with disabilities soon emerged that wanted to denounce previous abuses, reform existing institutions and, similarly, there was great dissent within the large classic organisations, new associative leadership structures being built, new demands for participation and transparency…
I left the country a year ago. I lived and worked there for two years and four months as a expert from the International and Ibero-American Foundation for Administration and Public Policies (FIIAPP). I had the tremendous professional and personal good fortune to live through practically all of the political transition from inside the Tunisian government and in direct contact with the country’s civil society, and more specifically with one of the most vulnerable groups: persons with disabilities.
I arrived in Tunisia in a privileged position as a resident advisor of a European Union project: a twinning, in the jargon of the EU. This is an institutional cooperation instrument of the European Commission, managed in Spain by the FIIAPP, which aims to encourage conciliation of government management and public policies among EU neighbouring countries. In my case, it was a question of developing inclusion policies for persons with disabilities in the new framework of the United Nations Convention.
I took advantage of the Christmas 2011 break to move and bring my family over. By early January, all five of us were there with the sensation of embarking on an adventure in all senses, despite being only two hours away from Madrid by plane. During those weeks we lived through the worst winter weather on record since Tunisia started collecting meteorological data, including the biggest snowstorm in the interior of the country in 40 years. It would turn out to be an omen that things were not going to be as easy as we thought.
After a very rough start in which we really couldn’t establish effective communication with our partners in the Tunisian government, little by little we were able to start orienting the work through a series of pilot projects in the areas of inclusive education and employment programmes. The progress we made was mostly thanks to the action of a group of civil society organisations which, following the model of the Spanish CERMI, formed a powerful lobby. This made it possible to regularise the employment situation of the workers in the nearly 300 assistance centres for persons with disabilities in Tunisia and make a pact with the Ministry of Social Affairs regarding a new stable financing structure based on quality objectives and indicators.
That moment was unquestionably the turning point in the project, as it made it possible to create a new environment because, despite the difficulties and discussions, a new basic structure had been generated.
Nevertheless, the overall context again made things difficult when the first wave of political violence hit in 2012. This would end six months later with the assassination of Chokri Belaid, a human rights lawyer and secular left politician, although perhaps in international terms the best known episode was the attack and destruction of the United States Embassy.
Personally, these experiences brought back memories of my childhood during the Spanish political transition. Seeing my children enjoying days off from school as a result of these situations reminded me of myself enjoying similar moments in Spain in the seventies. I wasn’t able to see the worry in my parents’ eyes then, as I hope my children didn’t see mine in these moments.
Finally we managed to create a national strategy document on disability; we formed a group of some 30 people to address the reform of special education, and we carried out pilot projects for this reform in five schools in Tunis and its metropolitan area. We included inclusive education for parents, mothers and teachers, educational inspectors in the pilot projects, and we gave opportunities to many people, like Kauser.
In the case of employment policies for persons with disabilities, we tried to break their marginalisation in the labour market by putting them in contact with companies, improving vocational training programmes, and raising awareness among business owners about the advantages of diversity in the workforce. The experience of Spain’s Inserta Foundation was key in this sense. And we trained a small socio-occupational team in each province to assist persons with disabilities in a coordinated manner.
Despite all of this, many things were left undone, but I left Tunisia with the satisfaction of knowing that I had done all I could in a very difficult context that the Tunisians shared generously with me and my family.
I left Tunisia with a great love of the country, of its people, its climate, its culture, its streets… And with the bittersweet feeling of wanting to participate even more and better in this spirit of reform that filled me two years and four months ago when I first arrived in the country. The future of Tunisia is the future of all of us who live on the shores of the Mediterranean. That’s why I suffered along with the Tunisians when the marvellous El Bardo museum was attacked. And that’s why I want to use these lines to invite everyone to support the Tunisian Jasmine Revolution by getting lost on its beaches, in it mountains, on its deserts this summer. Sharing its archaeological and natural riches. Drinking a glass of Kurubis wine or Celtia beer while watching the millenarian blue of the Gulf of Carthage, and in this way to help consolidate the liberty and dignity of our neighbours in addition to our own.
Diego Blázquez is an expert from the International and Ibero-American Foundation for Administration and Public Policies (FIIAPP). You can also read this article in Planeta Futuro.