Hola from Quito!

Accessibility and Inclusion for People with Disabilities in Ecuador – A Success Story

Being in a learning environment, the culture at Paxton Campus has been encouraging for many of us on staff to follow our diverse passions for learning new things. This encouragement has led me to follow a long-term dream to learn Spanish. So here I am spending the summer in Quito, Ecuador, a beautiful city high in the Andes Mountains; living with an Ecuadorian family and going to Spanish language classes everyday.

Arriving to the capital of a country roughly the size of Nevada, I was happily surprised to see curb cuts and ramps on every street crossing, the streets have crosswalks with lights and sounds directing people when they can cross. And turning on the news, one can see a person in the bottom left corner of the television screen using sign language to translate the news for those who cannot hear. How refreshing to see so much accessibility for people with disabilities in this country.

Then I hear the name, Lenin Moreno.

In the late 1990s, Lenin Moreno was in a tragic accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down, but he did not let that stop him. He became a motivational speaker, and continued as a public servant until eventually in 2007, he became the Vice President of Ecuador.

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Former Vice President of Ecuador Lenin Moreno Garcés in his office on March 1, 2012. (Photo Credit: Ivan Kashinsky/Americas Quarterly)

When he came into office, he made it a priority to understand the conditions of people with disabilities in Ecuador. He took a fact-finding mission around the entire country and was shocked to see some of the deplorable conditions in which people with disabilities were living.

From this investigation they created the Ecuador sin Barreras (Ecuador without Borders) program, formalizing the rights of people with disabilities and the commitment of the government to see that these policies are put into action.

Over the last few years they have delivered services, supports and supplies to those persons most in need, while they continue growing these programs to reach more (2). Three articles in the newly written Ecuadorian Constitution are specifically devoted to creating a space for equal opportunities in all elements of life for people with disabilities: education, employment, housing, medical needs and more.

Before he came into office, many people here tell me that having a disability was a stigma. Thus, many people with disabilities would stay in their homes, for lack of access to the world around them. The day that Lenin Moreno became Vice President of Ecuador, he brought into the light the lack of accessibility for people with disabilities; changed policies, infrastructure, and opened the minds of the majority of the population here.

The government passed a national law that states that companies with 25 or more employees, must employ at least 4% of those roles with people with disabilities (3). The government records are that in 2006, there were 500 people with disabilities in the workforce; and in 2014, that number has risen to over 85,000 (1). In a country where roughly 400,000 people are living with a disability, among a population of 15 million (4); this is great news.

Moreno did not run for a second term in office, but instead decided to devote his last few years to creating a foundation for people with disabilities and has traveled throughout South America and the world, spreading awareness, information and replicable lessons learned. In December of 2013, he was nominated by United Nations Secretary Ban Ki-Moon to be the UN’s Special Envoy on Disability and Accessibility. He has impacted so many lives by leading his own with determination, grace and humor; while showing the world that nothing can stop him. Everyone who I have met says that if he were to run for President in the next elections, he would surely win!

Over the next few weeks I hope to be able to interview people with disabilities, people working in nonprofits and government agencies working on improving access and inclusion even more, and see what else I can found about how real lives have been changed by these amazing programs.

Here is a quote from Lenin Moreno, referencing the replicability of the programs, services and supports that have advanced Ecuador as a leader in Disability Rights in the world:

Solidarity—not as charity, but rather as the recognition of others as equals—is the basic pillar for initiating social inclusion. The efforts of all these actors [people with disabilities and their families] have allowed Ecuador to leave behind the years of exclusion and marginalization to which disabled people were subjected, and to integrate them now into work, education, culture, the arts, and sports. (2)

Rachel Roseberry is Paxton’s Communication Coordinator. She has traveled to South America for the summer to learn Spanish and to learn about accessibility and inclusion for people with disabilities in the countries that she visits. Stay tuned for more updates from her South American sojourn.

 

References

  1. Caselli, Irene. “The Law that Empowered Ecuador’s Disabled,” Latin America & Caribbean Section, BBC News. Quito, 20 August 2013. [Link: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-23692217]
  2. Moreno Garces, Lenin. “Advancing Disability Rights,” part of the Heroes of Social Inclusion series, Americas Quarterly. Spring 2012. [Link: http://www.americasquarterly.org/node/3546]
  3. Scherffius, Liz. “Disability Rights Boosted in Ecuador with New Funding Plans,” Telesur 04 May 2015. [Link: http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Disability-Rights-Boosted-in-Ecuador-with-New-Funding-Plans-20150504-0021.html]
  4. Telesur English. “Much to Celebrate in Ecuador on International Disability Day,” Telesur 03 December 2014. [Link: http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Much-to-Celebrate-in-Ecuador-on-International-Disability-Day-20141203-0015.html]

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