Ashoka commemorates and celebrates the life and work of this deceased Ashoka Fellow.
Luiz Baggio is a writer, producer, and tetraplegic who wants to use the power of radio to help disabled people, their families, and Brazilians generally learn new ways of integrating and helping the disabled tenth of the population contribute.
Profoundly disabled since the age of two and now confined to a wheelchair, Luiz has not let physical limitations keep him from pursuing a university education and a career as a writer, editor, and producer. Now 35, he graduated from the University of São Paulo with a literature degree in 1981. Since 1979, he has worked for several publishing companies as a reader and editor.Parallel with his intellectual development, Luiz has worked intensively to promote disabled people's integration in Brazilian society. He served twice as coordinator of the Movement for Disabled People's Rights, and helped to found the University of São Paulo Disabled People's Nucleus, which advises the rector on matters of interest to disabled students. He has spoken and published extensively on disabled rights and other topics, and helped the university and the city of Sao Paulo design projects to eliminate architectural barriers. Luiz's first foray into radio came in 1986, when the university invited him to write, produce and host "Interaction," a weekly program for and about disabled people. The show aired for three years. During that time Luiz also produced Brazil's first-ever radio program for the hearing-impaired, using specially-designed software to transmit radio waves over "listeners' " computers. Although he still writes regularly, Luiz is convinced that sending words over the radio is the most powerful way to persuade an audience, particularly in Brazil, where so many people are illiterate and listen to the radio for information. Says Luiz, "Taking disabled people's issues to the air will give them the status of truth."
Since most Brazilians learn through radio and TV, not through school or the very limited-circulation newspapers, Luiz believes that sensitive use of radio is the most powerful tool available to give new opportunities to the disabled. It could help the able-bodied understand disabled people's concerns, reject negative stereotypes and prejudice, and learn what practical steps they can take to give disabled family members, friends, and co-workers a fair chance.From São Paulo, Luiz plans to produce a 30-minute program with news, features, music, interviews, and listener participation that he will distribute weekly to stations all over Brazil. Though the program will focus mostly on issues of concern to disabled people for example, how to make a home wheelchair-accessible, what jobs are available for the hearing-impaired, how to handle discrimination and apathy Luiz wants to make it appealing to non-disabled listeners as well. Luiz's focus on those among the able-bodied with strong personal involvement with disabled family members or friends could have significant results. If he can indeed design the program to reach them, he can enormously expand his audience. More important, if he succeeds in doing so, he'll be helping to expand support for new policies vis-à-vis the disabled from 10 percent to 50 percent of Brazil. Radio programs targeting black audiences or dealing with particular topics such as the environment already exist in Brazil. Luiz's idea of creating a show for and about the disabled is, however, new.
Physically and mentally disabled Brazilians number 13 to 15 million, roughly 10 percent of the national population. Unlike their counterparts in more developed countries, disabled Brazilians enjoy only limited independence and mobility. They confront architectural barriers, an almost complete lack of specialized transport, and other infrastructure problems. Untutored families are likely to submit them to deadly excessive protection or to give up and abandon them. Both subtle and overt discrimination combine to keep the disabled from contributing productively to the society in which they live.This situation has changed somewhat in the last decade as disabled people have joined the ranks of other disenfranchised minorities demanding equality and full citizenship in democratic Brazil. Politicians, public agencies, and the private sector have, to some degree, taken up the cause of the disabled. Consequently, the new Brazilian constitution contains some of the most progressive provisions for disabled people of any charter in the world. Luiz believes that the disabled have not yet won the battle to increase participation and end discrimination, however. While a vocal, educated, and politically aware minority of disabled people have entered the mainstream, the majority are still isolated, dependent, and uninformed. Moreover, able-bodied Brazilians remain largely ignorant of their needs and problems. Increased communication between the two groups could go a long way toward breaking down barriers between them.
The first step in Luiz's strategy will be to reach as wide an audience as possible by focusing on the problem of distribution. He will start by producing a standard weekly program for a large, high-power São Paulo station. He also hopes to tie into a network of smaller stations that will distribute his taped programs to affiliates around the country, giving the smaller stations the liberty to add locally produced segments as they see fit. Luiz will contact disabled people's groups in cities around Brazil to encourage them to add their input to the local segments of the show. He's also thinking of approaching smaller, independent stations, such as those managed by Catholic churches in various parts of the country.Luiz plans to underwrite the venture by selling advertising space on the program, to both government and corporate sponsors. He believes that both groups will be interested in connecting their names to the disabled cause. "It's in the constitution that the state has to promote the integration of disabled people," says Luiz, "and many private companies are becoming sensitive to the problem." The fact that the disabled and their families constitute almost half the population helps. Besides efficient distribution, room for locally produced segments, and a sound financial base, the program's format and content will be critical determinants of its success. "It can't be something too different from what AM listeners are used to," says Luiz, "and it has to fit well with the rest of the station's programming." Luiz plans to keep the style fast-paced and light, using music, listener participation, and professional disc jockeys to keep listeners engaged.