Deborah Robles
MexicoFellow since 1990

Alicia Molina and Deborah Robles Gil have established a small business producing equipment for handicapped children that is currently unavailable in Mexico. In addition, they are setting up an information center for the disabled on the same premises.

#Disability#Disability rights movement#Wheelchair

The New Idea

Alicia and Deborah are designing and producing a varied set of low-cost aids for disabled children that range from walkers, wheelchairs and pushchairs to special standing supports, exercise equipment and tricycles. Although they are currently only producing custom-built goods, they are getting ready to expand, with a retail outlet offering goods to a wider distribution network. They have been getting orders from all over Mexico and countries as far away as Canada, Argentina and Chile. In addition to providing equipment produced in Mexico (normally available only to those able to pay for imported items), Alicia and Deborah are setting up a documentation center where parents of handicapped children can come to obtain information on support groups, schools, dentists, doctors, therapists, and recreation facilities—not only in Mexico City but also in other major cities in the country. A newsletter will complement the documentation center. They are also planning in the long term to set up a counseling service for parents and children to help tackle the psychological as opposed to the physical problems posed by a disabled member of the family.

The Problem

The World Health Organization and UNICEF estimate that something in the region of 10 percent of Mexico's population is disabled. At a conservative estimate this would put the figure at around eight million, of which approximately five million would be children. To the casual observer, this would seem a statistic out of all proportion, for very few disabled people, least of all children, are to be seen on the streets of Mexico. Alicia and Deborah put this down to one very simple fact: there simply are not enough pushchairs or wheelchairs to enable children to get out of their homes. The result? Most of them stay indoors for most of their lives. In addition, in Mexico, the disabled are treated as people to be hidden away, either in the home or in specialist institutions. Either way, normally intelligent children who have some physical disadvantage lose out on the chance to interact with other kids the same age. Inversely, "normal" children never see a disabled child and so lose the opportunity to learn a generosity of spirit and to experience the pleasure of helping others. Very few schools, moreover, will admit disabled children even if their IQ levels are normal. Teachers complain that it is an extra burden on them. Doctors and dentists, too, often refuse to treat disabled kids, saying that they are ill-equipped to do so, but more often than not because they would lose commercially valuable time. The handicapped, therefore, are not only physically at a disadvantage, they are stigmatized by society and further discriminated against. Yet the picture is not entirely discouraging. There are schools, doctors and dentists who do not discriminate against the disabled; the problem here is one of dissemination of information. For when parents come up against the problem of trying to find a dentist who will fix their child's teeth, they may have to phone literally hundreds of dentists before finding one who will accept their child.