Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Disability and Inclusion: Breaking Down Barriers

Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Disability and Inclusion: Breaking Down Barriers

Article excerpt

High up in the auditorium, dozens of hands fluttered in semicircular motions, a sign-language message to Katherine Alvarado, 20, and Mario Jimenez, 18, that their project "Breaking the Barriers of Indifference" had won the Peace Challenge contest of the OAS Armando Paz program. It was the culmination of process in which the young interns had overcome several challenges.

Katherine and Mario learned about the OAS through the 2010 Internship Program in Country Offices, an experimental initiative in which fourteen young people from four countries of the hemisphere participated. Both had just finished their last year of studies and they wanted to become ambassadors for persons with disabilities.

Aysha Castillero, their teacher and interpreter, advocated on their behalf with the national office of the OAS in Panama, making the case that their hearing impairments would not negatively affect their professional performance as interns. Ana Evelyn Jacyr de Lovo, Director of the OAS Department of Social Development and Employment, agreed that "persons with disabilities are not incapable people. Today, we know it's illogical to think that women can't work as effectively as men; we are learning that the same is true for people with disabilities."

Before Katherine and Mario began their internships, Castillero taught basic sign language phrases to the entire staff at the Panama office. On their first day on the job, the young people were surprised to be welcomed in their own language. Mario says this gesture was key to breaking down barriers; "from that moment on, I knew that they were willing to do what was necessary to communicate with me."

Katherine and Mario got involved quickly in the work activities and won the appreciation of their co-workers. Elizabeth Rivas, Administrative Officer of the OAS office in Panama, observed that "they were able to channel the energy they have for fighting against discrimination in the world to develop excellence in their working life."

Both interns say that they felt part of a whole. "The headquarters in Washington DC and the office in Panama worked together to make sure our contributions and our rights were respected inside the organization," Katherine says.

The work of interns is monitored from Washington DC through an electronic platform, and this turned out to be a key piece of Katherine and Mario's integration into the organization. Thanks to suggestions from the two, the platform, which debuted in 2010, has been adapted to be friendlier to the needs of persons with disabilities. …

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