It is CONADIS’ agreement with the Dominican Municipal Federation (FEDOMU) that
has made these small advances possible. Both organizations have been working
closely to exercise regulation M-007 which calls for architectural and urban
construction without barriers. Peña names these improvements "small ants" when
compared to the United States but says they are significant to the DR because
the situation was critical.|
"It would be interesting if you could have seen the country 5 years ago to
notice the transformation…because none of these advances existed. The process is
slow because it is a cultural change that you can’t do from one day to the
next," says Escarle Peña.
The improvements seen in Santo Domingo are a definite move forward, but
unfortunately, not all handicaps live in the capital. According to Peña, the
majority of the country’s disabled live in marginal neighborhoods and in the
country. She says that urban centers always receive the benefits first, but she
hopes these benefits reach beyond city centers in the future.
"Disabled persons in poorer areas feel that nothing is being done because no one
makes it easy for them," says Peña. "But once they have an equipped bus and they
can travel to spend an afternoon on the Malecon, they’ll do it, because they
won’t have the inconveniences or barriers that we have now."
Many would argue that navigating the Dominican Republic’s public transportation
system is no easy feat without a disability; imagine with a wheel chair. The
DR’s busy system of small private buses and public cars has little patience for
the handicap, and not even the government run buses (OMSAS) are equipped to
accommodate the disabled. It was only a year ago that some OMAS installed
preferred handicap seating, and according to Peña, CONADIS is campaigning to
have at least 30 of the new 300 OMSAS purchased by the government equipped with
ramps. CONADIS has also sponsored a campaign to help bus drivers sympathize and
understand the needs of the disabled. Some 200 bus drivers have participated in
the program to date.
Peña reiterates that change is slow but attainable. In any case, as the wheels
of change turn, transportation remains a high hurdle in the daily life of the
disabled in the DR.
"It’s my biggest challenge," says Jose Manuel Pérez, secretary at CONADIS, who
is wheel chair bound and suffers from a muscular problem that prevents him from
walking. Pérez transports himself from Arroyo Hondo to the CONADIS offices in
Ciudad Nueva in his wheelchair for work; a 7 kilometer trek he does Monday to
Friday. He prefers this method rather than taking a bus, calling the public
transport "too difficult."
"If you wanted to take a bus, would the driver stop?" I ask.
He laughs, "Let’s not even go there," he says.
One of the biggest future problems facing organizations such as CONADIS and ADR
is that professionals are not being trained to work in the field of special
education. According to Peña, special education is not even offered as a major
at any Dominican university and those who are interested in the field must leave
the country to obtain a degree. She says this impedes the fight forward because
those who might be interested in the cause of assisting the disabled are not
given the tools to do so.
Both ADR and CONADIS have succeeded in creating opportunities and breaking
barriers for the handicap in the DR. The importance of such organizations is
evident to the present and future situation of the handicap community, but in
the end, it is the disabled Dominicans that deal with life in the developing
world and their perseverance cannot be overlooked.
"When you become handicap, it’s tough, but you have to move forward. If you feel
sorry for yourself, it’s even more difficult," says Castro, who grabs his
crutches and stands up with his co-workers.
"Well at least you guys got a break from that factory," I say jokingly to the
They shake my hand and go back to work…as do I.