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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 three men.

They shake my hand and go back to work…as do I.
 
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