The Francine Foundationwith Francine Hungary at the helm, resumes its White Cane campaign this year by initiating a national conversation about the relevance of accessibility, road safety and responsible citizenship. And to warm up engines it does so with a seminar, which will take place on September 20, aimed at all those interested in increasing the equal participation of all citizens.
You come back with your campaign “Walking stick White, what? What’s new this year brings and what will be the focus?
Yes, the truth is that the whole team is very happy to be able to return with the campaign in full, after two years. Because, although in the previous two years we did some actions, during the pandemic we had to prioritize continuing to provide services and providing the white cane to people with blindness and low vision and taking a break from the awareness campaign and holding face-to-face activities.
So, first, for the entire Foundation it is a reconnection with a group of allies who have been part of the White Cane campaign since 2014. On the other hand, it is the best way to resume a national conversation about the relevance of accessibilityroad safety and responsible citizenship.
This year the novelty is in the theme of the congress. We celebrate it for the second time, now focusing on Sustainable Urban Mobility.
We understand that this is the approach to advance in an agenda of generating spaces in which all people participate equally. For this reason, at the II International Congress of Accessibility Urban “Mobility, Employability and Productivity in the Dominican Republic” we will have panels with the business sector, health, State, academia, among others. That is, the approach is the articulation of efforts of various actors based on common interests.
And as for the educational part, the campaign will provide the blind tours of opinion leaders such as: the journalist Edith Febles; the communicator Juan Esteban Fory; the humorist Carlos Sánchez; the lawyer and communicator, Laura Castellanos; and the specialist in urban planning, Marcos Barinas Uribe.
You have already managed to donate 6,000 canes since you started with the cause, but a cane is not enough for better mobility in people with visual disabilities, what other needs concern you?
You are right, the white safety cane is only a first link in the cycle of autonomy for blind people. There are other great challenges such as the adaptation and trust of families, the walls erected from stereotypes around the skills of people with disabilities.
Then there are the physical barriers that limit full access to environments. Here you have people who, although they are very good users of the cane, are forced to take a motoconcho when they go to work, because the sidewalk is impassable in the middle of a major highway. cityto cite an example.
And then continue education in the urban and intercity public transport system. In this sense, above all there is a mistaken perception that inclusion or accessibility They are issues of people with disabilities. For this reason, from the State and some organizations they approach them as issues independent of citizenship.
That, from my point of view, is the biggest blockage that the cycle of autonomy has in this country. Talk about accessibility It is decisive to generate well-being in older adults, mothers who take their sons and daughters to school, employees who are exposed to road risks every day, SMEs that distribute their merchandise, the list is long.
So, seeing it as the theme of a small group takes away the social and productive relevance that it really has. And perhaps that is why, since the last governments, so few efforts have been made to advance an agenda that prioritizes the fair and equal participation of all people.
What are the obstacles that usually annoy the most when moving around this city?
I can give you that answer by categories and nominees, geographically or on the ground: the number of sidewalks built as huge retaining walls, as if to hold back people and vehicles. Light poles, sewer holes, improperly parked vehicles and street furniture placed in any way.
Here a sign can kill a person while announcing a store sale. And it is a risk not only for people with disabilities, remember how the Dominican writer, Homero Pumarol, almost lost his life when a poorly placed sign came off and fell on him.
In terms of public policies, the great obstacle in the Dominican Republic is the closed interpretation of Law 05-13. And it is a phenomenon that occurs from the sector of people with disabilities, local governments, non-profit organizations and even the central government. And as everyone interprets or ignores at will, the law on disability is an instrument that is not very operative. Anyway, surely something is progressing in this regard.
In education, the great obstacle continues to be the difficulty that people with disabilities have in moving from their homes to educational centers. If getting a white cane can be an effort in certain contexts, knowing how to use it is another challenge. Add poor quality transportation and unsafe roads, it is a conviction without sentence.
In an ideal, inclusive city, technology plays an essential role, what tools you would visualize?
Of everything, but let’s go to the feasible, tools that have proven their effectiveness. And you will realize that these are useful resources for all citizens, whether or not they have a disability.
First, it is assumed that there are more and more accessible buses. Well, fixed routes and schedules must be established for these, so that a person can plan the bus that he will board according to his need. And if you want to go further, assemble that planning in an app that allows the user to track it from their cell phone, know the exact points where it stops, alternative transport routes, influx of passengers at certain times. As you can see, it is a tool that would be useful for everyone. And it starts with the oldest technology of human beings, planning.
Then, there are other simple measures, such as placing effective location points in places to access from applications such as Google Maps or Lazarillo. This, in the case of blind people. It is a technology that exists, but that still has a slightly high margin of error, due to connectivity, lack of will to sit down and invest in how we put together the digital routes of our establishments.
And finally, more traditional technology, such as school transportation or driver education programs for drivers, public servants and citizens.
If you had to make a brief history of urban planning in the DR from the perspective of people with visual disabilities, how the countYoace?
I think I would start with the criteria of accessibility that were contemplated in the building regulations from the Ministry of Public Works and Communications in the 1980s. These instruments are still in force, and except for a question of language or objectives of the time, they have not yet been fulfilled.
Then, with the millennium, issues on the agenda of participation of people with disabilities in equal conditions came to the country. As a result of the integration of the Dominican Republic in the issues of the international community, progress was made with a first bill to regulate a good part of the cycle of autonomy of people with disabilities, it was 42-00.
Years later came a much clearer idea about the participation of local governments, mainly in the National District. That led to some measures being taken. The ratification of the Convention on the Human Rights of Persons with Disabilities raised the level of discourse towards the guarantee of fundamental rights. And it was considered in instruments such as the Colonial Zone Renovation Plan, the National Development Strategy, among other instruments.
The point is that many of these actions, as you can see, have a lot of difficulty getting out of the black-on-white circle. But, it has made specific and important advances. An example is the level of accessibility that was contemplated in the design of the Santo Domingo Metro, the way in which it is used is another matter, but in planning it was a great success.
To warm up engines, on September 20 there will be a seminar focused on university students, especially those young people with visual disabilities who are starting university. The idea is to generate independence and self-confidence in students and banish the fear of parents, what advice would gives to get it?
Yes, the Autonomy and Self-Management Seminar: Keys to Productive Development has two approaches. On the one hand, it is the closure of the FORJA project, which we executed with contributions from the United Nations Development Program and, as you say, to make the transition to the White Cane campaign.
And about the advice, I can summarize it by saying that fear will always be there. A father or mother will always have the fear that their daughter and son will be exposed to the streets. And it’s okay to be afraid. When it becomes an obstacle, it is when, believing that it is doing something good, the person is condemned to confinement, confinement. Those who have had to stay indoors during the pandemic know the frustration, uncertainty and mental health crisis that isolation can generate.
The overprotection of your daughter and son are worse. Because for them the confinement will not end until you are gone. And on that day, she or he will not have the tools, the skills, or the social structure to face the world autonomously.
The day a father or mother decides that their son is not ready to go out on the street unaccompanied, he is making the decision to leave him unarmed for the rest of his life. I would rather not be protected like this.
The Seminar “Autonomy and Self-Management: Keys to Productive Development” will be held at the Santo Domingo Catholic University on September 20, starting at 9:00 am.
Is there data on how many blind young people are currently studying at university and what are the problems they most face?
Official data is not available. But, from those who have a relationship with the Francine Foundation, I could tell you that it is still a very low number. Worse, any number I give you will be speculative, there is no real survey of this data.
But those who are going to Francine Foundation they always have similar barriers: the lack of technological equipment to face the classes. Training units designed to be visually attractive or the barriers to moving autonomously to universities.
dowhatand obstacles you would like to mitigate with this pre-campaignto college?
The main objective of the seminar is to strengthen the confidence of fathers and mothers in their children. Many times, families are the biggest obstacle that a person with a disability can have.
At the same time, it is about highlighting the value of the academies in the construction of autonomous and competitive professionals. And, of course, place in the public ideas of social skills and technical skills.