Disabled inclusion initiative seeks empathy in Mexican society
Sunday morning is family time in Mexico City, when the capital’s main avenue is closed to traffic, and bicycle stands line the thoroughfare. But one stand in particular is doing something different.
Run entirely by private citizens, the “Blind Stroll” initiative pairs disabled residents with volunteers, giving everyone a chance to join the fun.
“The experience of cycling is something many of our friends here thought they would never experience,” founder Manuel de la Torre said. “The exhilaration of the wind in their face has reduced many of them to tears.”
Guillermo Romero has been blind since birth, and comes every Sunday for the bike ride.
“I love coming here. The volunteer steers and I pedal, and we go over the speed bumps and bridges. It’s difficult for me to make friends, so this has become very important for me.”
Since 2010, the program has paired more than 500 disabled residents with volunteers. Every Sunday for the past eight years, the empathy-building program has aimed to promote social inclusion in Mexico City society. It’s an activity that citizen volunteers said is a highlight of their week.
Luis Barrera rides tandem bicycles with Guillermo and others.
“It’s very gratifying, and we always say that the volunteers here benefit more than the people we help,” Barrera said.
Mexico’s capital is home to an estimated 500,000 people with disabilities, and psychologist Cristina Leon said the city needs to do more to help them.
“Mexico City is simply not equipped for blind people, and in addition to the lack of wheelchair ramps, audio-aided pedestrian crossings and other modifications, there is a lack of understanding from society. It’s a situation that’s improving slowly, and programs like this accelerate that progress.”
Other efforts are less noticeable, except to those who benefit. The city’s newest bus route runs along the same avenue as the Blind Stroll, and offers wheelchair ramps and directions in braille.
While activists said infrastructure improvements like this are a step forward, the fight for social acceptance is an equally vital part of the battle.