SANTIAGO, Chile - The Inter-American Development Bank opened a dialogue today among political and community leaders, representatives of the private sector and the media, and specialists to raise awareness on the importance of adopting policies that include persons with disabilities in economic and social life.
The first ladies of Chile, Luisa Durán de Lagos, and of Ecuador, María Isabel Baquerizo de Noboa, participated in the event.
Although the need to take steps for inclusion of the nearly 10 percent of the population of Latin America and the Caribbean that suffers some form of disability has been widely recognized in the context of human rights, the economic and social benefits have received less attention.
The initiative is titled "Dialogue on Development and Inclusion: Opportunities for People with Disabilities." IDB has focused in this phase on two main fronts: education and the labor market; and transportation, infrastructure and urban design. The initiative also calls for new studies and reports on the magnitude of the problem and best practices and most effective projects.
"Development programs in such areas as infrastructure, city planning, housing, transportation, information technology, and education and training offer key opportunities to address access for persons with disabilities," noted Mayra Buvinic, chief of the IDB Social Development Division.
"Disability should be a public policy issue about mainstreaming this population in education and the labor market," said Buvinic. "We therefore need specific, accurate census data on the disabled. It is also important to note that the countries can gain major benefits by expanding opportunities for the disabled but incur high costs if they don’t."
The IDB intends to intensify the process of creating new opportunities through the utilization of financial and nonfinancial mechanisms, and the Bank will also encourage alliances between the private and public sectors.
The forum included presentations on the benefits of investing in disabled persons, a round table on strategies to expand access to education and to the work force, and a session on strategies to improve access in infrastructure projects and in urban design.
New alliances: launching ORITEL
The final session of the meeting was presided over by Chile’s First Lady Luis Durán de Lagos; IDB President Enrique V. Iglesias; and Mario Kreutzberger, television host and director of the Organización Internacional de Instituciones Teletón (ORITEL).
President Iglesias and Kreutzberger signed a memorandum of understanding for cooperation to jointly explore possibilities to promote the expansion and strengthening of those institutions in Latin America and the Caribbean that assist persons with disabilities.
ORITEL is an organization founded by the popular Chilean television personality Don Francisco, who through annual marathon programs known as Teletones has raised contributions to treat and cure thousands of children suffering from nerve, muscle, and skeletal disabilities. The program, founded in Chile, has been extended to 10 countries of the region.
The video "Construyendo con todos: Discapacidad y desarrollo en América Latina y el Caribe" (Building for All: Disabilities and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean) was shown on the final day of the dialogue. It was produced by the Bank and the television crew of Teletón in Chile to raise the awareness of governments, communities, the private sector, and civil society to promote discussion and action.
The documentary contains messages from personalities, including actor Christopher Reeves and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, who describes freedom to pursue opportunities as a principle for development.
The video also contains testimonials from persons in different cities in the region who had to overcome enormous difficulties for personal, educational, and professional development, and it explains the importance of creating universal urban environments, without structural barriers, accessible to all.
Iglesias praised the work of the Teletones in the region and described the memorandum of understanding as an example of the collaboration the IDB is seeking with the private sector to expand initiatives benefiting persons with disabilities.
The dialogue launched by the IDB and cosponsored by the governments of Canada and Finland is consistent with the efforts by the Bank and Latin America to promote social inclusion prior to the United Nations World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance, to be held in South Africa in August 2001.
- Christina MacCulloch