New Internationalist

Revolución rampista!

Issue 384

Tomás Hernández on how disabled activists shook up a lethargic local government.

Let me explain. Here in Nicaragua it was not possible for us wheelchair users to get around like you can in places like England. We don’t have transport that is adapted to our needs; road kerbs are very high. Up until recently we could not to go to work independently or get into the public buildings we needed to use.

Photo: CADISCA
  Photo: CADISCA

Then in 2003 we at CADISCA conducted a survey of places in Managua where wheelchair users most needed to go and we identified 200 locations where ramps were badly needed.

We developed a very thorough proposal. But when we tried to co-ordinate with the municipal council we encountered tremendous resistance. The problems of disabled people just didn’t interest them.

What’s more the council pointed out that there is a law that says if you destroy a kerb you have to pay a fine of $30. You can imagine the fines that 200 ramps would have incurred!

We had a lot of awareness-raising work to do. We had to try and make the authorities understand that providing ramps was their obligation. So we started a campaign. We were on television, in the newspapers. A lot of people supported us. We got support from university students – especially architecture students – who helped us in practical ways. People donated materials for building ramps, cement, sand. We had help from other organizations in the city which put pressure on the municipality to change their attitude.

But still the municipal council would not take responsibility.

In the end they agreed that they would not charge us for ‘damaging’ the kerbs to create ramps, but the funding for the project had to come from abroad – mainly from Britain and Ireland.

We recruited specialists to construct the ramps. The municipal council buildings alone – there are 20 of them in Managua – required 40 ramps. We built ramps at sports centres, health clinics, in parks, in public institutions, on the main avenue through the city, in a concert hall, even in two churches – one Catholic and one Evangelical.

Due to the public reaction and support we received, we were able to put pressure on the municipal council. We talked to them, presented plans, and they eventually undertook to build another 400 ramps in the following year. So they have continued the work that we had started. The ramps are built in accordance with norms of accessibility – norms that were recognized by presidential decree in December 2004.

We have finally managed to get the authorities to understand that this is a human-rights issue; that it’s not just our problem but a societal problem. Activists in other cities, León and Ciudad Sandino, have had similar successes.

At a personal level, for me and my colleagues, the ramps have strengthened our levels of independence, our mobility and our self-esteem. They permit us to feel and to be seen as persons, individuals, interacting within society. And, of course, it is much safer for us to be able to go along the pavement than to have to wheel ourselves along busy roads, and this gives us much more confidence.

Tomás Hernández works for and is the President of CADISCA, an organization of wheelchair users based in Managua, Nicaragua. He spoke to NI co-editor Vanessa Baird.

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