This profile was prepared when Isabel Guirao was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2006.
The New Idea
Isabel is changing the system of care for the mentally disabled by introducing leisure activities as a means of integration into mainstream society. Whereas the traditional model of care in Spain keeps the mentally disabled protected and isolated from other citizens, Isabel introduces a way for them to become more involved in their communities. She is doing so by promoting activities, through her organization, Full Sails Ahead, where mentally disabled people can interact and have fun with those living with them and around them. In the process, these groups share their lives with each other and become friends—an important step towards independence for the disabled, and a means of community enrichment. Isabel has created a network of professionals and volunteers to help design and participate in a series of programs for the disabled and others, including art and sport classes, social clubs for outings like movies and meals, and summer camps and trips. Throughout all these events, she encourages her disabled participants to choose their discussion topics and activities, offering them the necessary support to carry them through. Ultimately, Isabel’s vision is that the mentally disabled will make their own decisions in their lives, with guidance from friends and others to help them live as independently as possible. Community involvement is a critical component of Isabel’s idea; she fosters an enabling environment for greater independence of the disabled through other programs to train school teachers and to coach and support their families.