This profile was prepared when Julio Canizales was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1999.
The New Idea
Julio Cesar Canizales knows that, in order for blind people to assume their rightful place as active citizens in El Salvador, and by extension in any of the surrounding countries, three types of changes need to occur: they themselves must acquire marketable skills and the confidence to apply them; the public at large must move beyond stereotypes to acknowledge their productive potential; and the legal environment must be adapted to embrace their participation rather than exclude them. Recognizing the inter-relatedness of these challenges, Julio Cesar has embarked upon a quest to improve the status of blind people by combining three initiatives, using his position as president of the Salvadoran Association for the Blind to integrate these efforts.The first involves the establishment of vocational training opportunities for the blind, focusing on modern computer software which allows his students to use braille and interactive techniques to produce word-processing, spreadsheet and internet applications, which in turn create employment openings for them in the emerging high-tech economy. Secondly, Julio Cesar is launching computer training courses for people without visual disabilities, to promote discussion and exchange among groups which to this point have had little to do with each other, while at the same time generating revenues to subsidize the services offered to the blind. Thirdly, by organizing the Network of Associations of People with Disabilities, Julio is building an effective advocacy movement (including people with various types of physical and other disabilities) to strike down the archaic legislation that prevents blind people from voting, and reform the Health Code to be more respectful of and helpful to people with disabilities. A natural leader and strategic thinker, Julio Cesar is already looking to broaden his network, both nationally and regionally, to engage business leaders who can donate equipment and provide job placements. He is also mobilizing the families and friends of people with disabilities to help identify new sources of support, and to contribute to public education and lobbying efforts designed to challenge negative stereotypes.