Fellow Since 1998
This profile was prepared when Marieta Quesada was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1998.
The New Idea
Marieta Quezada is conducting a nationwide census of disabled people, visibly mapping their existence, their current circumstances, and their most pressing problems. Simultaneously, she is establishing support groups for disabled people through which she initiates the long-term and arduous process of building their self-esteem. She is working to change disabled people's inherited attitude about themselves from one of shame and passivity to one of pride and productivity. Marieta's approach is unique in her inclusion of the entire family throughout this process. She supports family members in their often-stigmatized role while encouraging them to craft more positive relationships with their disabled family members. Marieta is also reaching out to social service agencies and other organizations that have traditionally served the disabled population. She is striving to change the paternalistic culture within these organizations, where disabled people are "cases" who need "treatment." Instead, she is advocating a culture of participation and empowerment, one that recognizes the disabled person as the agent of his or her own life and enables individual decision making. Marieta is also applying practical solutions to the very real economic hardships that disabled people face. She is helping set up businesses that are owned and operated by disabled people, in industries that have traditionally excluded their productive participation. By breaking down each barrier–from access to credit to learning a trade to owning a business–Marieta is enabling disabled people to improve their economic and social circumstances, while rupturing a society-wide prejudice that disabled people are not able to lead productive, self-sufficient lives.