Raúl Lucero is integrating people with disabilities into mainstream society by developing their capacities and encouraging their autonomy to become socially independent.
La idea nueva
Raúl is helping Argentines embrace people who are differently-abled rather than see them as burdensome and needing to be isolated. A physical education teacher by training, Raúl saw that sports offered one way to integrate and to demonstrate the value of bringing differently-abled children with others onto the same team. This was his start. Now, he is arranging other high-visibility roles for people with disabilities, so that they can support themselves, and be seen to support themselves, through small commercial enterprises, such as bakeries and educational farms. To change perception broadly Raúl uses awareness-building tools, such as radio shows and outreach programs to schools and families.
In Argentina, the organizations that focus on people with disabilities offer compartmentalized support, addressing motor, sensory, or mental abilities, but not the complete person. Some organizations focus on activities or occupations, such as insertion into the labor force, artistic expression, community life, or sport. Raúl believes that what is needed is a more fully integrated approach that allows the differently-abled person to participate fully in society. The financial strain that often accompanies disability is a complicating factor, particularly in the wake of the economic crisis in Argentina. The Argentine state pays a small disability pension to differently-abled people (around 150 pesos, or US$49 a month) and has set up special schools, but this paternalistic approach only contributes to the societal view that people with disabilities are a burden—a feeling often shared by their families and the larger community. Differently-abled people may be overprotected or not widely expected to study, work, marry or have children.
Raúl began working with differently-abled young people through sports, but when he tried to integrate differently-abled people into regular sporting activities, he found they were sidelined and considered to be weird or different. He understood that a radically different vision of differently-abled people was needed. In order for them to be included into society, they needed to develop to their maximum potential in all areas of their lives. Raúl works towards this goal with an approach that focuses on the whole person rather than on his or her particular disability and promotes a new culture of integration by working with people with different types of disabilities. Raúl swiftly saw that sport was only one strategy to achieve the full inclusion and integration of differently-abled people. He founded Andar in 1990 and reformulated its mission to adopt a new inclusive approach in 2000. Andar now encompasses a day center for the most severely disabled, offering a variety of therapies; a bakery staffed by differently-abled young people that has won a competitive tender to supply bread to 23 local schools; an educational farm open to visitors; commercial allotments; a plant nursery; catering; carpentry; and rabbit breeding operations. Raúl has continued to use sport as an excellent integrator and organizes annual sporting events that bring together 5,000 differently and fully-abled young people—allowing him to spread his approach to participating organizations. As a result of working with Raúl, many have adopted his approach and abandoned their previous practices of limiting differently-abled people to repetitive activities which fail to stimulate them and may hamper their development.Raúl has implemented a series of creative outreach strategies for changing societal perceptions of the differently-abled and educating the public about disability. Andar spreads its philosophy in the community through television appearances and a weekly local radio phone-in program in which disabled participants offer tips to callers on general interest topics, such as recipes or pruning trees. Andar also runs a program of educational talks in schools, family workshops, and community programs including a soccer league and film festivals. Counseling from neurologists and pediatricians is also available through Andar. Following their successful model in Moreno, Raúl plans to set up a chain of bakeries. In all, some 60 young people work in Andar’s productive enterprises and their salary reflects whether they can work alone or need supervision. This helps to ensure a decent standard of living in addition to their disability pension. Five young people have already “graduated” to jobs in local companies and Raúl is discussing further employment opportunities with other firms. At the farm, around 1,500 fully-able visiting children per year are taught by differently-abled guides how to care for animals, milk cows, and sow plants. In the day center, three differently-abled auxiliaries have proved pivotal in helping some of the most severely handicapped children achieve key milestones, such as toilet training, and feeding and washing themselves.Andar is spreading their approach using many different strategies. Within Moreno, Raúl is working with two institutions for differently-abled people to help them adopt his holistic approach. Raúl hosts representatives from other organizations who are seeking new ideas. Raúl exposes the young people with whom he works to a wide range of responsibilities, encouraging them to become role models to others. Raúl has successfully influenced provincial and national policy makers. The provincial Ministry of Social Development considers him an authority on working with people with different abilities, and he is widely consulted by groups nationwide. Raúl leads a nationwide network of 250 protected state-run workshops for people with disabilities and develops workplace inclusion programs.
Raúl was born into a poor working-class family, and he helped bring up his five siblings because of his father’s frequent work-related absences from home. To earn money from the age of seven, he gave pony rides on the weekends and scoured garbage dumps for cables to sell. Moving often because of his father’s work, the family lived in four different parts of Argentina and Raúl felt estranged from his classmates in Buenos Aires because of his accent and customs. Twenty years ago, Raúl began working with differently-abled young people in Moreno—a highly disadvantaged district of 600,000 people in greater Buenos Aires. He was a newly qualified physical education teacher at a time when local sports programs and sports facilities were very popular but the concept of working with people with disabilities through sport or other activities was uncommon. On his way to work every day, Raúl passed a protected workshop for the differently-abled and was shocked by the passivity and boredom of the young people he saw. He observed that they performed dull, repetitive jobs in the morning and were required to take a siesta in the afternoon. On an impulse, he invited them to play sports—an invitation that changed his life. After his twice-weekly sessions at the local sports field became an anticipated event, Raúl knew he had to do more. With his contagious enthusiasm he began lobbying the municipality to allow him to operate a summer school. He galvanized other teachers who had never had contact with differently-abled students. Within 6 months Raúl was ready to begin his work. He sent five buses to the most deprived neighborhoods of Moreno to gather participants and he mobilized volunteers and social workers to visit homes to reach out to the entire community. This was the beginning of Andar and the work he continues today.