Alicia Molina and Deborah Robles Gil have established a small business producing equipment for handicapped children that is currently unavailable in Mexico. In addition, they are setting up an information center for the disabled on the same premises.
Alicia and Deborah are designing and producing a varied set of low-cost aids for disabled children that range from walkers, wheelchairs and pushchairs to special standing supports, exercise equipment and tricycles. Although they are currently only producing custom-built goods, they are getting ready to expand, with a retail outlet offering goods to a wider distribution network. They have been getting orders from all over Mexico and countries as far away as Canada, Argentina and Chile.
In addition to providing equipment produced in Mexico (normally available only to those able to pay for imported items), Alicia and Deborah are setting up a documentation center where parents of handicapped children can come to obtain information on support groups, schools, dentists, doctors, therapists, and recreation facilities—not only in Mexico City but also in other major cities in the country. A newsletter will complement the documentation center. They are also planning in the long term to set up a counseling service for parents and children to help tackle the psychological as opposed to the physical problems posed by a disabled member of the family.
The World Health Organization and UNICEF estimate that something in the region of 10 percent of Mexico's population is disabled. At a conservative estimate this would put the figure at around eight million, of which approximately five million would be children. To the casual observer, this would seem a statistic out of all proportion, for very few disabled people, least of all children, are to be seen on the streets of Mexico. Alicia and Deborah put this down to one very simple fact: there simply are not enough pushchairs or wheelchairs to enable children to get out of their homes. The result? Most of them stay indoors for most of their lives.
In addition, in Mexico, the disabled are treated as people to be hidden away, either in the home or in specialist institutions. Either way, normally intelligent children who have some
physical disadvantage lose out on the chance to interact with other kids the same age. Inversely, "normal" children never see a disabled child and so lose the opportunity to learn a generosity of spirit and to experience the pleasure of helping others.
Very few schools, moreover, will admit disabled children even if their IQ levels are normal. Teachers complain that it is an extra burden on them. Doctors and dentists, too, often refuse to treat disabled kids, saying that they are ill-equipped to do so, but more often than not because they would lose commercially valuable time.
The handicapped, therefore, are not only physically at a disadvantage, they are stigmatized by society and further discriminated against.
Yet the picture is not entirely discouraging. There are schools, doctors and dentists who do not discriminate against the disabled; the problem here is one of dissemination of information. For when parents come up against the problem of trying to find a dentist who will fix their child's teeth, they may have to phone literally hundreds of dentists before finding one who will accept their child.
Alicia and Deborah are solving a major problem on several different levels. Most simply, they are producing low-cost equipment that is otherwise unavailable in Mexico. However, they believe that this is the first step towards obtaining greater acceptance by society for the disabled. For, they claim, part of the problem is that people are simply not used to seeing the disabled outside on the street. In time, they hope that as more and more disabled people go out, they will put pressure on the authorities to provide better services on public transport and in public buildings. They also expect this part of their project largely to fund the information and counseling center they are launching.
This second dimension of their work is even more their love than the first. They know from their own family experiences that ignorance and misinformation are fundamental barriers confronting the disabled and their families. They hope their documentation and counseling center will help lower these barriers by providing a register of medical and other services open to the disabled, and by providing an approachable place at least for initial counseling. In the long run, they expect to hand over both the production and the information sides of their work to the disabled. They feel that it is particularly important for disabled people to be deal with one another. Doing so gives both dignity as individuals. Those whi serve also provide a role model for the others to follow.
Both Alicia and Deborah are ex-University professors: Alicia a communications specialist at the Metropolitan University, and Deborah a philosopher at the IberoAmerican University, both in Mexico City. They came to know each other through their daughters, who both have cerebral palsy. It was their common frustration and will to change the conditions that society was offering to them and their children that led them to resign their academic posts and create TALITA.