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Growing Culture of Accessibility in Brazil

November 2, 2011

Living and working in Washington, DC, it is easy to get caught up in the cycles and concerns of political America.  Though USICD works to build bridges between American and International disability communities, it’s easy to start believing that DC is the center of action for disability rights when we are surrounded by federal agencies, national and international NGOs, and the American political machine.   Sometimes it takes a dramatic change of scenery and perspectives to remember that ours is a global movement that is being driven from all corners of the world.

This October I had the privilege of speaking and participating in the Third International Meeting on Technology and Innovation for Persons with Disabilities in São Paulo, Brazil. The meeting was a hybrid of a trade show and a conference, with the overarching purpose of exploring the possibilities and accomplishments of universal design to improve access and inclusion for people with
disabilities.   Three days of panels and keynotes featured a diverse collection of speakers from all corners of Brazilian design and industry, government bodies supporting disability inclusion in São Paulo, as well as practitioners (teachers, librarians, journalists, advocates) of disability inclusion and disability rights.

I traveled to the conference to offer the perspective of the Global Disability Rights Library, one of USICD’s flagship initiatives that works to bring the wealth of online disability rights resources to DPOs and advocates outside the reach of the Web.

What I found in São Paulo was a community of NGOs, government officials, industry leaders, and ordinary citizens that shared a vision of São Paulo as a model for inclusion and accessibility of the rest of Brazil and the world.   Whether it was through comprehensive legislation that sets standards for employment and education for people with disabilities, budget allocation for technological innovation, physical renovations of the subway system and major thoroughfares, or a public library system committed to alternate format offerings for its patrons, São Paulo is showing that they are an emerging leader in inclusion.

São Paulo is still a work in progress.  Despite being the wealthiest state in the country, São Paulo supports a metro area of more than 20 million citizens with intense income disparities; consequently a significant portion of the population is being left out of Brazil’s economic boom.

But the coalition of advocates and leaders gathered at this conference in São Paulo represents an exciting model for innovation.   Although the focus of the meeting was mainly on technology, many panels embraced multi-disciplinary and multi-sector discussion that is essential if we are to build a world that is more universally accessible to everyone.  Advocates need
to talk with industrial designers if we plan to build the technology we need for an inclusive education system.  Government policymakers must talk with medical professionals if we want to have an effective, efficient healthcare system.

The universal design concepts discussed in this conference extended beyond construction or technology. They involved
cross-disciplinary planning and research as well.  Educators, engineers, managers, civil servants, advocates, executives and all the rest who were present at the international conference are a vital part of this design philosophy.  Through sponsorship of these conferences, São Paulo is demonstrating an openness toward collaboration and fresh thinking.  Perhaps more of us in the U.S.
need to start paying attention.

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