For the past 18 years, my wife and I have been fortunate to be able to spend our vacation time in Mexico. Over the years, we’ve come to cherish our visits with various Mayan families, and have been privileged to participate in a way of life generally not experienced by other tourists. We’ve come to be treated, and have treated those we’ve become acquainted with, as “family.”
This March, I traveled to Mexico with a much different perspective from past visits. My time at Options for Independence has led to a much greater awareness of the difficulties often faced by people with disabilities, and I find myself continuously trying to see life through their eyes. And what an eye-opener this trip was! Trust me: life as a disabled person in Mexico (even in the highly Americanized city I visited) is much different from that of a U.S. citizen with a disability.
With the modernization of the local airport, moving from plane to terminal to exit was effortless. Except for the customs counters (at chest-height), accommodations were available for virtually any disability. The real problems began when it was time to leave the airport.
Because the government prohibits the use of taxis when leaving the airport, individuals were relegated to travel by either vans or busses, neither of which have allowances for wheelchairs. And that very same problem would continue to confound mobility-impaired individuals throughout their visits. There simply were no viable means of public travel if you’re disabled.
Although most of the major resorts had sufficient accommodations, many of the smaller and older hotels had only minimal accessibility, if any. And forget the beach! Once you were in the resort/hotel, the best you could hope for was access to the pool area, as often steps and/or foot “baths” presented major obstacles for the mobility-impaired to reach the beach.
The more I looked during our visit, the more obvious it was: I saw almost nobody with a disability among the local population. I wasn’t because they didn’t exist. Instead, their absence in public was an obvious indication of the lack of progress toward inclusion in Mexico. Indeed, it appeared Mexico was in the exact same position the United States was prior to the Americans with Disabilities Act, when the concepts of equal access, disability awareness and inclusion were merely words without action, responsibility or consequence.
Although there is still much work to be done, we should all be thankful for the progress we’ve made as a nation in recognizing the need to include individuals with disabilities as equal partners in all our lives.
On a separate note, I hope everyone will save these dates for future Options activities and events: Disability Awareness Day on May 19, Options’ Annual Conference on June 28 and Consumer Appreciation Day on July 14. And please remember: The coffee’s always on at Options and we welcome your visit!
Greg Guy is the executive director of Options for Independence