Changing perceptions of disability
My name is Giovanna Osorio Romero. I am 41 years old and I’m a psychologist. I have a physical disability caused by a rare disease. I have campaigned for a more inclusive society for over 30 years. My parents always knew they had to help me become a strong person who could defend herself and make her own decisions. But as soon as I left the house, there were obstacles in my path. Even as a young girl, I realised that, as someone with disabilities, people look at you in a different way.
I became a psychologist because I realised society needs health professionals who are trained in inclusion. Health professionals often take a discriminatory view of people with disabilities, and I want to change that. When a parent of a child with disabilities sees a doctor, the doctor makes a list of what their child cannot do because of their disability rather than recognise what they can do.
We need to teach children with disabilities not to define themselves by how society sees them and help them recognise and remove obstacles and become self-reliant.
This desire for change was the driving force behind the founding of Kipu Llaxta in 2016. This non-profit organisation, of which I am the chair and cofounder, works to advance the inclusion and development of people with disabilities.
Inclusion is something you experience and apply every day. It’s less about one-off actions than achieving lasting change.
Before people adopt an inclusive approach, they need to understand that inclusion is not confined to a small group of people: it allows us all to live together in a meaningful way. How many of us use a lift, for example? We all benefit from measures to improve access.
Inclusive risk reduction
In 2018, when we were asked to be part of an inclusive disaster risk management subgroup in Peru, many disabled people’s organisations questioned its importance and didn’t see it as a priority.
This is because they didn’t understand the challenge, and this made us vulnerable. This is why Kipu Llaxta decided to address the issue. With support from Humanity & Inclusion (HI), we have trained ourselves in risk management and gained expertise.
The working group is composed of private and public bodies who meet to discuss ways to make risk management more inclusive through public policies, posters, communication campaigns and appropriate evacuation plans. It is especially important to use visual, audio, text and illustrated messages to get information across. Inclusion is not just about taking into account people with disabilities; it should also include more vulnerable groups, like older people or indigenous communities.
As a result of our work, inclusion and diversity challenges have been incorporated into training courses for community safety officers. These officers are volunteers who work to prevent risks and assist disaster-affected communities. They identify evacuation routes, map at-risk areas and so on. The new intake of community safety officers includes women, men, young people, older people and me - the first community safety officer with a disability in Peru.
People used to think that safety officers needed a certain build. They thought older people, young people and people with disabilities were incapable of doing the job. But the most active safety officer today is a 76-year-old woman who says this role has given her life new meaning.
Our new intake of inclusive safety officers is challenging stereotypes.
Our work with HI
It is not always easy for people with disabilities in Peru to be part of the decision-making process. We’re often simply asked to support decisions that have been made already. Some bodies are prejudiced and want to teach us things we already know, because they assume we are not aware of them.
In contrast, HI knows all about team work. It is an organisation that listens and makes the most of the expertise of people with disabilities and the contribution they make. What I like most is our horizontal collaboration with HI. This collaboration allows us to learn and teach at the same time.
Building a sustainable society
My goal is to build a society where we no longer need bodies or organisations like Kipu Llaxta. For us, it is crucial to look at the big picture: when you give someone a wheelchair, you help them, but it’s a one-off action; when you change rules and laws, you help them and the people who come after them.
It’s about making sustainable improvements, not providing one-off benefits. We don’t live forever, and our work must continue to have an impact when we’re no longer there.