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  Nothing About Us Without Us

   Developing Innovative Technologies
            For, By and With Disabled Persons

    David Werner



Need for Independent Living
and Women's Liberation:
Conchita's Story

The Need for Independence from One's Own Family

In many countries, community based rehabilitation (CBR) has been promoted with its main focus in the homes of disabled individuals. Each home is regularly visited by a "local supervisor," who teaches the family to do rehabilitation activities with the disabled person. In these programs, often there is little encouragement for community centers - even if they are run and controlled by disabled persons themselves. The World Health Organization's guidelines strongly discourage residential centers where disabled children (or adults) are kept away from their homes for rehabilitation and skills training.

Certainly there is a good argument for not taking young disabled children out of their homes and putting them in special boarding schools or in "institutional care." Usually the best place for a disabled child, like any child, is her or his own home.

But every rule has its exceptions. Many disabled children are so over-protected by their parents that they develop little self-confidence or sense of personal worth. Especially with teenagers, as long as they stay in their home, they may have a hard time establishing an identity as self-determined adults. As a result, they may become despondent, and appear to lack energy or will power. For some of these youth, a community rehabilitation center - or independent living center - can help them find their footing and a new sense of self. This was true for Manolo and Luis, whose story is told in Chapter 46, as with many young people who have spent time at PROJIMO. It was especially true for Conchita.

Conchita's Liberation as a Disabled Person and as a Woman

Conchita's two lovely daughters and other girls in PROJIMO.CONCHITA, who was extremely dependent, depressed, and even suicidal when she first came to PROJIMO, has become one of the program's most capable, caring, and self-reliant leaders. She became paraplegic from a fall as a teenager and spent 8 years at home after her accident. Her family did everything for her, and she had little hope of ever becoming independent, holding a job, or getting married.

When Conchita visited PROJIMO for the first time, she was astounded to see other disabled persons, including spinal-cord injured young women like herself, fully self-reliant and performing a wide range of skills and services. She at once wanted to stay, and had a hard time convincing her protective parents not to stay there with her.

Eventually, Conchita not only became a highly capable leader and technician at PROJIMO, she also married, has two lovely daughters, and manages her own household.


Conchita has learned to make artificial legs.

Women's rights. Another one of Conchita's accomplishments is even more impressive: her liberation from male dominance in a Mexican village.

When Conchita was first at PROJIMO, she worked with energy and commitment, giving of herself unselfishly for the well-being of the disabled kids whose needs she helped to meet. She often spoke of her coming to PROJIMO as her "return to life." However, acceptance of her womanhood, with possibilities for love, sex and marriage, took longer. As she saw other disabled persons at PROJIMO having loving relationships and getting married, she began to re-examine her feelings and potentials. A friendship with Miguel, one of the few non-disabled workers at PROJIMO, gradually became more intimate. The mutual attraction began to overcome Conchita's doubts and fears. Eventually she married and moved into a small, lovely home that Miguel built for her. A year later, she had her first baby, Camelia.

Conchita's husband loves her dearly. But, at first, he treated her like his personal property. He wanted her to do nothing more with her life than to be a good housewife. He insisted that she ask his permission for everything she wanted to do. At the same time, he expected her to suffer in silence his late nights on the town, his drinking habits, and his angry temper.

Conchita with her husband, Miguel.

Influenced by the spirit of equality and self-determination at PROJIMO, in her marriage Conchita was unwilling to settle for the subservient role that most men expect of their wives in Latin American (and in much of the world). She began to demand her rights and insist that her husband treat her as an equal. At first, Conchita's insistence on equality was very hard for her young husband to accept. But she persevered and, in time, Miguel lost a lot of his macho stance and began to treat her with respect. All in all, Miguel has become a more even-tempered, considerate person. He also drinks less than he used to, and is a more responsible and loving father.

Helping other women to stand up for their rights. Conchita and Mari, the two principle leaders of PROJIMO, have both managed to gain equal standing with their husbands in making decisions that affect their lives. In addition, they have helped other girls and young women at PROJIMO to stand up for their personal and sexual rights. The example they have set has had an impact on the whole village, where many women are beginning to speak out, and to refuse to accept double standards from their husbands.

So it is that Conchita has not only emancipated herself by standing up for her rights, but she has also had a liberating and equalizing impact on many of the other women in the village.

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Nothing About Us Without Us

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