As many of you might already know, today we're celebrating the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr's I Have a Dream speech. I remember hearing it for the first time when I was in middle school, and it was used as an example of how to give a good speech. We studied all the literary figures he used and we analyzed the way he spoke...
But I remember that I had a difficult time doing this job (even though I already was a big nerd by then...) because I couldn't help but get distracted about discrimination, which is, indeed, the big idea he's talking about. I was born and raised in a family that claims to disagree with discrimination but, unfortunately, the society that shaped their way of thinking is nothing but discriminating. I live in a country where, unfortunately, Afro-descendants and natives don't have the same opportunities as white people, where women face gender-based violence of all forms in a day-to-day basis and where there is a general lack of acceptance and tolerance towards what's different. All in all, I live in a place where discrimination is present all the time!
One particular form of discrimination––probably the one that bothers me the most––is the one faced by those who are disabled. Mentally or physically. (And I'm really sorry if I'm not being PC here, but I just want to make my point clear). I could say I'm already over the lack of infrastructure and facilities especially adapted for people who need them. There are no elevators, if they don't have a car and/or enough money to pay for a cab, public transport will definitely not work for them... And nobody is willing to help. The government does have a limited budget, but a great part of it is probably being lost in corruption and not reaching those parts of the population that really need a little bit of investment on their welfare.
I'm also over the whole health issue. To be honest, health services just suck in Colombia. There's no coverage and those who do have access to health services need to be healthy and rich in order to get them. If there's someone handicapped, then they won't get all they need because health insurance companies won't cover them at all.
But what I'm not over is the lack of opportunities for education and everything that's related to it. At my university––which is so proud of being "the best" in the country, and is supposed to have the best educated students here––, there's one special boy who has a limited ability to walk. He's been improving, and I really admire him because I honestly don't understand how he manages to live here. It takes huge guts to have made it so far (I'd say over 2 years). But whenever people see him around, nobody gives him the chance to go by, or let him take the way. Everybody is just so into being "the best" that they don't give a penny for the rest of the world. To me, this is far from well educated and the best university. We don't only need to learn mathematical models, but we need to become citizens of a democracy, where there are some people who deserve special attention just because they don't have the same opportunities as we do.
Now, going to another university... I honestly had some hope for this one, especially in this human focus mine clearly doesn't have. But I was probably wrong...
A beautiful girl who has some physical issues that make her learning process really complicated and much slower than ours, was given the opportunity to enter one of the most demanded courses in the country. This university made a compromise and decided to acquire the responsibility of helping her––and this included making the lecturers help her as well––in her special learning process. But truth is, this probably won't work.
I realised it when mid-terms came. All the students in one of her history classes had to write some sort of paper -during the exam- about the topics they had studied during the semester. She had also studied, and I'm pretty sure she would have been able to write this paper, if she was given a laptop and some extra time. When she told me everything she'd learned, I could have easily confused her with the lecturer. She was a pro.
But the professor––if that's how he's supposed to be called––decided to "make it easy" for her, and give her an oral exam. Cool, I thought, she'll just need to tell him everything she just told me. The problem was that this guy wasn't willing to spend more than 10 minutes on this examination, and he asked her two questions she could only answer I with a couple of words. Is it me, or this is just unfair?
Instead of giving better opportunities to these people––and I'm sure these two cases I know are only a few––universities are probably making life a lot harder on them. And the government doesn't help... And we don't do either! So what's going to happen to them?
Going back to Martin Luther King Jr, I'd say this is clearly a new form of discrimination. And our societies need to become aware of this. There's nothing the government will do if we don't ask for it, as citizens. And we probably won't do so because we're too sunk in our own lives to think about others and to realise there are people out there who need some of our help.
My contribution is fighting with everybody who gets in the way of this kid at my university. Or with people who use parking spaces that are specially designed for people with disabilities while they're in perfect shape. Or with people who fill up elevators when they see there are people in wheelchairs waiting to use them...
I hope this blog post also makes a little contribution. I hope it, at least, makes you think about it. Maybe the next time, you'll take the escalators. If you do, I'll send you a big virtual hug!