In May 2017, I traveled to Peru for the second time with the MIUSA-led RightsNow! project. I was part of a training visit to build the capacity of disability leaders to implement and enforce disability rights laws in Peru. We brought 31 training participants together: 30 were leaders with disabilities, and almost two-thirds were women. The majority of the participants came from outside of Metropolitan Lima for the intensive five-day training, which was astounding considering the fact that much of Peru’s infrastructure had been seriously affected by flooding in the first few months of the year.
Perhaps the most amazing part of the training was the cross-disability make-up of the training participants. Trainees included leaders with psychosocial, intellectual, vision, physical, and hearing disabilities. There were sign language interpreters to facilitate communication with Deaf participants, close sign language interpreters for Deafblind leaders, and simultaneous English-Spanish interpreters for English-speaking trainers to communicate with Spanish-speaking participants. Trainees commented on this commitment to full inclusion for everyone because it was something that most of them had never experienced before.
When people with different disabilities come together across varied experiences of gender, age, and rural-urban divides, learning is intensified, as is the ability to form broad, successful coalitions. As Salvador Huanca Diaz of San Martin explained: “I have been to many trainings on disability, but I have never been in a room with so many Peruvians with different disabilities discussing our common rights and how to work for them together.”
Since the May training, RightsNow! Peru trainees have shared the knowledge of disability rights and enforcement with a further 500 trainees in Lima and across nine regions of Peru. Participants have worked together on Action Plans to advocate for broad cross-disability rights, and are seeing results. One group advocated for three municipalities to support transportation for Deaf children to sign language classes; their proposal has been accepted and fully funded. Another group successfully included disability rights topics into two courses at a national university. People with different disabilities are coming together in Peru to support cross-disability issues and demand full inclusion in education, employment, transportation, and access to digital information. The message of full inclusion and equal rights for all is extending far beyond the initial May training, and is having real impacts in the lives of people with disabilities in Peru.