Abraham Plaza is on a mission to break down the countless barriers – physical, mental and social – that make daily life in Mexico City so tough for people with disabilities. But with the help of an alliance of NGOs, he finally sees signs of hope
Imagine going down 40 steep, crowded metro station steps in a wheelchair. You grab both wheels, lean back, and make small jumps between narrow steps that could launch you into a fall at any moment.
“You feel the adrenaline like you’re at Six Flags, I swear,” says Abraham Plaza. “You learn the techniques perfectly, and it’s hard, hard, hard, because there’s not a second chance on the street.”
As a wheelchair user, Plaza’s independence is not the norm in Mexico. Most people with a physical disability are told they won’t be able to support themselves, so depend on family as a result. When Plaza, who is 24, goes out with other wheelchair users, people on foot are still surprised to see them on their own.
Mexico City’s haphazard, crumbling street infrastructure is the most obvious obstacle for wheelchair users here. Kerbs can drop off without a ramp, and most metro stations don’t have elevators. City-wide sinking has caused many pavements to degrade into a moonscape of holes and hills.
It also doesn’t help that neighbourhoods have been bisected with Robert Moses-like zeal. The dividers in the middle of 10- or 12-lane roads are a special challenge for wheelchair users. “If you’re crossing a big avenue and there’s a kerb and the cars are passing, you have to get up on the first try,” Plaza says. “If you go back, a car will come by and take you away.”
Plaza is one of 72 wheelchair users who work at the city’s Benito Juárez International Airport, checking tickets and giving directions. To qualify for the job, he completed a rigorous course run by an alliance of three Mexican non-profits – Grupo Altia, FHADI and Vida Independiente – who are trying to help wheelchair users overcome the physical and psychological challenges of living with a disability in Mexico City. The alliance helps people such as Plaza, who was born with spina bifida, and those who were injured as adults. […]