Social Issues

Blind Venezuelan migrant wages struggle for labor inclusion in Bolivia

By Gina Baldivieso

Santa Cruz, Bolivia, Jan 6 (EFE).- Despite being completely blind, Carlos Garcia relocated from his native Venezuela to the eastern Bolivian city of Santa Cruz three years ago.

Now he is devoting much of his time promoting the inclusion of disabled people in the workforce and the use of so-called assistive technology – an umbrella term that refers to products, equipment and systems that enhance learning, working and daily living for that segment of the population.

“Society is sometimes more blind than the blind. If society were aware of the capabilities of each disabled person, there wouldn’t be any type of separation or discrimination,” Garcia told Efe.

Since arriving in Santa Cruz, Bolivia’s largest city, the 39-year-old Venezuelan has dedicated himself primarily to giving classes on the use of assistive technologies for the visually, hearing or mobility impaired.

He said he sometimes also finds work as a thesis adviser for engineering or education students, but when necessary he makes ends meet by making and selling bread or typical Venezuelan food.

Money is often short, however, because he is an insulin-dependent diabetic patient who also sends remittances to his wife and children in Venezuela. Bringing them to live in Bolivia is not an option at the moment because he lacks fixed employment.

Garcia, a systems engineer and senior industrial electronics technician, said he is not seeking economic assistance but merely an opportunity to demonstrate his skills and achieve the job stability he needs to reunite with his family.

He lost his vision completely 12 years ago due to an eye condition known as diabetic retinopathy.

Prior to contracting that disease, Garcia had worked as a production supervisor at a poultry company, designed websites and taught classes at a university. Afterward, he said he was overcome by doubt and fear.

“I said, ‘How am I going to work now? What will happen to my family? What will my friends say? How will I go out on the street? No one will want me now. They’ll reject me, etc.’ because that’s how they’ve taught you to perceive disability,” he said.

Those concerns gradually evaporated when he embarked on a mission to adapt his prior knowledge to his new reality.

With discipline and perseverance, he began devoting his time to training others with disabilities to use assistive, adaptive and rehabilitative devices.

But after a long-running economic crisis in his homeland led him to emigrate, he said he has encountered obstacles to landing a stable job in Bolivia due to two reasons: “one because of being blind and the other for being a foreigner.”

Garcia said that in South America the blind have the most difficulty gaining inclusion into the workforce.

“They always prefer a person with a physical or hearing disability over one with a visual impairment, irrespective of the degree of professionalism, experience or any other skill they may have on their resume,” he added.

“In Europe or in North America, the society responds to inclusive processes. We’re quite far from that here. We have the legal underpinnings, institutions and everything, but it doesn’t go beyond that,” he lamented.

But Garcia remains undeterred and constantly strives to convince disabled people of the importance of learning to use assistive technologies, saying that are crucial to reducing school dropout rates and boosting their ability to function in the workforce and in educational and social settings.

The Venezuelan teaches other people with visual impairments to use cellphones, work with computer programs like Word, Excel and PowerPoint and use their email accounts.

One of his students is Santa Cruz resident Hilda Helguero, a braille teacher who told Efe that “everything is hard at first, but you have to put the effort in to get the results.”

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