• The San Juan Daily Star

Office of the advocate for the disabled holds annual congress

Gabriel Corchado Méndez, the island’s advocate for people with disabilities

By John McPhaul

According to data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau under the American Community Survey, of the just over 3 million people residing in Puerto Rico, almost 700,000 people -- the equivalent of 22% of the population -- present one or more disabilities.

The eye-opening statistic was revealed last week by the island’s advocate for people with disabilities (DPI by its Spanish initials), Gabriel Corchado Méndez, at the office’s annual congress. Entitled “For Inclusion, Education and Equality,” the congress was attended by members of the population with disabilities, as well as parents, guardians, health professionals and public servants.

Corchado Méndez pointed out that “[a]pproximately 140,000 people have hearing impairments, 210,000 people are visually impaired, almost 300,000 people have mental impairments and 372,000 people have a disability of mobility.”

“This is the highest percentage of all states and United States territories,” he said. “That is a reality with which we have to work and seek equity.”

Corchado Méndez called on the Financial Oversight and Management Board to approve the office’s $1.5 million budget so that it can start that work without wasting any more time, so it can provide needed services to the deaf population.

“In order to begin the process, we can start with an allocation of $350,00,” he said.

The advocate insisted that “we must promote the inclusion of people with disabilities in the tasks of society, without regard to their condition.”

“We are waging the good fight for the need for interpreters for the deaf population, to educate students with disabilities, remove barriers, help in times of emergency and manage the mental health crisis that has worsened during this COVID-19 pandemic,” Corchado Méndez said. “These are just a few examples of the needs of our population.”

The advocate noted that “minorities sometimes become silent majorities that have to find their own voice, and for this reason, there is the Advocate for People with Disabilities, to support them in their empowerment and educate the population in general about the rights that we defend.”

“There is still much to do, and the advocate is just one more soldier in this battlefront for inclusion and equality,” Corchado Méndez said. “There are other soldiers, the ones we have to thank, which are all those non-profit organizations that give direct service to our population with disabilities.”

The event featured several government and nonprofit organizations that serve the population, such as the Office of the Advocate for the Elderly, Independent Living Outreach Movement, Support for Parents of Children with Disabilities, Office of the Patients’ Advocate, Red Cross, Pavia Health, Spina Bifida Association, Vocational Rehabilitation Administration, Pro Independent Life Center, Health Department, Lions Club District 51E, Metropolitan Bus Authority, ASSMCA PAS Line, State Council on Developmental Disabilities, Deaf United of Puerto Rico, Institute of Disabilities and University Center for Excellence in Education and Service, among others.

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