Last week Caroline met with Jaime Mauricio Gaitan of Red Punto Visión, a Colombian initiative that aims to facilitate greater access to society for people who are visually impaired and better understanding within it.
Red Punto Visión was founded in 1997 by Jaime Mauricio Gaitan, a communications specialist who has been blind since he was 14, and two visually-impaired friends – one a psychologist and the other a social worker. The company promotes the integration of people with limited vision through programmes that encourage improved physical access to public and private spaces.
In Colombia, people with visual impairments still have limited opportunities in terms of work, education, recreation, and consumer activity. Jaime believes that, in order to fully integrate in society, citizens with visual impairments must exercise their power as an untapped consumer market and have a greater voice in society.
By making public and commercial spaces physically accessible to people with visual impairments and by creating economic and cultural incentives to enter and use these spaces, Jaime intends to integrate people with visual impairments into mainstream society. As well as developing efforts to encourage the broader involvement of people with impairments in society, Red Punto Visión has created programmes to sensitize the sighted population to the realities of people with visual impairments – both in terms of what they offer and what their unique needs are.
Using his background as a communications specialist, Jaime is directing much of his effort towards the establishment of Braille signs and relief maps in the important and highly-trafficked public and commercial spaces of Bogotá, Colombia’s capital and largest city, such as shopping malls, museums, parks, and specialized bus stations. The spaces’ owners are encouraged to sponsor the signs as a means of improving their reputation through being associated with providing a service to the visually impaired and are also offered training from Vision Point Network on how to better serve visually-impaired customers.
Other efforts to integrate people with visual impairments into professional, educational, recreational and cultural activities include workshops, brochures and public-awareness campaigns – all market-based strategies to bring sellers and buyers, across disabled and non-disabled communities, closer together in a more integrated and sensitized culture.
Caroline spoke to Jaime Mauricio before she started her 1,000km trek across Colombia.
What has been achieved since you set up Red Punto Visión and what still remains to be done?
Working hard, with a number of other leaders from the disability community, a lot of good things have happened since we set up in 1997.
For example, important standards have been developed in Colombia for the built environment for construction, public spaces, transportation systems, etc. Laws have also been developed, based on the international United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and related Public Policies have been introduced in Bogotá and around all country. However, as in others countries, the full implementation of the UNCRPD is not an obligation for society or government.
Red Punto Visión and other organizations work to inform society on topics and actions that encourage the inclusion of people with disabilities. Essentially people with disabilities are still very marginalised in our society, which is why we need to take action and initiatives like #valuable are very necessary to make society more aware. Another problem is that the most important communication media are generally not interested in disability.
What projects are you currently working on?
Right now we are creating an orientation and information centre for people with disabilities. The centre will have a call centre to answer queries from people with disabilities, their families and professionals that work with this community in the areas of rehabilitation, job inclusion, education, etc.
People with disabilities will be able to get in touch with the orientation centre by phone, web, mobile App or via real time video calls from virtual booths that will be set up in public spaces such as government buildings, shopping centres, etc.
In Colombia, there are approximately six thousand public and private institutions that work in rehabilitation, defence of rights, inclusive education, cultural and politics etc. – but they are not well known by the population and people are therefore not able to access the support they need. This initiative aims to act as a bridge between, Government Institutions, the private sector and people with disabilities.
The orientation centre will offer communications services to companies that want to employ people with disabilities, with most of the agents working from home using a laptop, internet access and phone line.
The orientation centre will operate as a social business that charges fees to institutions and companies. Advertising space will also be sold on the web and mobile App screens modules screen. The project is being developed with the support of Julio Cesar Irurita, a professional specialised in virtual communication and Margarita Ante, specialised in social projects. We are also partnering with technology company INFOMEDIA.
We have won two important international awards with this concept:
- KiscStar Social Innovation Award of Glasgow Caledonian University (2011)
- Stephan Schmidheiny Social Innovation Award from INCAE Business School of Costa Rica
How can #valuable support your work?
#valuable is helping to make society more aware of the value of the one billion people in the world with a disability. In the future we would be interested in exploring further collaborative opportunities to replicate this initiative in others countries around the world.
About Jaime Mauricio
Jaime was born with sight, but a congenital glaucoma started to degrade it and by 14 he was completely blind. Having taken a liking to communications at a young age, Jaime has worked in marketing and public relations in both Bogotá and Caracas, Venezuela. While traveling in the United States to receive treatment for his eyes, Jaime noted that access for the visually impaired, as well as the public’s understanding and acceptance of them, seemed to be greater than in his native Colombia. While recognising that the visually impaired faced challenges in the US as well, he was highly motivated by the realisation that it was possible for the visually impaired to be more active members of society than he was accustomed to in Colombia and Venezuela. Red Punto Visión was set up to promote his steadfast belief that the visually impaired should and can enjoy greater access to society at large and better understanding within it.
Jaime Mauricio Gaitán – Corporación Punto Visión