“I started to lose my vision around 10 years old and, by the time I was 14, I had lost all my sight. My family tried various solutions until a doctor told me the best ‘medicine’ was education! So then our focus shifted to integration into daily life.
“I tried to go to a regular school close to home, but as my sight deteriorated, I found I couldn’t see the chalk board. The doctor advised me to go to the Institute for the Blind to continue with my education. After primary school, I went to a secondary school where I encountered many obstacles. As I had relatives in the United States, my family decided to send me there for better education opportunities. I got a secondary education through an open programme with exams every six months and I started studying music – but then I realised I was losing my hearing. It was a difficult time. However, I then got to meet the Association of People with Deafblindness.
“In 2009, the CRPD came into force in Colombia. The National Council for People with Disabilities started to contribute to the implementation of the CRPD. Article 24 references deafblindness and the provision of inclusive high quality education for everyone.
“In Colombia, when I was young and growing up it was very difficult. Now there are more laws and regulations to enable inclusive education. Deafblindness is recognised as a unique disability. Around 350 schools now have a model of inclusive education. We have guidelines about enabling children with deafblindness to attend regular schools and be part of regular classes.
“However, there’s still more work to do. The education system is not yet providing inclusive, high quality education for all. Most schools are not yet accessible, curricula are not adapted, teachers do not receive training to support people with deafblindness, and there is a lack of interpreter-guides. Decision-makers don’t really understand what people with deafblindness want and need, and don’t commit resources to support them. There is a National Council for People with Disabilities and a liaison group through which we, as deafblind leaders, work to tell the government what is required to fully implement the law.
“No-one should suffer what I suffered in the past. Everyone should have access to an inclusive education and, as deafblind leaders, we have to keep working to make the right to an education a reality in our countries. This is because education is the key to independence and to fighting for other rights. The CRPD must be well implemented, which means: adapting the school curricula; making schools accessible; increasing teacher training on working with people with deafblindness; and increasing access to interpreter-guides.