We returned to the Light Museum after a satisfying lunch for an evening session on inclusion in disability. This session was presented by Michael, who was visually impaired. The session focused on interaction as the key to achieving inclusion for those with disabilities.
He believed that social processes were based around stigma and that barriers could only be broken down by truly interacting on equal ground. This was one of my favourite sessions of the week. It really made me analyse the way in which I interact and react to people in my daily life. Having a disability can make one quite insular which further propagates separation. Apart from the presentation, we took part in two activities. One involved throwing a ball of string around the group and stating our favourite meals. The aim of this activity was to physically (with the entwining of the string) and verbally show how we are all connected to each other. It was a really inspiring moment for many of us and something that resonated through the group throughout the week.
The second activity referred back to the theme of the day; light. We each held a lit candle and reflected on our paths and future relating to our disability. Sharing our disabilities in a safe and welcoming environment felt liberating.
The trip back to the hotel was tiresome as we encountered a lot of traffic. By this point in the week, our group from King's had become a family. This meant that we had become very open and at ease with each other. Despite the long journey back, we joked around and were already dreading our separation at the end of the week.
As I collapsed into bed after a long but rewarding day, I reflected all that I had learnt about myself so far on the trip. I hadn't expected to be so introspective, but it was a welcome and much needed change.
National Auditorium & Centro Histórico
Jamie Nicholas - Thursday 19th January
On Thursday we were up bright and early as usual, with our earliest departure of the week. After breakfast we went to the National Auditorium located on Reforma Avenue- one of the most famous and longest avenues in Mexico City designed by Ferdinand von Rosenzweig. From there we had a guided tour of the most important downtown places on the Turibus Centro Historico, going past historical monuments such as the Independence monument also known as the Angel of Independence a key public monument that commemorates the beginning of Mexico Independence where today the 42m tower becomes a distinctive element in Mexico City and also an area of celebration when national sports team win, they parade around the monument. We also passed key sites of Palacio de Bellas Artes, - a significant Aztec find that is a sacrificial altar and also a statue of Christopher Columbus due to him being the first European to conquer Latin America and it was inaugurated in 1877. The tour was made even better due to the temperature being above 25 degrees, so we got time to squeeze in some sunbathing but departed the bus at the National museum of Anthropology. We then were giving a guided tour of the national museum of Mexico with it being the largest and biggest. The museum was a great experience as its collection includes, giant stone heads of the Olmec civilization, treasures recovered from the Mayan Civilization and ethnographical displays of contemporary rural Mexican life. The provision for access for disabled people was interesting at the Museum, in one section visitors were able to touch ancient Aztec sculptures which was particularly good for visually impaired members of the group. It enabled them to access the experience. Most of the museum was also wheelchair friendly with the majority of spaces on the same level. This meant that members of the group using a wheelchair could access the various exhibition spaces. This is something that gallery and museum spaces in the UK could learn from. It was a very interesting museum outside my particular interests but certainly intrigued me whereby outside we got some time to look around a small market and try crickets- which was an experience, they tasted very salty but are unfortunately not my cup of tea but also original Mexican street food which was incredible. Lunch was held at Chapultec Lake, one of the most beautiful restaurants in this area. We had 4 courses which were soup- like every day, vegetable tacos, fish and then a fruit desert. It was a very posh restaurant made even better by an amazing view over the lake. Our day was done after our lunch which was our earliest finish of the week but still 8pm. From there groups departed for the hotel and it was free time.
Overall, I had an amazing experience attending the ‘Dialogues on Disability'. It was an extremely inspirational week which I won't forget for the rest of my life. I met some amazing people who have motivated me to do better in everyday life and also some great lifelong friends from around the globe. I was extremely inspired by the connectivity of the group, from the moment we met we all seemed to click and bond together and never looked back. I learnt a lot from the trip but in particular took away that connectivity and sensitivity are key to implement change with such a diverse group of young individuals all coming together in Mexico to try and increase inclusion for disabled students in higher education. It will benefit me as it made me take a different outlook on my life and has given me confidence to actively promote and circulate dialogues on disability so that in the future, the initiative only moves forwards and grows whereby I can be a part of this growth and try to implement change.
Last day in Mexico City
Rhys Thorne - Saturday 21st January 2017
Our week in Mexico City for the ‘Dialogues on Disability' conference reached its end today, but not before we got to indulge ourselves in some traditional Mexican cuisine and explore the markets of the city for one final time. Mexico City is a place of such diverse history, so why not begin our day at La Habana Cafe, where Fidel Castro was said to have begun planning the Cuban revolution alongside Che Guevara. I opted for the chilaquiles rojos (a traditional Mexican dish consisting of crispy tortillas or nachos bathed in red salsa and topped with beef, refried beans and some fried eggs). Once we had convinced ourselves to move, it was time to burn off the breakfast calories at ‘la Ciudadela, Mercado de artesanias', the first of its kind having been established in 1968 for the Olympic games, it is one of the largest and most popular craft markets in Mexico City, selling traditional clothing and handmade items from all different regions in Mexico. We had the chance to spend our pesos in this vibrant labyrinth of colour, where I bought some colourful tablecloths to lighten up my drab bedroom, and also a typical shirt from Oaxaca so I could bring some Mexican style back to the streets of London. Once we had wandered around each and every stall and bought every Mexican souvenir possible, it was time to head to the airport for our eleven hour flight back home.
Eleven hours is a long time to spend staring at clouds, but it did give me time to reflect on the truly inspiring week I had had. I've always been slightly apprehensive meeting new people for the fear that they will notice the way I walk and immediately make assumptions about me based solely on my disability. It was incredibly refreshing to realise that I was in the company of people who knew exactly how I felt as we began our journey together. It was an invaluable opportunity to meet such a diverse group of people from all corners of the globe with a variety of disabilities both physical and mental.
A personal highlight during the week was the time I got to spend speaking to Aldo, a law student at UNAM who, like me, also has Cerebral Palsy. We spoke about growing up with Cerebral Palsy and how we both had to fight for the right to study at our respective primary schools, in my case it was due to lack of funding for an assistant and for Aldo, his school simply believed that his Cerebral Palsy impacted on his ability to understand and perform well in his classes. The fact that we were able to bond over our similar experiences is a demonstration of the success of the Dialogues on disability conference. Although we may come from different backgrounds, with different cultures and live halfway across the world from one another, our disabilities do not divide us, they unite us.
What I learnt from this week was to embrace what makes me ‘different' and I realised that my disability is unique to me. It's difficult to explain what being disabled means exactly as everyone copes with theirs in their own unique way. I got to learn how people manage their disabilities in their daily life, and how we all deal with the challenges of life in a variety of different but successful ways that allow us to be our own person. The main message I took from my week surrounded by such wonderful people was that our disabilities do not define us, they are simply a part of us and if you accept that, our disabilities can unite us.
I hope to continue working with the dialogues on disability initiative along with even more global institutions in the future. The lives of disabled people, both physically and mentally is improving as the world is changing. It is vital that we continue this dialogue and keep it at the forefront of people's minds so that one day in the near future everyone is able to be open about who they are without fear of stigma or discrimination and I am honoured to continue playing a small role in this change.