Catherine in Spain

Catherine is a senior Distinguished Scholar who is majoring in biology and anthropology, with a Spanish minor, in Dedman College. She received a Richter fellowship for summer 2010 to travel to Madrid and research the integration of people with disabilities into Spanish society.

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Exploring Spain’s sights and services

C127.JPG I think it’s about time for another post! I’m officially halfway done with my trip to Spain. I’ve gotten a lot done, but I even want to think about all I have left to do!

All work and no play …

C065.jpg Last weekend I didn’t have any interviews planned so I spent a lot of time with the family I’m staying with. We went downtown on Friday, Saturday and Sunday to do touristy things. I ate a squid sandwich in the Plaza Mayor, saw a panoramic view of Madrid from the rooftop of Circulo de Bellas Artes, and enjoyed tortilla de patatas and the sunset in Retiro Park.

I also got to see some of the artwork I’ve studied in Spanish classes up close and personal at the Prado and Reina Sofia museums! Picasso’s “Guernica” is my new favorite painting, I think. If you haven’t seen it, I suggest a Google Images search ASAP. The painting depicts the bombing of a town called Guernica by Franco’s allies during the Spanish Civil War and it’s an incredible testament to the horrors of war.

c104-2.jpg On a lighter note, all weekend I was happy just wandering around the city and marvelling at all of the old buildings, narrow alleys, and beautiful architecture. The little streets here all have so much character and charm that even the most mundane businesses or apartments seem as though they should be epic museums or landmarks. There are a plethora of old churches downtown, which is good because I have a thing for churches. They make me feel very at peace and connected to other people. I walked into one especially beautiful one and realized that I had accidently walked in on a wedding! Don’t worry – I slipped out unnoticed. There are so many wonderful things to see and do in Madrid and it was nice just to be a tourist for a couple of days.

On Sunday I met up with Liz, one of my Alpha Chi sorority sisters from SMU. She was in Spain teaching English at a summer camp and she came to Madrid with the other camp counselors for the last few days of her trip. It was great to see her and to speak English for a little while! We sat at the foot of the Royal Palace eating ice cream and talking about how much we both love Spain :)

Back to business

Tuesday I had a great interview with a man named Miguel who works for an organization called AFEM (Asociacion FEAPS para el empleo de las personas con discapacidad intelectual – FEAPS Association for the Employment of People with Intellectual Disabilities). It is part of a larger organization called FEAPS, which stands for Federacion de Organizaciones en favor de Personas con Discapacidad Intelectual (Federation of Organizations in favor of People with Intellectual Disability).

Did you notice that the letters in the abbreviation don’t match the words in the name of the organization? I did, so I asked Miguel about it. He told me that originally the organization was called Federacion de Organizaciones en favor de Personas Subnormales. That’s right, an organization for “Subnormal People.” The change in the names of the organizations, he said, reflected a changing attitude about people with intellectual disability.

AFEM runs centros especiales de empleo (centers of special employment) for people with various intellectual disabilities. Their centers range from restaurants to factories to landscaping and construction companies and everything in between. The organization’s goal is to provide job opportunities to qualified people who may not otherwise be hired because of their disability.

I asked Miguel a lot of questions about why his work is so important and how things have gotten better for people with disabilities in recent years. Something interesting that he told me is that he sort of regrets that an organization like AFEM has to exist: he told me that there is a law in Spain that mandates that 2 percent of the employees of every company must be disabled; if every company actually adhered to that rule there would be no need for centers of special employment because every disabled person who wanted a job would have one. But alas, companies do not do as they are told so extra efforts need to be made to provide employment for people with intellectual disabilites.

All in all, my interview with Miguel was extremely informative and very helpful. He gave me 5 or 6 books about special employment and sent me all sorts of facts and figures about disabilities and employment in Spain. He even told me about an employment center that I can check out next week. The only problem is that it’s a three-hour bus ride away so I haven’t decided when/if/how I will visit it.

I had another interview this morning with a woman who works at FEAPS. I navigated public transit for about an hour and a half each way because the office was in the southern part of Madrid. Oh, and in case you were wondering, I am basically a professional navigator of the Madrid public transit system by now. Evidently, despite my terrible sense of direction, I’m quite adept at reading metro maps and bus time tables. Who would have thought?

Anyway … today’s interview wasn’t the most informative in the world, especially for the three hours of travel, but I did manage to learn about a day center for people with disabilities that’s a bit closer than the three-hours-each-way employment center. I have an appointment at noon on Monday to visit that day center to see what’s what. Hopefully I’ll get to talk to some of the clients to get their take on living in Spain with an intellectual disability. That would be ideal!

The main thing I’ve been hearing in my interviews is that the public’s view of people with intellectual disabilities is changing “poco a poco” – little by little – every year, but that ignorance and fear still pervade people’s perception of the disabled. This is because for many years people with intellectual disabilities were kept in institutions or inside their homes, away from the public’s view, overprotected by families who didn’t know that they could live normal lives just like you and me. This research is turning out to be even more interesting than I originally expected.

Plans for the weekend

Tomorrow or Sunday I’m going to meet up with a girl I met four years ago during the exchange program I did. I unexpectedly saw her a few days ago while waiting for the bus. It was a great (surprising!) little reunion and we were both excited to see each other again. It’ll be good to get more opinions from people my own age about the situation of people with intellectual disabilities here in Madrid and I think that Belen will be a great person to start with!

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