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Brazil Journey Tuesday, 24 September, 2002, 17:54 GMT 18:54 UK
Disabled people fight for their rights
Aracruz: An 87 year-old Tupiniquim Indian leader says he can't write and won't vote Canudos: Paulo meets island-dwelling Marciano, who follows a 19th Century messianic leader Salvador: Traditional street vendors want a president who will give them a monopoly on bean fritters Pernambuco: A community descended from escaped slaves fights for access to its own land Eldorado dos Carajas: Where land reform has brought soaring crime Serra Pelada: Small-scale gold diggers win a 10-year mining rights battle Brasil Novo: A remote jungle town longs for electricity and a surfaced road Santarem: Canvassing votes by river boat at the heart of the Amazon jungle Belém: The city where a councillor with one arm is spearheading the fight for disability rights Belém-Brasilia highway: Two days with a trucker on Brazil's damaged and bandit-ridden roads Brasilia: The scavengers who live off the capital's waste Sao Paulo: The city 'island' dwellers who will have to travel for four hours to vote

Report nine: Belém

As Brazil gears up for presidential elections in October, BBC Brasil's Paulo Cabral travels through remote mountains, arid countryside and deep jungle to find out what 21st Century politics mean in the Brazil that normally goes unreported.

The disabled citizens of the state of Pará want to show they count - so they are standing as candidates in the election.

The Pará Association for the Disabled (APPD) is backing a candidate who has only one arm and who is standing for a seat in the State Legislative Assembly of Pará.

She has already served two terms as a local councillor in Belém.

APPD President Amaury de Souza Filho
Amaury de Souza Filho says it is hard for disabled people to get jobs
This candidate is from the opposition, but the APPD President, Amaury de Souza Filho, assured me that his organisation backs no particular party.

For him the important thing is to encourage disabled people to engage in politics and actively defend their rights.

"We have backed various disabled town councillors - often from different political parties. Our objective is to add weight and momentum to the fight for the rights of people with disabilities," he said.

According to the Brazilian Geographical Institute for Statistics, about 14% of the Brazilian population has some physical disability.

On the basis of this information, Mr Souza estimates that in Pará state there must be some 1.1 million disabled people, and around 214,000 in the city of Belém.

"These are numbers that carry weight in any election," he says.

"We believe disabled people must make themselves visible in order to make demands for their rights. And there is no better time for this than an election."

At local council level the main issue is the fight to make towns easier for disabled people to move around.

Football goal keeper José Carlos Ferreira
José Carlos Ferreira plays in goal for the city's amputee football team
"Belém is a very old town, and the architecture has too many obstacles for disabled people," he said.

And, walking around Belém, it is clear that the 17th and 18th Century Portuguese colonial buildings - with their sweeping staircases - present enormous difficulty to anyone in a wheelchair or on crutches.

The fact that most public offices are housed in these old buildings makes things worse.

Even the street where the APPD has its headquarters has high pavements and few ramps.

Mr Souza adds that disabled people also have problems getting onto the boats that are a part of the transport system linking different cities in the region.

Presidential election
First round: 6 October
Run-off: 27 October
Key candidates
Jose Serra - ruling centrist coalition
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva - Workers' Party
Ciro Gomes - centre-left Labour Front coalition
Anthony Garotinho - Socialist Party candidate
The jetties are not in slightest way adapted to help the disabled and in most cases passengers have to walk on a narrow wooden plank to get onto the boat - which can be difficult even for an able-bodied person.

"There are some women that simply don't travel on the boats because of the embarrassment of being carried onto the boat," he told me.

Mr Souza explains that people with physical handicaps already have some influence in Brasilia, the federal capital of Brazil.

"The interests of disabled people are defended in Brasilia by members in the chamber of deputies that span the whole political spectrum," he said.

He hopes the new government will back disabled Brazilians' fight to be integrated into society and to gain the respect of all Brazilians.

"Just imagine how hard it must be for a handicapped person to find a job, when it is already difficult enough for a so-called normal person," said Mr Souza, who is visually impaired himself.

Sporting achievements

The APPD president told me how the organisation has helped place more than 400 disabled people in jobs, enabling them to support their own families.

"We already have laws that protect people with disabilities. But now we need the willpower to ensure these laws are implemented," he said.

Belém building
Sweeping colonial staircases are a problem for Belém's disabled people
The disabled people of Pará are also hoping for some government support to back up the advances they have made in sport.

The state boasts some of Brazil's best wheelchair basketball and amputee football players.

José Carlos Ferreira has no left arm and is the goalkeeper for the Pará amputee football team.

"Many of our friends who used to spend the weekends drinking are now doing football training and feel they are worth a lot more," he said.

He is calling on the local authorities to support disabled teams and enable them to enter competitions all over Brazil.

"Imagine a disabled sportsman who has never had the chance of leaving Belém being able to participate in a sporting event in another state - it will generate confidence and enthusiasm that he will be able to share with others," he said.


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20 Aug 02 | Americas
19 Jul 02 | Americas
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