MEXICO CITY – When Hugo Ruiz parades his husky figure around the lower house of the Mexican Congress with his white cane, one gets a notion of his plan for the upcoming legislature: to rid the disabled of stigmatization and paternalistic treatment.
“We can and must fight to rid ourselves of the stigma of (being regarded as) social dependents instead of socially useful,” the leftist Morena party politician, who is the first blind person to win a seat in Congress, told EFE.
Ruiz – who lost his eyesight at 17 and competed in the 1992 Paralympic Games in Barcelona – believes that handicapped people should not ask for special treatment, and encourages them to get out of their comfort zone by taking actions to earn the respect of society instead.
“We now deserve a paternalistic treatment because that’s how they have chosen to regard us and we have settled for that as a collective,” he said, adding that the handicapped should start contributing to the country’s economy.
Ruiz, who at 50 retains his athletic physique, said that he owes his value-driven life to playing sports, which taught him that it takes discipline, courage, character, tirelessness and iron will to conquer oneself.
“If you conquer yourself, nobody will be able to defeat you,” he said in his characteristic raspy voice and blunt style.
The politician recalled that, in an attempt to cope with the harsh reality of going blind, he started running at night, until he injured his throat with a window sill.
The accident helped make his neighbors aware of the difficulties faced by the blind and prompted them to change their attitude toward Ruiz.
“It was important for them to see me, for them to become aware,” he said. “That’s when my activism started.”
Ruiz formed the Mexican Paralympic Committee in 2007 and has traveled all over the world, which gave him a notion of what his own country needed to help his fellow disabled people in terms of labor, health and human development.
“Either we start competing and contribute to this country, or we won’t see another outlook,” he added.