From July 26-28, 2019, Holman Prizewinner Conchita Hernandez convened the first-ever blindness conference in Mexico led by blind people for blind kids and their families.
Conchita convened a team of fellow blindness professionals to host the conference she called Cambiando Vidas, or “Changing Lives.”
Held in Guadalajara, the Cambiando Vidas conference included breakout sessions on a variety of topics, including daily living skills, low-cost technology, employment expectations, an introduction to braille and more. 120 people attended the conference, including blind people of all ages, parents of blind children and educational and rehabilitation professionals.
“Many of the people who attended the conference hadn’t been exposed to training techniques and a blindness-positive philosophy,” says Conchita. Conchita describes witnessing the impact that this conference had on attendees. “One parent said she was anxious and upset when her daughter was born blind.” The mother’s views changed during the course of the conference. “Now, she sees the possibilities that there are for her daughter,” Conchita concludes.
Conchita is the chair of Mentoring Engaging and Teaching All Students, or METAS, an organization that works to spread blindness training and advocacy in Mexico. Conchita and her fellow METAS staff hosted the conference this year and are working to secure funding to host the conference again. Conchita, however, has a long-term dream for the conference: “The conference needs to be run by people who live in Mexico.”
The first steps to achieve that goal have already taken place. “The conference was attended by people from all over Mexico,” Conchita explains. “At the end of the conference, people from different regions in Mexico formed a committee, to fight for change and legislation,” she continues.
Conchita was one of three winners of LightHouse for the Blind’s Holman Prize for Blind Ambition in 2018. The Holman Prize for Blind Ambition is about changing the perception of blindness around the world. Conchita’s Cambiando Vidas conference clearly did just that. By bringing people together, the conference helps to raise the bar for people who are blind. This has led to attendees advocating for more opportunities for blind people in Mexico. “When people come together,” Conchita says, “they can make a big change.”