Views on Disabilities in the Dominican Republic

Alex Patrick, a Mercer engineering student, surveys an El Cercado community member on June 7, 2023.

Taleen Hanna

Alex Patrick, a Mercer engineering student, surveys an El Cercado community member on June 7, 2023.

Hermongenes D’oleo works at his convenience store in Siembra Vieja, despite missing his left leg and at least one finger. He explained through a translator that in addition to himself, he has three friends who also suffer from disabilities, which is not uncommon in the Dominican Republic.

Heramongenes D’oleo poses for a portrait on his front porch on June 6, 2023 in Siembra Vieha, a neighborhood in El Cercado, Dominican Republic. (Taleen Hanna)

According to a 2021 survey, 13% of the population of the Dominican Republic over the age of 3 are affected by disabilities in some way. 

In addition to working to provide clean water to the community of Sabana Bonita in El Cercado, Mercer students also studied accessibility and disabilities in Sabana Bonita and the surrounding communities in the Dominican Republic. 

“Like water, accessibility is necessary for a full and complete life for everyone in the community. The entire community benefits when everybody who lives in it is able to participate and contribute to the best of their abilities”, said Mercer Industrial Engineering Professor Dr. Laura Moody, who led this part of the trip.

Accessibility can be defined as “the ability for everyone regardless of their physical capabilities to be able to access whether it’s a building, a space, a service, computer application, anything,” Moody explained. 

Moody spearheaded a series of student-led interviews that gauged how disabilities affect different aspects of life, ranging from questions regarding how people with disabilities are treated in interactions and the hardships that come with disabilities.

“The goal of the ones we just did, the surveys, is to determine or get a sense of communities’ attitudes toward disability and we’re going to be combining that with some interviews …with individual people with disabilities or their caretakers and find out from them where the needs that they have, the needs that are being met, the needs that are not being met and try to combine those two ideas, those two sets of information and determine what some opportunities are for us to contribute to the community here,” Moody said.

The groups got a variety of responses that demonstrated how disabilities affect day-to-day life. These responses were translated through a local interpreter. 

La Guama local Rosaura Montero explained that it is hard for her to make new friends because she cannot walk as far and also cannot work due to her disability, which many other surveyed people agreed with. Many people also alluded to the fact that people with disabilities are often ridiculed or made fun of in the communities. 

Some locals, such as Murira Montero from Pedro Alejandro, feel as if it would be better for people with disabilities to die. However, not all locals have such a negative perspective on disabilities. “If they’re alive, it’s good,” Benisi Montero said. 

 Like Benisi Montero, D’oleo explained that he disagrees with the notion that there is no hope for people with disabilities, and said his own case was an example of such. 

Dr. Laura Moody conducts an interview on views around disability and accessibly in a community around El Cercado, Dominican Republic. (Maura Rutledge)

After gathering these responses and many others, Moody analyzed the results in order to create ideas to lessen certain hardships, such as building more ramps. She said she planned to share her findings with local organizers and the MOM program

“We’re going to identify some opportunities… There are things with respect to communication, advocacy, all of that we might be able to bring,” Moody said.”

Timmons Johansen, a Mercer engineering student, surveys a community member in El Cercado, Dominican Republic on June 5, 2023.
(Taleen Hanna )

To deal with issues such as water access in the Dominican Republic, communities will vote for individuals to be a part of the local water council, in order to be able to send a representative to relay that communities water issues at a water council meeting. Moody feels like a group should be formed that mirrors this but is focused on accessibility.  

“I think one of the things we need…is a core group, sort of like the water council but not that big but a group of people who are disability advocates and people knowledgeable about disability to help us determine good projects to be working on,” Moody explained.

Before departing for the Dominican, Mercer students spend time evaluating how disabilities are treated at the university and the accessibility of the university. After completing surveys in the U.S. and in the Dominican Republic, Moody realized there were some overlaps. 

“I think that in both cases both the Mercer students and the people in the community here do recognize that people with disabilities are not always treated well and so I think that’s always for people of good heart, that’s always a good starting place if they recognize that something is not right. So that’s one piece that seems to be a good overlap between the two,” Moody said.

Emily Jacobson, a Mercer engineering student, surveys a community member in El Cercado, Dominican Republic on June 5, 2023. Jacobson asked a series of questions to gain insight into the community’s views on disabled people. (Taleen Hanna)

Mercer engineering student Sara Engels 25’, feels as if being a part of these interviews changed her perspective of the challenges and hardships she faces. 

“A lot of people who you think wouldn’t be able to do something, they can do it. And that makes me be able to do certain things.” Engels said. 

The impact of these surveys continues to influence students after they have been completed, such as inspiring students to draw blueprints to leave behind when they return home that can be used for ramp construction.