Defying Expectations in the Dominican Republic

From childhood, Maria Luisa Charles was taught that you cannot judge a book by its cover. After acquiring a physical disability through polio, this expression became a personal maxim for the La Romana, Dominican Republic, native.

According to Charles, limitations are not barriers, rather an opportunity to demonstrate the obstacles you can overcome. IFES' workshop on “Promoting the Participation of Persons with Disabilities in the Dominican Republic” has played a part in Charles’ mission to defy limitations.

Organized with local partner La Red, the workshop built the leadership skills of participants and encouraged active political participation. For Charles, this also meant developing key professional skills.

Now a lawyer, she began her career by joining the judiciary branch as a clerk. For the past five years, she has served as Head Secretary of the Court of Appeal of Children and Adolescents Girls of San Pedro de Macoris.

“It has not been an easy road, and many people thought I was not going to stay in any of my jobs [because of my disability],” said Charles. I proved them wrong. I am currently competing for a position as a peace judge. The communication workshops organized by IFES and La Red helped to strengthen my communication skills.”

IFES' workshops brought together persons with disabilities in the Dominican Republic so they could share experiences, allowing participants to build off of one another’s successes. “The workshops were enriching and they enabled me to learn techniques that I could directly apply in my profession, such as tools to convey a message more effectively,” Charles said. “I had the chance to deepen my knowledge on the national and international framework that protects the rights of persons with disabilities, and then put this knowledge into practice by delivering a sensitization talk on the topic to persons with disabilities in my community.”