Director of Citizens Projects
Office of Representation for
the Social Promotion and Inclusion
of Disabled Persons
Presidentís Office, Mexico
Taide Buenfil Garza has evolved her work as an architect in several private and public agencies, with increasing focus and passion for accessible design. In December 2000, the newly elected president of Mexico, Vicente Fox, appointed her to be director of citizens' projects in the Office of Representation for the Social Promotion and Inclusion of Disabled Persons. Taide explains, "This is the first time that we have had an office especially for disabled persons. Before this there were specialized but disconnected programs in the health department or social security, but not everywhere where we needed to be."
"We have to explain accessibility to everyone, and how that must become the basis for universal design. This is the way to have the whole country working on the type of new society that we are trying to make, a society of inclusion."
- Taide Buenfil Garza
Taide describes the three branches of the new office. In addition to the citizens' projects that involve non-governmental organizations (NGOs), there is a legal section that is working to modify laws, regulations, and norms to include disabled persons, and an office on government programs that is working on how federal, state, and local government institutions will meet the needs of disabled people.
She notes, "Citizens' projects involve accessibility. This is where we can start right away working in universal design. We have to explain accessibility to everyone, and how that must become the basis for universal design. This is the way to have the whole country working on the type of new society that we are trying to make, a society of inclusion."
Taide loved art and building things when she was a child. "I used to build small houses as part of a game and made playhouses for the Barbie dolls using upside-down chairs and boxes. When I was fourteen years old, two friends and I won a school contest with a Christmas house made out of cookie dough." From the time she was eighteen and started college in 1986, she knew she wanted to become an architect. In the third year of her undergraduate program, she had an accident and became paraplegic. She now uses a wheelchair.
Taide comes from a very close family that provided essential support throughout her rehabilitation, encouraging and motivating her to remember her goals. She had many friends at school who included her in outings and helped her travel to places that she could not reach without assistance. "Thanks to my family and friends I got along very well. At first, I did not know what to do with my new condition. Being paraplegic means having to learn everything over again from the beginning, how to dress and so on. But until I learned, there was always someone with me."
Taide graduated from the University Anahuac, Mexico, in 1991 with an undergraduate degree in architecture, and a year later completed a graduate degree in art. "I felt I needed the additional degree in art, because of the prestige it would offer me. I love to paint and sculpt. It is important for a person with a disability to highlight whatever special skills or advantages they have in order to succeed in the competitive marketplace."
Taide's early career development was a struggle, from which she discovered her priorities and how to work more effectively. "I started a company, TEQ Arquiectos, with two friends in 1991. We were able to stay together for five years before breaking up and going our own ways. It was great fun and hard work. We mostly did small jobs of access and remodeling. In the end we just couldn't get enough work." During this period, Taide filed a patent for a construction procedure to build more stable department buildings (Procedimiento constructivo para edificios deslizados), which has since been granted.
Description of Photograph:
In 1996, five years after finishing her degree, Taide began to expand her work in three different areas: teaching, design, and advocacy efforts. All these developments spring from her desire to see her country become more hospitable to people with disabilities. She started work as a designer with a large construction company, Constructora BAI. There was not an accessible bathroom at her workplace, and the single elevator was often out of service, which required her to ask for help to be pulled up to her office. "I learned a lot about accessible design and practical construction and also that it was important for me to only work at what I truly believe in. So then I had to quit and turn more toward teaching and writing and individual consulting." Taide slowly increased the number of independent collaborations she took on, emphasizing consultations on accessibility issues.
In 1996, Taide also began her active association with the advocacy group Libre Acceso (Free Access), a non-profit organization devoted to the total integration of people with disabilities in society. They are the only group that certifies accessible places. She has worked on surveys and manuals that inform government and commercial interests about changes in building codes and building maintenance that make it possible for disabled people to have full access to a public establishment. She notes that the great earthquake of 1985 in Mexico City led to access improvements in the city. After that disaster, major changes in design and construction were introduced, which, for the first time, incorporated the needs of older and disabled people. From that point on, construction regulations were changed to minimize the risk for all inhabitants of the city. Taide also worked as an external assessor for the new construction regulations in Mexico City.
At the same time, Taide began assisting the faculty of various Mexican universities, especially Universidad Iberoamericana, in educating students of design and architecture and related fields about the needs of people with disabilities. This led, in 1998, to her appointment as an instructor at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM), where she lectured on accessible design to the students in the graduate program at the School of Architecture. "They were quite helpful to me at UNAM. They constructed a special ramp from the parking lot to the building's entrance and held meetings only on the second floor rather than the third, which can be accessed only by stairs."
Taide has been increasingly involved over the years with the international community of activists and advocates who are disabled. This has aided her in a number of ways. "It helps to see what has been done elsewhere and to know it can be done here in Mexico. Also, I have gained belief in my ideas and my self as well as public credibility through my international involvement. It gives me hope and strength to fight on." She first learned about universal design from a friend in England who was studying for a master's degree. She began to educate herself about the concept at the same time that she introduced it to her students at UNAM. It was at the Designing for the 21st Century II international conference in June 2000 that she began to fully grasp the practical benefits and philosophical grounding that universal design offers to her work. Taide was an invited participant in the Developing Economies Workshop, where she gave a presentation on Mexico's efforts to be an accessible country. After this conference, Taide started Accesibilidad Y Diseño Universal, A.C., a consulting office in universal design and accessibility.
Taide says that she loves being social and organizing people to change the world so that it includes everyone. "I love the look of joy on the faces of people who see that they can make a difference."
Taide continues to paint and sculpt in her free time. She has had many exhibitions of her art work and finds it a welcome counterpoint to her energetic occupation in the public arena.
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