An estimated 80 to 90 percent of those living with disabilities in Latin America are unemployed. About 82 percent live below the poverty level, most without health insurance. POETA─a joint effort of Microsoft and Trust for the Americas, the nonprofit affiliate of the Organization of American States─opened its first two learning centers in Guatemala in 2003. To help ensure successful, sustainable programs, POETA partners with existing nonprofit organizations that already serve people with disabilities.
Partnership for Opportunities in Employment through Technology in the Americas (POETA) delivers job training and placement to thousands of disabled residents across Latin America. “The purpose of POETA is to engage low-income populations in jobs and provide them with skills that will allow them to have a better life,” explains Dario Soto, Deputy Director of the Trust for the Americas.
“I’ve heard stories that truly amaze me, and that motivate me to fight to reach my goals,” said Marlin Cifuentes, a 25-year-old psychology student and a volunteer at the POETA center in Mixco, Guatemala. Marlin has polio in her legs. “I have the opportunity to help others that, like me, are also disabled but they have not had the chance to free themselves from the confinement caused by ignorance and fear from what others may say or do to ridicule you.”
Curriculum, Training, and Job Placement
In April 2005, Microsoft agreed to donate money and software to POETA through the Unlimited Potential program. The funding was used to help establish 12 POETA centers in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, and Argentina.
||The purpose of POETA is to engage low-income populations in jobs and provide them with skills that will allow them to have a better life.
Deputy Director, Trust for the Americas
Each POETA center will be equipped with Microsoft® software and features that make computers accessible to disabled students. MSN® Messenger, for example, will facilitate communication among hearing-impaired students who don’t know sign language. Screen readers—software programs that present graphics and text as speech—will assist students with visual impairments. And a number of keyboard applications will enable access for students with physical impairments or motor disabilities.
The centers will also use the Microsoft Unlimited Potential curriculum, which aligns with internationally recognized certification requirements and provides eight step-by-step courses in computer literacy, information literacy, and productivity applications. When students have finished their coursework, the centers will help place them in jobs in both the public and private sector.
A New Beginning
Add Reyna Estela Ramos de Valenzuela to the list of IT entrepreneurs who’ve launched thriving businesses from a garage. Reyna founded her business after she received technology and entrepreneurship training through POETA. Reyna received her instruction through La Fundacion para el Beinestar del Miusvalido, or Fundabiem, a Guatemalan nongovernmental organization (NGO) that serves people with neuromotor disabilities.
Reyna, 56, is one of an estimated 50 million people in Latin America living with a disability. A nervous disorder limits her mobility and has made it difficult for her to find employment. She once went seven years without a job. But these days, Reyna works for herself.
Residents of Guatemala City visit Reyna’s Cybercafé, Compdiver, when they want to go online or get help with printing, scanning, or graphic design. Reyna Ramos sees growth in her future, too. She plans to open a network of Internet cafes across Guatemala.
Hope for the Future
Trust for the Americas executive director Linda Eddleman says her organization is seeking matching funds from other companies and local businesses. “We’re asking everybody to do their part. We think this is a wonderful model and we’re hopeful that in the next 10 or 15 years we’ll be able to establish centers throughout the hemisphere with the help of Microsoft and other companies we hope will be as generous,” she said.
About Unlimited Potential
Unlimited Potential is Microsoft’s long-term commitment to provide relevant, accessible, and affordable ICT to underserved people around the world. Through the use of technology, training, and partnerships with local governments, NGOs, educators, and community and business leaders, Unlimited Potential will create sustained social and economic opportunity in three key areas:
- Transforming Education
- Fostering Local Innovation
- Enabling Jobs and Opportunities
Microsoft has set the year 2015 as its first major milestone to reach the next 1 billion people who are not yet realizing the benefits of technology.
For more information about Microsoft Unlimited Potential, please visit: