Saturday (December 3) marked the 19th anniversary of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. The national day of observance, promoted by the United Nations, was created to advance the understanding of disability issues and to mobilize support for the dignity, rights and well-being of people with special needs.
In Latin America, there are about 50 million people with disabilities, of which 80 percent are unemployed and roughly 85 percent live in poverty. This is an issue that I take to heart, and have made my own personal mission to help address here at Microsoft.
In fact, at Microsoft our mission has always been to "enable people and businesses throughout the world to realize their full potential." It’s what first drew me to the company. In observance of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, I’d like to share with you our efforts in the Latin America (LATAM) region to help people with disabilities realize their full potential.
Back in 2005 Microsoft teamed up with the Trust for the Americas - a not-for-profit affiliate of the Organization for American States (OAS) - to launch an aggressive program in LATAM to provide technology access and skills for people with disabilities, and their families. Today, that program is known as the Partnership in Opportunities for Employment through Technology in the Americas, or POETA for short.
Since its launch, POETA has successfully established 118 technology training centers in 20 countries across LATAM, providing technology access and training to more than 69,000 people. POETA training centers offer numerous complementary services:
- Internet access and computer skills training for people with disabilities
- Job-readiness and job-placement training
- Job-placement services
- Technology access for the community in general outside of training hours; more than half a million people are benefiting from this free service
In addition, the POETA program engages in awareness campaigns to educate local businesses and governments on the importance of extending fair employment access to people with disabilities. Together, the result has been the creation of new opportunities and greater empowerment for people in the LATAM region. Today, stories like Iván Riera’s are a testament to POETA’s success. And, there are many more to share, showing the real impact that POETA is having on people’s lives.
Moving forward, our main objective is to promote the long-term sustainability of POETA to empower generations to come. To strengthen the program in the immediate future, we will be opening four new “train-the-trainers” centers in Colombia, Mexico, El Salvador and Brazil. For all of our centers we are also working on enhancing their connections with local non-profit organizations to enable them to help implement and sustain the program.
Everyone deserves access to opportunities and technologies for a real digital inclusion to better their lives. I’m proud to say that we’re helping make this a reality in Latin America.
In closing, it would be an honor for Microsoft, and for me, that all our countries, all our communities, all our people, and especially all our children in Latin America, reach their full potential.
If you would like to find a POETA center in your country, please visit POETA Map. And to learn more please visit the POETA website.
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Want to learn more about Microsoft in Latin America? Visit our Latin America website.