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Paseo a Ciegas Volunteers Offer Bike Rides For the Blind in Mexico City

Elisa Martins -
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October 4, 2012

Volunteer Maggie Roberts (left) and Palmira Martínez pose beside a bicycle from the Paseo a Ciegas (Bike Rides for the Blind) program, on Paseo de la Reforma, a wide avenue in Mexico City. (Eliel Ortiz/

MEXICO CITY – Riding a bicycle with the wind in her face always makes Palmira Martínez feel free.

This feeling compensates for the two-hour metro ride from her house to Paseo de la Reforma, an avenue in Mexico City. Paseo de la Reforma is the meeting point for the Paseo a Ciegas (Bike Rides for the Blind) program, which is dedicated to people with visual impairments, like Palmira.

Every Sunday, the busy avenue is closed to vehicles, allowing pedestrians and cyclists, including program participants on tandem bicycles, to take over.

A volunteer leads the ride in the front. In the back, a visually impaired person enjoys the ride while exercising. After more than an hour, the pair returns to the meeting point so others can take a turn.

“I had never been on a bicycle. A friend told me about the program and I liked it so much that I always come here now,” said Palmira, 39. “I was afraid of losing my balance the first few times, but the fact that I have someone guiding me makes me feel safe.”

In addition to giving participants a chance to experience something new during an aerobic activity, the program unites residents of the crowded Mexican capital.

Blind from birth, Palmira not only takes part in the bike rides but also participates in races and goes out with a group to take photos.

María Dolores Meza, 46, who became blind a year ago, rides with a volunteer. “I don’t let anyone call me ‘poor little blind girl.’ I like to be positive, give off good energy,” she said. (Eliel Ortiz/

“Paseo a Ciegas creates a bridge and shows we can break down barriers,” she said. “Hopefully, more programs like this will be created because they help educate society about people with disabilities.”

Paseo a Ciegas hasn’t slowed down since its creation in January 2010 by three Mexican associations: Contacto Braille (Braille Contact), Bicitekas and Muévete Por Tu Ciudad (Move For Your City). Mexico City’s Department of the Environment approved the initiative and, in addition to helping with publicity, reserved a space for the group on Paseo de la Reforma.

“The program has grown exponentially and is no longer just about bicycling on Sundays. We also offer night tours, museum visits, Fonoteca audio tours and social awareness workshops,” said Manuel de la Torre, Paseo a Ciegas’s director. “There are several activities with the same goals in mind: love, respect and inclusion of people with disabilities in public spaces.”

The program has 11 tandem bicycles, one adult tricycle for people with motor difficulties and 300 volunteers to help with Sunday bike rides from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., social awareness workshops or other activities.

Paseo a Ciegas also is in other Mexican cities, including Puebla, Oaxaca, Guadalajara and Monterrey. The next challenge is to take the idea to other Latin American countries.

“The program has the potential to be successfully implemented in other places. We want to take it to São Paulo, Brazil, for example, where we have contacts with other initiatives, such as a music notation project with scores in Braille,” said Miguel Cruz, Paseo a logistics coordinator for Ciegas.

There aren’t enough resources yet to create workshops outside Mexico, but the desire is there. To maintain the bicycles, which cost $4,500 pesos (US$350) each, officials organize raffles, races, parties and sell T-shirts and caps with the program’s logo at a temporary shop in the space they occupy on Sundays. In addition to generating revenue, these initiatives help attract new participants.

Social awareness workshops are offered monthly to those without visual impairments who would like to experience the life of the blind. Workshop participants spend four hours blindfolded doing various activities. (Eliel Ortiz/

British-born Maggie Roberts, a Mexico City resident, became curious when she first saw people wearing Paseo a Ciegas T-shirts. She asked for more information, went to the social awareness workshops and has been one of their most dedicated volunteers the past 18 months.

“It’s interesting to share this experience with people who could not live it on their own,” she said. “We spend the entire time talking and sometimes listen to music during the ride. We are friends – more than just bicycle guides. We learn a lot, even about ourselves.”

Blindfolded workshops

Social awareness workshops are offered monthly to those without visual impairments who would like to experience the life of the blind. Workshop participants spend four hours blindfolded doing various activities such as learning to distinguish foods, taking guided bike rides and playing soccer with a ball that contains a rattle.

For the sighted, it’s very uncomfortable to walk in a blind person’s shoes, even for just a few hours. Not everyone becomes a volunteer at the end of the workshop, but at least participants leave with a greater appreciation for the struggles the visually impaired overcome.

María Dolores Meza, 46, is a Paseo a Ciegas participant who embodies the program. She has a nursing degree and lost her sight a year ago due to a disease inherited from her father, who also became blind. For the past five months, “Lolita,” as she prefers to be called, has participated in the Sunday bike rides. She takes at least three bike rides with different volunteers.

“I don’t go there to just sit around,” said Lolita, who teaches Braille, helps others who became blind in adulthood and will soon graduate with a degree in massage therapy. “I don’t let anyone call me ‘poor little blind girl’ and I don’t give up easily. I like to be positive, give off good energy.”

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