Pedro Zurita - working toward a society that is truly for all
"People everywhere know of my genuine non-fanatical enthusiasm for braille, but DAISY reading is an essential part of my battery of tools to access information."
I had the unique experience of spending most of my career in assignments closely related to the international movement of the blind. Even now as a pensioner I continue to be interested in the advancement of work for the blind and I am available to cooperate anywhere in anything where my knowledge and expertise might be helpful. I feel happy and proud to have many friends all over the world, and the concerns, achievements and aspirations of people with vision disabilities are very familiar to me.
I was born sixty years ago with an eye disease, Glaucoma, but I had good residual sight until I was seven. From that age, my sight quickly and seriously deteriorated until, when I was eleven, I became totally blind. I was fortunate to be the son of a primary school teacher in the little village of Sotu Cangues, in Asturias, a region in northern Spain. There I spent the first ten happy years of my life. I can say that I was "born in a school" and that meant a lot to me in forming my teenage personality.
When I was ten, I went to a specialised school for the blind in northwestern Spain, Pontevedra, which belonged to ONCE (The National Organisation of the Blind in Spain). That schooling, in a segregated setting far from my family separated me from my original roots, but it gave me the opportunity of being educated with the benefit of resources designed to address the educational and learning needs of children who were blind. Today I am a firm supporter of inclusive education for children with serious visual problems but I honestly think that at that time, here in Spain, it was a blessing that I had that option. I spent eight years in specialised schools run by ONCE and completed my secondary education at evening classes in a very prestigious Madrid High School. In 1973 I graduated in Spanish Philology at the Universidad Autónoma in Madrid.
When I was eleven I started learning French and I discovered a special passion for foreign languages. Before entering university I was fairly fluent in French, English, German, Russian and Esperanto (Esperanto is an international auxiliary language). From 1963 onwards I attended summer courses in France, the USA, the UK, Germany and Russia. I went to Italy several times and I attended world Esperanto congresses in more than one country. I learnt some other European languages on my own and now I am facing the difficult challenge of learning Chinese.
When I was eighteen ONCE gave me the opportunity to start working as a French and English teacher at their school of Physiotherapy for the blind which had been recently opened. A year later, I began to teach at the specialised school for the blind in Madrid. I soon became head of the international department at ONCE headquarters, and later Director of its division on social welfare. Right from the beginning of my career I had opportunities to establish valuable contacts with organisations of and for the blind in Europe and elsewhere, and to participate as a member of the official Spanish delegation at many international conferences.
In October, 1986, I was elected Secretary General of the World Blind Union (WBU), and ONCE allowed me to devote almost all of my time to this organisation. In January, 1997, I was involved as a passenger in a very serious car accident and was in a coma for a month. A few months later when I resumed my work in the Madrid WBU office, I publicly announced that I would not be a candidate for re-election at the next WBU Assembly in Australia in 2000. I was faithful to my pledge. Privately and on business trips I visited 95 countries in all corners of the world.
My position as WBU Secretary General brought me into contact with the DAISY Project at an early stage. I have always tried to keep a positive attitude towards anything that could enhance our chances of full social inclusion. In December, 1995, I attended a meeting in Nagano Japan at the premises of the company Shinano Kenshi (Plextor) which I believe was instrumental in turning the DAISY project into a truly worldwide venture. In January, 1996, I accompanied the Director of the ONCE Madrid Centre for the production and distribution of books in alternative formats for the vision impaired to a conference in Copenhagen to agree on the requirements and expectations of blind users regarding the new generation of talking books. In August, 1997, in Copenhagen again, at a meeting of the IFLA Section of Libraries for the Blind, although I still had serious speech problems after the January accident, I met the challenge of expressing my views and those of the WBU on the turning point in access to information which I have always thought DAISY represented. At the meeting in Nagano and thereafter I have always supported initiatives designed to bring the DAISY venture forward. I bought the first DAISY player produced by Shinano Kenshi (Plextor) in June, 1998.
At first many people complained that they were being compelled to give up portable cassette players. I knew that portability would come soon. Future developments showed that my expectations were correct. Today we have powerful DAISY players (even recorders) of different sizes, some of them quite tiny thanks to the use of the SD cards. There are also several programs to playback DAISY books on the computer, including one developed by a vision impaired person in Spain. The initiative by Microsoft and others to "save as DAISY" in their word processing programs is very positive and promising.
In recent years I have become simply an active user, but my enthusiasm for the DAISY venture has not decreased one little bit. I have DAISY books produced in several countries and in several languages.
People everywhere know of my genuine but not fanatical enthusiasm for braille, but DAISY reading is an essential part of my battery of tools to access information. When I travel, I never forget to take with me one small DAISY player and several books in an SD card. I am sure DAISY will keep bringing us all sorts of true reading enjoyment.
Mr. Zurita is the author of Chapter 7 in the recently published book, Changing what it means to be blind. In this chapter "Pedro Zurita (WBU Secretary General 1986-2000) My long period of service as an Officer of the World Blind Union - confirmation of my World Citizenship" Mr. Zurita writes about his fourteen years as WBU Secretary General. He was young, 38, when elected to this position. He brought the enthusiasm of youth and his command of several languages to his "brothers and sisters throughout the world". During his terms as Secretary General he encouraged good will in the WBU teams of officers and worked with three world presidents. At the start of his term as Secretary General there were between sixty and seventy WBU members; when he left the position in November, 2000, the WBU had 156 member countries. ONCE, Mr. Zurita's employer, provided him with the resources and support he needed to effectively fill this role. His key concern was the strengthening of regional unions and the dissemination of information; his "guiding theme" was "always to work for the building of a society that is truly for all".
Pedro, thank you for sharing your story with DAISY Planet readers around the world.