From an early age, Carlos De Saro was fascinated by technology, so it might not surprise you that this passion led him to earn an associate’s degree in computer systems and eventually, to open Fighting Against Adversity, a nonprofit that teaches young people with disabilities how to use computers and programs like Microsoft Word and PowerPoint.
What may surprise you is that De Saro, himself, has Down syndrome. But he’s never let the perceived limits of this genetic disorder slow him down.
De Saro, 36, studied human development, technology and business development at one of Mexico’s best private universities, the Instituto Tecnologico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey, or TEC de Monterrey.
Later, he worked on Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission. It was during this experience that De Saro realized there was a lack of learning opportunities and tools for people like himself to get trained and land a job.
“Therefore, I started my nonprofit organization with the goal to train people in technology with job skills and also establish links with industry and the government to give them better job inclusion in society,” De Saro says through a translator. “To be job-skilled in today’s workforce, the use of technology is a must.”
At Fighting Against Adversity, De Saro’s nonprofit center located an hour south of Mexico City, students receive individualized instruction to develop language, cognitive, social and educational skills that support a higher quality of life, while helping them succeed in a job market where people with Down syndrome have traditionally found few opportunities.
“They work a lot with Paint and with PowerPoint,” explains Celina Garcia Keller, director of the Microsoft Technology Center in Mexico. “It takes students with Down syndrome more time to grasp abstract concepts. With technology, they are learning these cognitive skills that were difficult to learn from a book.”
Often, she says, the students will use Paint or PowerPoint to understand letters and numbers — or, to illustrate their life story. “Microsoft technology is the easiest to use because it’s the easiest to learn,” De Saro says.
“Just last week, the group of students impressed me with their advances using Microsoft software,” he adds. “I asked them to write something and each of them wrote two paragraphs in less than two hours using Word. This was something they weren’t able to do before.”
Keller, whose daughter also has Down syndrome, met De Saro at a summit for inclusion of people with disabilities. She says she was inspired by what he had achieved and where he was going.
“It blew my mind to find someone that was such a good speaker and was working so hard to include people with disabilities in school and to prepare them to be included in the workforce,” she remembers. “In Mexico there isn’t a public program for special needs students. Parents often quit school because the teachers often don’t have what they need to help, making this program more important.”
Microsoft has contributed software to Fighting Against Adversity, and employees volunteer at the center to help teach the students how to use the programs. De Saro and his volunteers visit the Microsoft Technology Center frequently to receive training on Windows 8, Office 365, apps and other technologies.
De Saro and Microsoft also have joined forces to advocate for people with disabilities. Recently, Microsoft invited him to testify before Mexico’s Congress about how technology can be a tool for inclusion and support education for people with disabilities. He urged legislators to guarantee people with disabilities access to and training on technology that will enable them to work and contribute to society.
Today, De Saro speaks about the importance of including people of all abilities in school, work and society at conferences across Latin America and the United States. At a recent Microsoft-sponsored conference, he talked with parents of children with Down syndrome about his life and work. He wants everyone to be included and knows technology can empower people of all abilities to do just that.
Keller says those who meet De Saro believe that they can become a more successful person. “It’s truly amazing to see how someone with what society sees has limitations has been able to inspire so many people,” she adds.
With the broad range of accessibility features in Microsoft products, people of all abilities can use the technology. On his tablet, for example, De Saro found the Windows 8.1’s touchscreen more accessible. In Word, the touchscreen made it even easier to fix grammatical mistakes, correct misspellings and print.
Those currently attending Fighting Against Adversity are children with Down syndrome, ages 6 to 17. De Saro says in the future he hopes to expand his services to adults and to those with hearing, visual and mobility impairments.
“My life has changed without having imagined it,” he says. “With the use of Microsoft software, I am changing the lives of other people with disabilities.”
Lead photo credit: Scott Eklund