ALEM is an extraordinary story about an extraordinary circle of young men and women with disabilities. Through an unlikely, remarkable and truly wonderful story, twelve young men and women have become a production team who design and fabricate specialty wheelchairs and provide much-needed wheelchair repair service; a program in Mexico known as “Enchúlame la Silla” or Jazz my Chair.
Enchúlame la Silla
With Rotary International grants they have purchased a lift van and outfitted a tool, equipment and supplies trailer, taking that repair service on the road. Offering regular service in 5 states of Mexico, today ALEM is preparing to replicate the project in Mexico City! Rotary International named four projects they support around the world – and ALEM was given that recognition. And in this process, the ALEM team challenges people’s unexamined assumptions about what people with disabilities can and cannot do.
ALEM began as a vocational training program for People with Disabilities in 2007. Though this initiative in itself was unsuccessful for job placement, due to the lack of accessible public transit and resistance of employers in Cuernavaca, people saw wheelchairs and saw a fully equipped shop and began to ask if we could repair their wheelchairs. So, we became a vocational training center and productive facility.
In 2013 we repaired 350 wheelchairs in the whole year – in 2019 we repaired 3,500 wheelchairs!!
The 12 technicians with disabilities who repair the chairs now have full-time, fair wage employment.
Working in highly visible public areas; we realized that by having People with Disabilities, their family members and the general public see others with disabilities carrying out skilled work has a profound, life-changing impact on the future opportunities of all People with Disabilities.
It is worth mentioning the positive ecological effect of the program: “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” Many of the wheelchairs repaired would have ended up in the trash.
The wheelchairs are not only repaired, but customized and fitting both to the special needs of each user, as well as to their personal esthetic preferences.