“The only thing that people with disabilities want is to be just another member of society”


Since 1939, the ONCE Social Group has been fighting tirelessly for the rights of blind people and people with other types of disabilities. Its work and influence transcends our borders, making this organization a global benchmark for inclusion, equality, diversity, solidarity and social outreach. Leadership that has earned it the recognition and admiration of society as a whole, and which has this year been endorsed through the Fundación MAPFRE 2020 Award for the Best Organization for its Social Outreach. We spoke with its president, Miguel Carballedo, about the important contribution the ONCE Social Group makes to the elimination of barriers of all kinds as w ell as achieving dignified work and economic independence for millions of people with disabilities on a daily basis.

In 1939, ONCE held the first draw for its now legendary charity lottery. What was life like for a blind person back then?
It must have been a very difficult time. Spain had just come out of a civil war and everyone was struggling to get by as best they could. For a blind person it must have been even more complex. Those brave people only aspired to be able to take a plate of food home. ONCE gave them back part of what the war had taken from them, and put them back in circulation. And they took to the streets with a wonderful cry: “Equal!” Even then we wanted to be equal! Which is what we have always wanted, to be just another member of society.

Things have changed a lot since then. What role has ONCE played in that transformation?
Spanish society has come a long way since that time, and in that process we have tried to set an example, living through our own efforts and being masters of our own future. And we have also asked the general public, who never fail us, to understand what it means to be a person with a disability, and what a disability actually is.

Access to a decent job and economic independence are two of the main objectives. How is Spain doing in this regard?
Spain is doing quite well in some respects, among other things because it is the home of ONCE. And that little organization for very poor blind people who were trying to make their way in the middle of the post-war period is today the fourth largest non-public employer in the country. One out of every 279 people working in Spain today is employed by the ONCE Social Group. We are the number one employer of people with disabilities in the world, and we also create jobs (42% of our workers) for people without disabilities.

Which achievement are you most proud of?
That absolutely everything we do, and we do many things, is possible thanks to the immense generosity and charity of the general public. Thanks to the people who, throughout our 83 years of existence, have been visiting our 19,000 sentinels of hope in the streets of cities and towns all over Spain, and sharing a moment with our vendors. That moment of daily hope is what has made it possible for ONCE to exist and for us to be able to help so many people.

What is still outstanding in terms of inclusion in Spain?
There is still room for improvement in the area of employment. The law establishes a legal percentage of jobs reserved for people with disabilities in companies with more than 50 employees, but, unfortunately, in many companies this is not being complied with. If only these companies would respect the provisions of the law, our situation would improve significantly. There are many people with disabilities who have already given up on being able to have a job, and that is not fair.

How can these shortcomings be overcome?
Mental barriers are the most difficult to tackle. We must continue to work, especially in the field of education, so that today’s children, with and without disabilities, can continue to be educated together to become tomorrow’s stakeholders in a world of equal opportunities.

Is the level of integration, inclusion and diversity indicative of a society’s development?
Of course. And, in addition, society is increasingly demanding social responsibility from companies. And it also expects the authorities to be held accountable. Society wants to know how the public and private sectors can be brought together to avoid certain completely unjust situations and to ensure that the statement “We are all equal before the law” is not just hot air.

ONCE has an international dimension. What does its activity outside Spain consist of?
We have collaboration projects with the blind in almost every Latin American country in the fields of education, employment and many others. In the end, what we are trying to do at ONCE is to help create, between all of us, a better world.