About Our Foundation
Laura de Haseth Meddens announced the formation, in February of 2008, of The Laura and
Wagner Foundation (LWF), a Curaçao-based non-profit NGO (non-govermental organization) whose
mission is to serve as an advocate for disabled people of all ages in Curaçao and the Netherlands Antilles by:
• Raising awareness about the needs and rights of persons with sensory, physical, intellectual or learning disabilities including those disabled by a chronic medical condition, or 'socially disabled' and disadvantaged by poverty. This also includes advocating for those who rely on guide/assistance/seizure dogs, to ensure equal access with their service animals to all places non-disabled people and lobbying for legislation, where necessary, to ensure these rights.
• Producing educational, recreational and vocational conferences, media and online websites, programs and resources that provide disabled individuals with enhanced opportunities for self-improvement and learning, training and employment opportunities which lead to greater independence
• Coordinating the development of supportive community and workplace resources to promote the integration of disabled people into productive employment and training opportunities
• Advocating integrative support systems within public and private communications and transportation sectors to improve communications and mobility options for disabled individuals
The Motivation Behind The Formation of The Foundation
losing the majority of her sight due to medical negligence in Curaçao
and the Netherlands just over a decade ago, Laura, with the help of
family and friends, made the best efforts to get on with life as she
knew it before her vision was damaged. She eventually obtained her
guide dog Wagner, the first resident guide dog in the Caribbean, from
the Seeing Eye in Morristown, New Jersey in the United States for
US$150. The Seeing Eye paid all her expenses, including airfare and
accommodation, and is willing to provide guide dogs for others
throughout the region.
This turned her life around with newfound freedom of mobility, and less dependence on others to get around. But she found her freedom to be very restricted when she returned to Curaçao, as she was shouted at, trapped in between security doors at a local bank with people shouting at her to “get out”!
After repeated incidents like this at everything from local government offices, restaurants, retail shops, supermarkets and other locations, and even encountering similar treatment on trips to the Netherlands, Laura was determined to lobby for the rights of blind and visually impaired people in both countries to be able to go everywhere with their guide dogs that normally sighted people go.
So Monday, February 11, 2008, The Laura and Wagner Foundation was launched via a press conference at Grand Café Central Park in Zeelandia with a video presentation detailing the history of guide dogs, the Seeing Eye, and some local experiences that Laura is shooting for a TV documentary.
Opening Eyes and Opening Doors By Raising Awareness
As Laura said, “I’m not doing this for me, I’m doing it for the estimated four thousand blind and visually impaired people and people with other disabilities in Curaçao and the Netherlands Antilles to let them know they don’t have to be shut away in shamed isolation, like a 12 year old boy I know of, and that there are mobility, educational, recreational and vocational resources out there that they might not be aware of that can help to liberate them. That’s what the Foundation will help make them aware of and gain access to.”
Laura also wants to raise the awareness of normally sighted people and get them to sign a petition at her website www.LauraAndWagner.com to build a grassroots level of support for Equal Access legislation that will allow disabled people and their guide dogs to go everywhere in Curaçao and the other islands in the Netherlands Antilles that normally-sighted people go. “Someone said to me, they don’t ask people to take off their glasses when they go into a library, or restaurant, so why should I have to leave “my eyes” outside the door?”
Part of raising awareness about guide dogs is to let the public and policy makers know that they are used not only by blind and visually impaired people, but also by the deaf and hearing impaired, people in wheelchairs, and even epileptics. Recent research is noticing that dogs may also be able to tell when a diabetic is about to experience a dangerous drop in their blood sugar level. The dogs are always kept clean, and are specially trained not to bite, poop or pee. In fact, Wagner travels on the ten-hour KLM flight from Amsterdam to Curaçao in the passenger cabin and has never caused a problem.
The purpose of the effort, says Laura, is two-fold: “to raise awareness for people who need guide dogs and the people who need to let them in. We want you to “Open Your Doors For Our Eyes”. And by doing so, and by signing the petition for Equal Access Rights, you help your own people, and also let the world know that the Netherlands Antilles welcome people and their guide dogs from around the world. This country has an opportunity to lead the Netherlands on this front, because lawmakers in Holland protect the rights of individuals against discrimination, but not guide dogs or other service animals”.
The Foundation is also meant to be complementary to the work of Pro Bista and other organizations working to improve the well being of disabled and disadvantaged people in the Netherlands Antilles. And because guide dogs may not be a practical solution for disabled persons in barrios (neighborhoods) where there are no sidewalks or other infrastructure such as crosswalks and traffic lights, The Laura And Wagner Foundation is developing alternative approaches for mobility as part of it's ABLED Initiative.
Making Curaçao More 'ABLED'
The Foundation is spearheading this Initiative to develop a software and digital device system that will enable persons in Curaçao and the other islands in the Netherlands Antilles with sensory, physical and learning disabilities to take advantage of new communication, learning, employment and mobility opportunities that are part of the ABLED 'ecosystem'.
This will truly bring transformational change to disabled and disadvantaged residents of, and visitors to, Curaçao who have been marginalized by the diminished expectations other people have imposed on them and will close the digital divide for those who don't
see as well, hear as well, walk as well, or learn as easily as the rest
of us, including those who can't afford the basic tools of
communication and learning that many of us take for granted.
These projects are also designed to create new economic opportunities in in the sectors of Education, Communications and Tourism.
Please visit our website often as we reveal more details of this ambitious multi-year initiative. And because we are a non-profit NGO (non-governmental organization), we rely on financial support from individual and corporate supporters like you.
As Laura says, “Arm in arm there is so much more that we can achieve to end the isolation and marginalization that face disabled people and those disadvantaged by poverty in our communities". In this regard, The Laura And Wagner Foundation is committed to the ongoing mission of making Curaçao more 'ABLED'.
The 2010-20012 Board of Directors of the Laura & Wagner Foundation:
Founder and Chairman
Maria Johanna Theresia (Mieke) Brandt
Ann Ferwerda de Fraye
The 2008 - 2010 Board of
Founder and Vice-Chairman
Laura de Haseth Meddens
Manielle d'Aldrey Stoop
Drs. L.A. (Tesha) Yung