Isabel Martínez ONCE La Línea: Overcoming Blindness

Soraya Fernández · Photos: Fran Montes

Isabel Martínez Director of ONCE La Línea

Isabel Martínez Director of the ONCE Association in La Línea – ‘Life Without Sight: The essential is invisible

A mother, director of the ONCE association in La Línea… and blind. That’s Isabel Martínez – a perfect example of how we can all achieve unthinkable goals and overcome every obstacle.

“We are all capable of achieving what we put our mind to.” This is the life affirming mantra of someone who knows what they are talking about and has proved it.

We’re talking about Isabel Martínez – a woman, a mother, the director of the Spanish National Organisation of the Blind (ONCE) agency in La Línea. She is a great example of what it means to overcome barriers and who believes that if you want to achieve something, you can.

Isabel Martínez Director of ONCE La Línea

She is from Pulpí (Almería) and is 34 years old. She has been a member of ONCE since 2002, due to a rare degenerative eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa, which was detected when she was 14 years old. Despite this, she still maintained partial vision and managed well. However, her life changed radically when she turned 18.

It was during her first year at university in Granada when she lost her field of vision completely over a course of only six months. It was like starting anew, but she did it. She continued with her studies. “I didn’t stop. The ONCE professionals offered me guidance in continuing my studies and choosing the future I wanted,” she explains.

She spent ten years in Granada. She studied Social Work, something that was compatible with her voluntary activities within the ONCE organisation. Her determination saw her continue her studies in Almería, where she obtained her masters’ degree.

In January 2013, she moved to La Línea where she became the director of the ONCE agency. She manages 102 employees, 99 of which are lottery tickets vendors. The number of affiliates in La Línea and San Roque – which are the two municipalities that her delegation serves – is 172.

Her journey has been arduous: “It has not been easy to get here, not only in terms of work, but adapting to a new situation, my new life, because it changed me completely. I went from being able to manage with a more or less decent degree of vision, to requiring sound adaptations and Braille. And having to move through the streets with a cane. It was a new start.”

Isabel Martínez Director of ONCE La Línea

She’s the mother of a girl who is less than two years old, and the balance between her family and work-life is just another obstacle added to the long list of many which she faces every day.

The distribution of tasks and responsibilities with her partner, who is severely visually impaired, is equal and allows them to face their respective jobs with this new responsibility.

“My partner and I are well-organised and distribute the tasks evenly. We don’t have family here, so when we’re in need of additional support we can always hire a babysitter, but usually we manage quite well.” Despite everything, she assures us that, in Spain, there is still a lot to be achieved in terms of work / life balance.

Isabel’s day to day life involves many challenges, although technologies such as voice synthesis programs on computers and mobile devices have made things easier:

“Technology allows us to communicate with friends and family, process requests, listen to audio-books, shop at the supermarket… However, not all web pages are adapted to us and there are still many limitations.”

Reading is one of her many hobbies, especially articles in English – a language she has been passionate about since her adolescence.

Isabel Martínez Director of ONCE La Línea

“I had to leave it behind. In fact, I was studying Translation and Interpretation, but my whole life’s rhythm changed and I switched to Social Work,” she explains. She never misses out on an opportunity to go out for tapas and recognises that she has settled down in a good place, “because in La Línea, the tapas are especially good.”

On the other hand, La Línea’s people who suffer from physical or sensorial disabilities face many barriers: narrow sidewalks, potholes and a whole host of other obstacles.

“It is very complicated to walk through La Línea. I use one of the thickest canes, so it doesn’t get stuck in any pothole or sewer. And not only that, it is also a civic matter. There are people who park anywhere. In addition, the pavements are bad,” she complains with good reason.

Throughout this interview what came across most impressively washer natural approach and the serenity with which she faces her limitations, but also the strength of someone who does not give up when facing the struggles that she has to overcome every day.

“We are functionally diverse. We are people who face limitations with some things, but not with others. Therefore, let’s focus on what we can do, and adapt to the things we can’t in the best way possible. In the end, when you want something enough, you can make it happen, and I know this very well,” she says.

Isabel Martínez Director of the ONCE Association in La Línea – ‘Life Without Sight: The essential is invisible

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