Victoria's strategy for integrating people with disabilities into the workplace is embodied in the implementation of the 1993 agreement with McDonald's-Argentina to undertake a job-training and hiring program for graduates of the Foundation's workshops. As a first step, Victoria identified several students with the requisite skills for inclusion in the program: sufficiently developed comprehension and motor skills; self-confidence and the ability to enter high-risk situations; no history of suffering from episodes of disconnection with reality; and capacity to work in groups. She then contacted the parents, who eventually signed individual work contracts on their children's behalf. And at that point, the true integration of disabled youth into the workforce began. Through the McDonald's program, teenagers with disabilities have begun to work alongside fully abled young Argentines in an equal-status relationship. The Foundation's graduates do not receive special treatment from the McDonald's managers. "Vikki's kids" earn the same salary, enjoy the same benefits, perform the same tasks and (in the usual case) enjoy the same possibility of promotion as other McDonald's personnel.
The job-training program for the Foundation's graduates produces benefits for all parties involved. "Vikki's kids" gain self-confidence and a sense of responsibility, as they use their own capabilities to accomplish "real-life" work. Young Argentines with little or no exposure to people with disabilities discover new ways of relating to their disabled peers, as co-workers and full partners in a collective enterprise. McDonald's gains productive employees who often display more conscientious work habits and greater enthusiasm than their fully able counterparts. Indeed, several of the Foundation's students have received "Employee of the Month" awards at the McDonald's restaurants in which they work.
Skepticism, incredulity and fear have evolved into acceptance and admiration for the McDonald's-"Vikki's kids" venture. Parents, some of whom initially doubted that their children would be able to succeed in the program, report that the program has forced them to recognize their own prejudices, to see the mistaken limitations they themselves had been imposing on their children. In the last analysis, among its several positive consequences, the most important may well be the impact of the program in restructuring the dynamics of households with disabled children, so that the "workers" are now given greater autonomy, treated with greater respect and afforded opportunities similar to those of their siblings for the very first time.
The wheels are now in motion for the launching of parallel McDonald's initiatives in several Argentine provinces, and Victoria is pursuing similar joint-venture agreements with executives of several other companies. Meanwhile, the "transportability" of the idea was confirmed when a Chilean nominator of potential Ashoka Fellows reported that advocates of disabled children are planning to replicate the job-training program with the McDonald's franchise in Chile. And, not surprisingly, the Chilean initiative was in fact inspired by Victoria's presentation at an international conference on disabilities in Santiago.
Building on the success of the integration component of her vision, Shocrón is now implementing its education element as well. Through an "Education in Schools" initiative, young Argentines are being taught to view disabled people from a new perspective, to avoid labeling or prejudging and to treat people who look different from themselves but are nonetheless fellow human beings with due dignity and respect. And in her latest brainchild, the cable television show, a similar message is directed toward adults. Each hour-long program recounts the true-life history of one of "Vikki's kids," with the intent of humanizing Down's Syndrome and other poorly understood disabilities.
In sum, Victoria's approach blends empowerment and education in a productive, non-confrontational strategy. Rather than using lawsuits to obtain jobs for her students, she prefers to enter into agreements with progressive employers and hold them out as a models for others to copy. Rather than picketing the presidential Casa Rosada ("Pink House"), she invites President Menem to participate in a charity soccer match to promote her organization's programs. And rather than writing shrill articles decrying Argentina's ill-treatment and poor understanding of individuals with disabilities, she has chosen to produce a video program to educate her fellow citizens in an upbeat, noncondescending fashion.