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  • Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno during a campaign event in Quito, Ecuador. March, 22, 2017

    Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno during a campaign event in Quito, Ecuador. March, 22, 2017 | Photo: EFE

Published 3 April 2017

"He's helped bring us out of our isolation. He's an inspiration to all of us. If Lenín becomes president, what can't we do?" said Flores.

Ecuador made history on Sunday choosing a prominent disability rights activist as the world’s first head of state elected with paraplegia.

Ecuador's Lenin Moreno Defeats Banker in Presidential Election

While many people with a disability have been elected to high office, none have been elected head of state while placing the rights of people with disabilities at the center of their work.

Since he became paraplegic in 1998 — after being shot in the back during a robbery — Moreno has made the social and economic inclusion of people with disabilities a priority and helped transform a country in the process.

"He's helped bring us out of our isolation," Selena Flores, who also uses a wheelchair, told the Miami Herald on Thursday. "We're no longer the shame of our families. We're not just a statistic."

Somewhat prophetically she added, "I mean if Lenín becomes president, what can't we do? He's an inspiration to all of us."

As vice president during Rafael Correa's first term, Moreno launched an innovative national job placement program, targeting the institutionalized discrimination and social isolation which keeps many people with disabilities in poverty.

In addition, he implemented a groundbreaking national caregiver subsidy for family members doing disability support work as well as a nationwide accessible housing program.

His work, and the powerful symbolism of one of the country's most prominent leaders using a wheelchair, has touched many.

Ecuador's Citizens' Revolution Transformed a Nation

While Moreno has raised the profile of people with disabilities both in Ecuador and around the world, he has always seen his work a rooted in the fundamental principles of justice and solidarity which have animated the Citizen’s Revolution from its beginnings.

"Solidarity — not as charity, but rather as the recognition of others as equals — is the basic pillar for initiating social inclusion," Moreno wrote in 2012.

"We political actors are temporary; we can, at best, give these great processes a push forward, but the true protagonists of these changes are society, people with disabilities and their families. The efforts of all these actors have allowed Ecuador to leave behind the years of exclusion and marginalization to which disabled people were subjected, and to integrate them now into work, education, culture, the arts, and sports."

A lifelong activist — he was a member of the Movement of the Revolutionary Left in university and a leader in the "forajidos" movement which helped topple President Gutierrez in 2005 — Moreno’s work on disability rights earned him a Nobel Peace Prize nomination in 2012.

From 2013 until the beginning of the 2017 presidential campaign, Moreno had served as the U.N. special envoy on disability and accessibility rights.

While U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt is perhaps the most well-known elected official with a disability — he used a wheelchair after childhood polio left him largely unable to walk — his paraplegia was actively downplayed and largely made invisible during his first three presidential campaigns.

In 1920, Mexico elected revolutionary general Álvaro Obregón, who lost his right arm during the battle of Celaya, as president.

U.K. politician Gordon Brown, who is blind in his left eye since a childhood rugby injury, served as prime minister from 2007 to 2013, but never won a national election as head of his party.

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