Blind since birth, Óscar López’s relationship with political discourse began at an early age.
As a child, López listened to National Radio with his grandfather and grew to appreciate the patterns of political debate.
But despite his long-running interest in politics, López entered the legislative arena only recently.
In 2002, then-President Abel Pacheco chose López, a motivational speaker by profession, to be his advisor on disability issues.
During his time in the Pacheco administration, López said he noticed the low priority accorded to issues of accessibility for the handicapped, and so decided to become a politician.
He founded the Party for Access Without Exclusion (PASE) to be a voice for people with disabilities, minorities and senior citizens. In February he won a seat in the Legislative Assembly, becoming, according to his office, Costa Rica’s first legally blind legislator.
Part of his decision to enter politics was based on his experience growing up with a disability, he told The Tico Times.
“I have known what it is to suffer discrimination, since I was a child. Discrimination in primary school, discrimination in high school. Based on people’s ignorance… because they ignore many things.”
As a result, López started school late, and struggled in high school because people didn’t know how to help him study, he said.
Another part of his decision to form PASE was pragmatic.
“What party would pass the ball to an idealist like me, with a white cane in his hand?” López asked.
After entering the assembly earlier this month, López quickly began pushing an agenda focused on access for people with disabilities. His most recent proposal would mandate 5% of the employees in the public sector to be people with handicaps.
López said his aggressive style makes some of his colleagues uncomfortable. But when asked about his reputation for being combative, a smile crept across his lips. “People are not used to a legislator like me,” he said, explaining that being blind allows him to listen acutely and criticize other legislators when he feels that they have committed political errors.
“They consider that I am a little uncomfortable, of strong character, I am firm in my convictions, I am vehement, and to all of this I say yes,” he said. “I am temperamental because Costa Rica needs people like this, to defend it.”
The 34-year-old legislator is not shy. He considers his cane a staff of authority and calls himself the “most independent, most neutral, most free and most autonomous” legislator in the assembly.
And though he prides himself on being “a fish that is able to swim against the current,” López is modest about his political goals.
“At this moment, my only goal is to finish this legislative term successfully, so the people who voted for me will be proud,” he said.