By Max Paul Friedman

Alfonso Morales

Alfonso Morales

Tucked into the green mountains of Ecuador, the little town of Baños has long attracted visitors from all over the world who come to enjoy the reputedly curative waters that bubble up from its thermal springs. Today, thanks to the hard work and vision of Alfonso Morales, a different kind of healing is transcending the limits of the past.

Ten years ago, when Morales injured his spinal cord in an army truck accident, the young soldier thought that a grim life lay ahead of him. In a country with many social problems and few resources to address them, the attitude of most Ecuadorians toward people with disabilities is, “Why can’t they just sit at home?” In fact, many do. The brightly-colored beauty of Baños, the red tile roofs of its villas and the scarlet bougainvillea spilling down its whitewashed walls mask an infrastructure fraught with obstacles: Public transportation is inaccessible everywhere in the country except for a single trolley line in the capital, Quito; city streets are crowded with traffic; sidewalks are narrow and potholed; elevators rare, ramps and curb cuts rarer still.

Morales knew he would face prejudice and misunderstanding because