Melio, a Disability Activist, Runs for Office

Iacopo Melio together with Italian president Sergio Mattarello when he received the Knight of the Order of Merit award

Iacopo Melio — a poet, journalist and a leading activist for disability and civil rights — has accepted an invitation by the Democratic Party to run for a seat on the Regional Council of Tuscany as a representative from Florence.

“I dream of a Florence that has public transport that is not only accessible to the disabled but also sustainable,” said Melio, who grew up in a village a few kilometers from Florence. The 28-year old advocate is known nationwide as the creator of #vorreiprendereiltreno (#iwanttotakethetrain), a hashtag that sparked a viral online campaign in 2014 and has since been developed by Melio into a non-profit organization with over 300,000 supporters. 

Born with the Escobar variant of multiple pterygium syndrome, Melio used the hashtag campaign to critique the lack of accessible public transportation in Italy for those who use wheelchairs. He argues that policies, such as having wheelchair users call ahead to see if an accommodating train is available, hinder the social experiences of individuals with disabilities. As a writer and freelance journalist, he tells stories about the struggles of Italians with disabilities, fighting for not only architectural change, but social and cultural changes to better accommodate all people. He travels around Italy speaking at conferences, events, and in schools. In March 2018, he published the book “Faccio salti altissimi” (“I Do High Jumps”), where he uses his extraordinary sense of humor to tell his story and redefines the meaning of normality. 

His non-profit, #vorreiprendereiltreno Onlus, carries out and finances social projects nationwide, as well as keeps vital services active for people with disabilities and their families every year. These projects range from guaranteeing transport for students with disabilities to offering psychological support to children with disabilities, their families and anyone experiencing emotional distress.

On December 7, 2017, Melio was named a “European Citizen” by the European Parliament and on December 29, 2018, he was given the honor of “Knight of the Order of Merit” by the President of the Republic Sergio Mattarella. 

His decision to accept the Democratic Party’s invitation was announced via a Facebook post on July 21st, where Melio highlighted the reasons for going ahead with his candidacy. Having rejected nominations in the past, he explained that he had too much to learn to accept an invitation at those times — the young activist felt the need to first complete a degree in Political Science and build his non-profit. “Otherwise, everything done up to that point would have seemed instrumental, when politics for citizens should be the real instrument and not vice versa,” he wrote in the post.  

Now, after growing his organization from nothing and spending six years as an activist, Melio said he is ready to bring his battles to “where the laws are made.” 

“I said to myself that the time had come,” he said in an interview. “I want to fight for the rights of all, for the environment, for young people. I owe it to myself, to those who love me, to my association.”

Rights, Freedoms, and Equality, Melio writes, are the three key words that have always accompanied him and will be the focus of his campaign. He plans to strengthen support of counseling centers and psychological listening centers, develop more sustainable transportation systems, and provide free public transport for those under 25. 

I would like my candidacy to really embrace everyone,” he wrote in a recent Facebook post. “THANK YOU for getting this far with me and THANK YOU if you want to keep walking next to me: I will need your support like yesterday, because little has changed, and as well as tomorrow because we can still create positive transformation.” 

To read more in Italian, visit Florence’s La Repubblica news site. (victoria caruso)