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Argentina fetes quadriplegic lawmaker's return

  • Story Highlights
  • House of Representatives expected to adapt to Rivas' physical limitations
  • Rivas was attacked in November 2007 during a robbery in Buenos Aires
  • Rivas uses a program to write and talk, use his computer
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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (CNN) -- Jorge Rivas' swearing-in Wednesday into Argentina's Congress brought tears among his fellow lawmakers, as the Socialist Party politician was wheeled into the legislative chamber 17 months after a beating left him quadriplegic and unable to speak.

As pieces of paper rained down from the hall's upper levels, representatives of every political stripe gave Rivas a standing ovation, beat the railings and chanted his name, "Jorge! Jorge! Jorge!"

When he was not being embraced, kissed, patted and embraced some more, Rivas, wearing a dark suit, smiled broadly and nodded vigorously.

"He must know how to adapt to all kinds of difficulties to be able to do what he did today," said Rep. Ariel Basteiro, also a member of the Socialist Party.

"To be able to overcome what he did today moved him ahead in life but also, on the other hand, showed this as something plausible for him, because he achieved this purely and exclusively through the tenacity of his force, his desires to fight," Basteiro said.

Rivas knows the hardships that await him after the applause fades away.

"This is going to be a difficult experience. That is why I am preparing so hard," he told the Pagina/12 newspaper earlier this week. "I can't support continuing to be a spectator in such an important stage of our history in which, I believe, a new framework for a more just society is being designed."

Rivas was attacked in November 2007 during a robbery in Buenos Aires.

Wednesday's show of support rippled across all boundaries.

"It was a moving moment for everyone because, independent of the different policies, his will to live, to be and to participate politically is admirable," said Fernando Iglesias, a member of the opposition Civic Coalition Party.

"This is something that forms a part of Rivas' history and today he has made a very clear showing," Iglesias said.

Rivas owed his return to his friend, Eduardo Lazzati, who devoted many of the resources of his software company HadaSoft toward devising a way -- using a computer -- to help Rivas return to his job as a lawmaker.

"There had been no precedent of a person enclosed in himself" being able to communicate solely through a computer, he said, referring to the fact that Rivas cannot control his hands.

"It's one thing for a person to be able to send a message to the nurse, and another thing for someone to be disposed to administer their things, their patrimony and to be a citizen and, in this case, a legislator," Lazzati said.

But HadaSoft created a program -- now available to anyone without charge -- that Rivas employs to use his computer, to write and to talk. Rivas' gaze controls the position of the mouse, which he uses to call up programs.

The House of Representatives is expected to adapt to the new reality posed by Rivas' physical limitations. For example, the other representatives' presence is detected by weight sensor in each seat. Rivas' presence will be measured by a sensor on a platform that holds his wheelchair.

"Congress should become aware that it is going to become much more common, as a result of scientific and technological advances, that people with different abilities will represent us," Rivas said. "At any rate, I believe that initially it is simpler for me to adapt than for Congress to have to do it. Because if I can survive the cumbia and reggaeton (music) that my children, 6 and 10 years old, listen to, I am going to come out much stronger to adapt to any situation."

CNN's Javier Doberti contributed to this story.

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