Featured Person: Ming Canaday
Ming Canaday, a Chinese-American university student, has traveled to China multiple times to study abroad, learn Mandarin on a Boren scholarship, and intern with a disability organization!
Name: Ming Canaday
Disability: Physical disability, wheelchair user
Host Destination: Shanghai, China
Programs: Study abroad, internship abroad, and language studies
About Me: I am majoring in International Studies and Chinese at the University of Oregon. I was born in China, and lived there until the age of 11. Even though I lived in an orphanage in China for most of my life, I had never had the opportunity to explore and understand China. This is one major reason why I so desperately wanted to study abroad in China this summer.
Was your international exchange experience arranged through an exchange organization? If so, what was the application process like?
My first study abroad was arranged through Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE). We had been trying to negotiate a plan with another university program in China that was unwilling to accept people with any kind of physical disability.
If you received any scholarships, stipends, or other funding for your exchange, who provided them?
Most of my first study abroad program was funded by the University of Oregon (UO) Chinese Flagship Program, which gives funding for students to study intensive Chinese in China for the summer.
Due to the inaccessibility of the designated flagship college, they allowed me to switch to another program, but it was more expensive. Therefore, I funded the rest of my abroad trip by applying for scholarships from the UO study abroad office and other small scholarships outside of the UO campus. The UO disability services office also helped me fund this abroad experience in China.
What did you do to prepare for your experience?
Before the study abroad session, the coordinator for the UO Chinese Flagship Program told me how the host campus was willing to remodel and make the dormitory and classrooms wheelchair-accessible. After my previously discouraging encounter with the other university in China, it was comforting to know that I was now going to be surrounded by teachers and students who would show genuine concern for making activities more wheelchair-accessible for students like me. I knew then that I was going to be alright in China.
What was your experience living in the host country?
Navigating aisles in grocery stores, bathroom stalls with stairs in front of them, and inaccessible classrooms were among the greatest accessibility challenges I encountered. In addition, I would sometimes find that the elevators in the metro stations were locked, or meet taxi drivers who didn’t want my wheelchair to dirty their cab.
Despite these challenges, I was able to find solutions. My Chinese language class was changed to a more wheelchair-friendly building. I was assigned two assistants who were in the dorms 24/7 to help me with anything I needed. And when we would go on weekend trips, more helpers were available to lift my wheelchair up flights of stairs or across extreme terrain. For example, during our group trip to Hangzhou, a city known for its beautiful West Lake, I was assigned three assistants on the trip.
Sometimes, CIEE teachers even adjusted the plans to make it more enjoyable for me. When I found out the my group’s big weekend trip involved mountain climbing, they quickly changed the plan for me and moved me to the another group’s weekend trip because they were doing a more wheelchair-accessible activity. I had the opportunity to explore around West Lake and eat a delicious local lunch. Later my group went to a tall temple and saw beautiful wood carvings and a breathtaking view from the top of the temple. Therefore, even though I didn’t always get to do what the other groups did, CIEE provided other exciting and fun experiences for me.
The highlight of my experience was climbing the Great Wall of China. It was such an extraordinary experience. As I climbed up the Great Wall, people from every direction were cheering for me. A lot of them thought I was a beggar and started handing me money, food, and drinks. It was quite an interesting sight! I, of course, did not accept any of these handouts, but it was still interesting to see how people reacted to a disabled person who was determined to climb up the most famous tourist attraction in China.
Another highlight was the CIEE-sponsored excursion to the Shanghai World Expo. The Expo was so modern and beautiful. Each pavilion was artistically built. My favorite was called the Life and Sunshine pavilion, which spotlights disabled people and the amazing things they have accomplished over the years. They also had the latest technologies in mobility development for people with disabilities. This pavilion had stair climbing wheelchairs, an advanced hearing aid, and some especially cool and fast everyday wheelchairs.
Did you use any disability-related accommodations in China?
During the program, I felt that I could be as independent as I wanted to be. If I ever needed help, the assistants were there for me. Although I would have loved to have been 100% independent, there were places in Shanghai that would have been impossible to navigate by myself. For example, on our regular group weekend trips, if it weren’t for my two assistants, I would not have had so much fun in Hangzhou, Suzhou, Wu Xi, and Shanghai.
What would have been helpful to have known before you began your journey?
Some information I might have liked to have known before I went on this program is to expect kindness and a willingness to help from the Chinese people, transportation challenges, and other specific wheelchair obstacles that might exist in China.
First, it would have made it easier for me if the activities bus was wheelchair-accessible. I had to crawl up the long steps on the bus every time we went on an activity. I did not mind doing this on dry days, but on drenching, monsoon days in Shanghai, this was very hard for me to do. The steps were wet and it soaked my clothes and made them dirty.
Secondly, there were some buildings in the program that we used often but were not wheelchair-accessible. Even though the boys in this program happily lifted me up those six floors of steps, I couldn’t help but wonder: what if it was an all-girls program and they couldn't lift me? I was also worried someone might get hurt. Or when we were taking a test once, I thought what if I am the last one to finish the test and all the boys left before carrying me back down the stairs? There was always this worry that I wouldn’t be able to get up or down the building.
It would have been an even more amazing program if they could have created an atmosphere that will allow a person with a disability to be as independent as she can be.
What did you take away from the experience?
First, I had the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the Chinese culture and advance my Chinese skills. It was very exhilarating learning about my native country and the people there.
My Chinese language skills definitely improved dramatically. At the beginning of the program, I could barely write a sentence without using an electronic dictionary. But, by the end of the program, I was writing a whole page without the help of a dictionary. This was such an empowering feeling.
The second benefit is learning how inaccessible China really is for people with disabilities. It is very obvious that in developing cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, they are making efforts to improve accessibility for individuals with disabilities. This is beneficial because my goal is to improve the lives of disabled people in the world; especially in China. I realized that very rarely are disabled people seen in public. This is not because China does not have disabled people. Rather, it is a sign of how inaccessible China is for them. And I hope to change this phenomenon someday by applying what I have learned studying abroad for a summer in China.
NCDE also connected Ming with GETCH, a school for students with physical disabilities in Guangzhou, China. Ming is GETCH's first-ever international intern, and for two months, she tutored students oral English, conducted conversations with students, interviewed students, did translations, and volunteered at their summer camp.
Do you have an exchange or disability-related question for Ming? Email firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch.