Expressing Herself Through Stories
Adriana Pulido has been determined to express herself all her life. Adriana, who is blind, studied piano, voice and guitar growing up, and still performs at social events. Now she is determined to express herself through journalism so she can share the stories of others with disabilities in her native Colombia.
Adriana received a Fulbright-Saldarriaga Concha grant to study her Master’s Degree in Mass Communications at the University of Florida. This grant is specifically for students who are working towards social inclusion and capacity-building for people with disabilities in Colombia, and was made available through a partnership with the Fundacion Saldarriaga Concha. According to the organization, which works with people who have disabilities and the elderly, 2.6 million people in Colombia have disabilities. Through her graduate studies, Adriana plans to become a voice for this underrepresented population.
Adriana became interested in working with others who have disabilities as a member of the Inclusive Higher Education Program at the Universidad Nacional in Colombia. Because of this work, “I was able to support students with disabilities’ inclusive education processes,” she says. “This work on education made me seriously reflect on how to effectively promote the full inclusion of people with disabilities in the Colombian society.” Through a two-year long literary journalism workshop, “I then realized that I could make people with disabilities really ‘visible’ to society by telling their stories.”
When Adriana moved to the United States, she had never been abroad or lived alone before. She also had to deal with cultural shock and a challenging academic course load. While it was initially difficult for her to adjust to the “individualistic character of the American culture,” she recommends that other blind international students learn to navigate their new lives on their own. “Bringing a relative or family member will not allow them to realize how independent and strong they [can] become,” she says.
Adriana also advises international blind students to “choose big cities as opposed to small ones. Big cities offer more alternatives in terms of transportation, and it is easier to find people [in] the street if one gets lost.” She also adds that “streets and building are well designed, so [the blind] are not going to face accessibility issues.” Ultimately, she believes that “people [in the U.S.] show a high awareness and respect towards individuals with disabilities.”
Adriana encourages international blind students interested in applying for the Fulbright grant to research “information about the disability services offered in the universities they are applying to, in order to choose the one that best meet their needs.” They should “start the application process as soon as possible, and work hard on improving their English proficiency.” In addition, she recommends that blind students have a strong understanding of contracted braille.
As an undergraduate student in Colombia, Adriana used a wide range of accommodations, including note-taking in Braille, a Braille printer, and Jaws, a screen-reader for the blind. Other students also assisted her in reading and recording course materials, and she was able to get books scanned when necessary.
In the U.S., she has continued to use Jaws as well as a laptop to take notes. She still scans books as needed and she’s also had an undergraduate student help her with bibliographic research. She takes advantage of a shuttle service that takes her to classes or around campus. “Of course, I have to ask for a ride somewhere else if I need to go off campus, but my friends help with that if they have time,” she says.
Once she returns to Colombia, Adriana wants to use mass media “to promote the gradual elimination of social prejudices against people with disabilities. In addition, I hope to become an international consultant, capable of advising media managers and journalists on how to deal with disability related issues. I also hope to [help] make Colombian online magazines and newspapers fully accessible for blind and visually impaired people. Finally, I hope to succeed as a literary journalist.”
In doing so, she will be able to work towards expressing not just herself but the needs and stories of people with disabilities in Colombia.
Adriana's essay on "How Studying in the USA Will Help Me Achieve My Career Goals" helped her become a finalist for the International Student Voice Magazine scholarship. Read her essay here!
To learn more about applying for a Fulbright grant, visit Which Fulbright Grant Is Right For Me?
Visit our U.S. Department of State Sponsored Exchanges page to read more stories about people with disabilities participating in exchanges with the U.S.