Justin: Support for Ripple Effects comes from the US Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, sponsor of the National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange, administered by Mobility International USA. To learn more go to www.MIUSA.org.
I'm Justin Harford, Project Coordinator with Mobility International USA, bringing you a second season of Ripple Effects, travelers with disabilities abroad. This time, as part of our #Access2USA campaign, we bring you the stories of international students with disabilities studying in the United States. The goal is that more people will hear the stories and start to think about what is possible.
You might be wondering what happened to Monica, the host from last season. Well she is now the Project Manager of the National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange and I am the new Project Coordinator. As a blind student, I did a Spanish immersion program in Mexico followed by an academic year in Santiago Chile and found both experiences to be extremely empowering. That’s why I am excited to bring the stories of other travelers with disabilities to you, the listeners. I hope their experiences resonate with you as much as they have with me. Well enough of that. Let’s get started.
Justin: Sheriff Rasheed, who hails from Nigeria, decided that he wanted to study in the United States after learning about the resources made available by laws like the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. After finishing a Master’s Degree in Special Education, he went to work at a university disability resource center, where he provides reasonable accommodations such as digitalized books, sign language interpreters or extra time on tests which enable students with disabilities to access educational and ultimately employment opportunities.
Justin: Hey Sheriff. Thank you for joining us. Why don’t you tell us what you’re working on right now?
Sheriff: I am working at the University of Wisconsin Platteville as a Disabilities Specialist. I serve students with disabilities in the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities here. I do provide accommodations. Academic accommodations to you know students with disabilities by making sure they have access to education, making the university more inclusive. I meet with students to decide on academic accommodations. That's what I'm currently doing.
Justin: Might be related to this… what are you passionate about?
Sheriff: I'm passionate about education, because right from the beginning I knew that there is nothing that I can use to better my life than education. I couldn't do sports. I couldn't do most of the things probably because of my disability. My focus was on education. I try to work hard to make sure I excel in everything I do, especially in education. Everything I have achieved in life has been through education. I would say I'm very passionate about education, because I look at it as the only thing I can use to change my life for the better.
Justin: Why don't you tell us about your disability?
Sheriff: Yes. When I was about two years old I had polio. I… this paralyzed my leg, and I couldn't walk. You know, I stayed without… you know like… I couldn't walk like three blocks. I had limited mobility. When I was like two, three, five years old I used you know crutches to move around. Now I sometimes use a scooter, if I need to go to somewhere that is very long, I use a scooter.
Justin: And what was it like being a person with disability in Nigeria and how did that compare with the United States?
Sheriff: Yes I grew up in a culture that sees disabilities as abnormalities. It sees disability as something that needs to be corrected.
They think in medical model approach to disability whereby the culture treats individual with disabilities differently, and here it's more social model, whereby we look at disability as you know something we look at environment as creating obstacles to people with disabilities. Not the Individuals with disabilities themselves. That's the difference.
Sheriff: Here in the United States it's more opened to people with disability. Everybody can talk about their disabilities. It's not that secretive like you know Nigeria you know we are very secretive about it. We don't want to talk about it, but here everybody can talk about it. You know it's not a big deal here.
Justin: How did your community react when you said you wanted to study in the United States?
Sheriff: Many people were… my siblings my mom, you know… and they were like they were scared. How you can do that you know you have disability. It's going to be difficult for you. Who's going to be with you? And I said okay I can do it. I didn't know there were many supports here. I didn't know that not until I got here I saw there are different supports. There are resources like the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation. You know every university in the US has something for students with disabilities. I didn't know that, not until I got here that I knew that you know that there are different resources for people with disabilities.
Are you an international student with a disability who has studied or who is studying in the United States? #Access2USA needs you. Learn more about how you can join the #Access2USA campaign, tell us your story and share your insights. @MobilityINTL on Twitter, Mobility International USA on Facebook and www.MIUSA.org for our website.
Justin: Were there any… it sounds like you kind of told us this already… were there any individuals who helped you along the way… your family… anybody else?
Sheriff: Yes. Back home I would say my family. You know here I would say my International Student Advisor. Her name is Kate Stoetzner. She was very supportive. She was very proud of me. She supported me.
Justin: That was when you got to college in the United States?
Sheriff: Yep. When I got here Yep. And I had friends as well. You know people from different parts of the world, from Kenya, from United States as well. Friends are very supportive probably because I have a disability, because I couldn't drive. They would take me to places you know take me to their family members. You know spend some time with them, and I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed it.
Justin: Did anything in particular really surprise you?
Sheriff: Yes. Before I came here I heard you know Americans are very very individualistic. But when I got here I found that people are very friendly. Around here when you are when you meet strangers on the road they will smile to you you know. [Sheriff laughs] We don't smile to strangers in Nigeria. Here everybody you know smiles no matter how you dress they will try to make you feel good, and the cultural nature of American dress is casual because when I was coming I was buying ties, buying coat, buying suits that I'm going to be putting on ties not until I got here I saw that people are just putting on jeans.
Sheriff: Nobody cares. [Sheriff laughs]
Justin: Very casual.
Sheriff: Yes very casual yes.
Justin: I remember you have a story about how you were surprised about how you would get accommodations in the United States you had an interaction I remember with your professors.
Sheriff: Yes yes.
Justin: Could you tell us about that?
Sheriff: Yes when I before I came, what I thought was that you know I told you that in Nigeria if you have disability and you want to go somewhere you need to look for someone, because the roads are not accessible. My first class I didn't know that I could get to the class. I was sending emails to my professor that how I get to the class because the class was scheduled to be you know held outside the campus. The class was scheduled to be held at one elementary school. You needed to move out of campus. I was sending emails to my professor. My professor was he was saying you know every… no matter where you want to go you can get there. He didn't know not until he saw me that I was coming from other country that was my first class. And he sat me down and he told me that no matter where you want to go here in the United States if you have your scooter you can just move around. I didn't know. I hadn't gone out before. That really surprised me. You know since then I know that if I want to go somewhere there's no point in calling people, calling for help. You can do it yourself.
Justin: And for the last question could you share with us your Ripple Effect. That could be like an encouraging piece of advice, insight, and really any message that you would like people to take away from this interview.
Sheriff: My advice would be don't let your disability hold you back. If I can do it you can do it as well, because my family was scared to death. You know knowing that I would be coming to the US. They were worried about a coat, they were worried about the supports.
I would say that there are different supports. There are resources. You know the campus will be the same. There are resources there. There are resources within the communities. Don't let your disabilities hold you back. That's what I would say.
Justin: Well that concludes our interview Sheriff. We really appreciate your time with us and hope that you keep in touch.
I'm Justin Harford and thank you for listening to Ripple Effects. Visit www.MIUSA.org to learn more about Mobility International USA and our mission to advance disability rights and leadership globally, and to share with us your Ripple Effect.