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.
Justin: I'm Justin Harford, Project Coordinator with Mobility International USA, bringing you a second season of Ripple Effects, travelers with disabilities abroad. This time we bring you the stories of international students with disabilities studying in the US as part of our #Access2USA campaign. The goal is that more people will hear the stories and start to think about what is possible.
Justin: People with disabilities around the world achieve success in many ways. No one knows this better than Wei Wang, a deaf woman from China who has begun to tell their stories through her work as a documentarian. Passionate about creativity, Wei holds two masters degrees in documentary production and fine arts, both in American University. In our conversation, Wei told us about her adventures as a deaf international student, and the way that she has used her creativity to make her dreams come true.
Justin: A special note about this episode. Our interview with Wei, through an ASL interpreter, was recorded on video. Visit MIUSA.org for more information on where to watch it
Justin: Hey wei how are you doing?
Wei: I'm fine. I'm really busy. I've been working on my thesis for my film program.
Justin: Awesome awesome. That's actually that's part of the degree program that you just finished up isn't it?
Wei: Well, not yet. I actually have four credits left and I'm hoping that this December everything will be completed… All my courses.
Justin: Now Wei, you've actually done a couple different degree programs in the United States. Why don't you tell us about it, and when you started and what degrees you have.
Wei: Sure yes. So in 2002, I came here to America, and I went to Gallaudet University first. And I was in the English language Institute there and I had to learn the English language first and I also learned American sign language at the same time. And then when I passed the test, I was able to go into the undergraduate studies, and I studied digital media and, I graduated with my degree in undergrad. And then I transferred over to American University, and I got an MA in Producing for Film and Video. And right now, I'm also working at American University to earn my MFA in Film and Electronic Media. Am and that's what I'm working on now. I hope to be finished about December.
Justin: Okay. So like what motivated you to do all that work studying in the United States?
Wei: Well, really here in the United States it gave me many opportunities far and above to do anything that I really wanted to. It really helped me to have all my dreams come true. And in China, there were many problems with the education system. You hit ceilings, you are limited in what you can do. Here, their is support, there are deaf rights. You have the ADA laws that cover all people with disabilities, and I really felt, comparatively speaking, China didn't have so many things and America did, and I really wanted to take advantage of those opportunities. And, really, as far as learning is concerned, and I would be able to have a future, and be more productive with my life.
Justin: Wow, and that is such great opportunities to. What have you gained from your studies in the United States?
Wei: Umm well, the biggest benefit is really learning from the ADA, the Americans with disabilities act. Those laws really have been beneficial to students who have all kinds of disabilities, and that is a huge benefit. Also, a huge benefit was being at Gallaudet University, because really it is a deaf, the only deaf University or Institute in the entire world. All the teachers know sign language or are deaf themselves. The communication is just seamless, and fluid and so easy to access. There is a deaf culture at that university. There is a strong deaf history there. Rooted here in America. And it has really been a long struggle for human rights, for bilingualism, for education and all of these things. And the opportunities to learn there are just endless. I transfer here to American University, but it really taught me how to be strong. And to try, and to throw my ideas out there and to encourage myself to develop and be more productive. Being here at American University gave me more confidence in myself.
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: At American University, there is deaf and hearing students right? How did the communication factor work when you got to American University?
Wei: Well, really, at Gallaudet and here in American University there are many differences. At Gallaudet University I was very independent. I didn't have to look for an interpreter. I could just sign the whole time no matter where I went. And I could just make my appointments and do my own things, and just always use my hands to communicate. But here at American University it is a great challenge. There's almost all hearing people and I think that I'm the only deaf student.
Wei: So, if there's an event or something, I'm stuck. I have to make sure I ask and request if there's captions in a movie that's being shown. Or American University says I'm sorry there's no captions. Or there's a lot of good movies I missed those opportunities I couldn't go see them as far as social events are concerned. But I let them know that maybe next time I would want to attend movies that was coming up in the future, but I would also have to request from the support center ahead of time to add those captions if I wanted that, and then they would send it to me and I would be able to watch it, but I felt like I was kind of left behind and I wasn't equal to the rest of the hearing individuals here on campus.
Wei: It is a challenge, but at the same time for example, my class project that I worked on, I had a team. We went out. We filmed some stuff. We did some interviews of hearing people here. And one team member at the last minute decided to just jump in and it was the weekend, and so the support center requires to make an appointment for a sign language interpreter ahead of time, at least four days, business days. And so I thought whoops well okay no problem. I just went without the interpreter and decided to go ahead and I used my smart phone, and to use that to communicate. And I capture the audio that was going on, and when they were all done, I had it changed over to English and I was able to read it and text back, and we use that to communicate. Sometimes, if the signal is weak, then it's not any good, and I'm just stuck, and I just have to ask my team what did they say. And my team would write down on a piece of paper for me to facilitate with communication and they would send it to me later like that. So that was one experience that I did have.
Justin: But I can see how, I mean in one sense you had those extra services like you could ask for interpreters, you can get classes interpreted for you for example, but you've also still gotten quite a ways, you will still come pretty far because the fact that you can be creative and sort of problem solve your way through some situations when accommodations don't always work out.
Wei: Yeah right absolutely not. There's no giving up. There's definitely a lot of problem-solving involved.
Justin: And how do you see your studies in the US contributing to your future goals, both professional and personal?
Wei: Okay so here, in America, it's really helped me to grow personally and professionally, and develop and work in a very professional manner. Like as far as film production is concerned, and ethics. You know, like you cannot steal, you cannot be fraudulent. There are legal documents that must be followed and you have to have your paper trail. You know there is a lot of benefits to that and in China there's none of that and they don't teach you any of those things. And so I'm very self-motivated and able to learn a lot here. Again there are many opportunities.
Justin: That's awesome. And finally, what suggestions would you have for others who are interested in studying in the United States?
Wei: Well, if they are deaf, I would definitely suggest that you know America has many colleges who are very good at providing opportunities. They have support centers, and they provide something which interpreters, or if you are blind or if you are in a wheelchair or whatever disability you have. Though support centers are there to accommodate those needs. Many deaf students come up to me and say "I want to go." And I explained to them that there are all these different things that they can do.
Wei: So the deaf community really has a liking and a preference for Gallaudet University, but for example if you want to become an engineering major, I would suggest RIT, which is Rochester Institute of Technology. They have an excellent program there for engineering. Gallaudet doesn't have anything like that. So it definitely depends on what you want your field of study to be and your major to be in.
Wei: So in China, if you are deaf, they think of Gallaudet as like a Harvard university. They think it's equal, like there's a lot of respect. And you know I told them that I graduated, and American University is just great as well, but they feel like it's a safe place and that communication is very easy there at Gallaudet, which it is.
Justin: Perfect, but so and it sounds like I mean, it sounds like the resources are there, but yes a it's great recommendations though. I mean it sounds like So like if somebody who is deaf is coming to the United States being creative, and I think that whole creative thing can apply to everybody, people who are blind, people using wheelchairs,
Justin: because you know we have all of these resources in the United States. We have laws, but in a sense you still have to take a lot of personal initiative.
Wei: Yes absolutely that's very important.
Justin: That's awesome.
Wei: You can't just sit around and take what's given to you.
Wei: You know. If you have legs, but your deaf. If you have hands, you know you need to use them. You have a good mind. So take what you have and do something with it. There is no problem there. Be creative and solve those problems. And you have to remember also that if a person has a disability, they have many challenges their whole life growing up and you have to know how to fight through those things, and you've experienced that in the past and you can use it to benefit your future.
Justin: Awesome. Awesome. Well that's all the questions we have for you today Wei. We really appreciate your time.
Wei: Thank you.
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 us your ripple effect.