An Extraordinary Ordinary Year

Lintang sits in an adaptive bicycle
Lintang Kirana, a university student from Indonesia who has spina bifida, lived with a host family and attended high school in Kansasville, Wisconsin, as part of the U.S. Department of State-sponsored Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program.

On a September evening in Jakarta, Indonesia, Lintang Kirana took center stage as part of a celebration of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the achievements of people with disabilities around the world. Surrounded by MIUSA’s Brilliant and Resilient photo exhibit, a touring exhibit highlighting the work of thirty women leaders with disabilities, Lintang transported the audience to her Wisconsin host community through stories of her year in the United States.

Lintang’s host mother, Roberta, had grown children no longer living at home by the time Lintang arrived. “I think that because my [host] mom didn’t have any daughters, I got so much love from her.”  

With help from a neighbor, Lintang’s host mother added ramps to her front and back porches so Lintang could easily spend time outside. She also made sure that everything in the house was close enough for Lintang to reach from her wheelchair. Everything included the kitchen counters, stove top, and washing machine. Lintang also took the bus to and from school each day on her own.

“My [host] mom wouldn’t let me be lazy because of my disability. She taught me to be an independent girl. This was the first time I could do everything by myself.”

While her host mom encouraged and expected her to be independent, Lintang laughs as she recalls that her classmates at Burlington High School didn’t let her do anything by herself. “They loved me, so I liked it. They accepted me exactly as I am and didn’t want to change me.”

Her classmates’ enthusiasm aside, Lintang found navigating her high school and getting to and from classes easy as she was given access to the elevator as a reasonable accommodation. School administrators also rushed the Individualized Education Program (IEP) process for Lintang so that she had access to consultation with a K-12 physical therapist and accessible bus transportation throughout the school year.

The ordinary experience of going to high school and being immersed in family life had a profound impact on Lintang when she returned to her home country. “After I returned to Indonesia, I realized I could do everything that I never thought I could do before and just because you have a disability doesn’t mean you can’t do everything.”

Now a student at Sunan Kalijaga University, Lintang is studying psychology and volunteering at an organization for youth with cerebral palsy founded by her mother. Her message to youth with disabilities is simple.

“Just because you have a disability doesn’t mean you can’t try something new in your life. You have to try because you might never get that chance again.”

In the future, Lintang imagines opening a fully accessible restaurant with ramps and other features to make movement for people easy. It’s one of many dreams that Lintang’s extraordinary ordinary year in the United States has made possible.