When Guida Leicester arrived in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for a six week program through a Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Summer Fellowship, one thing quickly became apparent to her. “The staff and faculty had discussed what I could and could not do, but they had failed to include me in the conversation.”
In the remote mountainous Gulmi District of Nepal, Ms. Ganga Rayamajhi of Nepal, a double amputee, serves as chairwoman for Hope Disability Centre.
Following her participation in MIUSA Women’s Institute on Leadership and Disability (WILD), her organization hosted a campaign to advocate for disability rights and ending violence against women and people with disabilities in Nepal. During the campaign, Ganga participated in interviews on the radio and television to influence policy makers toward justice and social change.
Whether it’s working within the coffee fields of Costa Rica or teaching English to children in Nepal, volunteers with disabilities have made their presence known as contributory global citizens. It could be said that volunteers with disabilities bring an additional contribution to the international communities where they volunteer, and this is the understanding of ‘inter-dependence’.
Contrary to what many may think, asking for assistance or accommodation when volunteering abroad as a disabled person may positively contribute to the volunteer experience.
When I first discussed going abroad with my family and friends, their first comment was: “That’s wonderful, but how are you going to travel alone in a wheelchair, in a power wheelchair no less?” When I added that my destination was not Canada or Europe, but rather a developing country in South America, this seemed to further solidify their view that it would be impossible for me to travel in a power wheelchair.
“A barrier is of ideas, not of things.” –Mark Caine
I can confidently say that the largest barrier that inhibits people with disabilities from traveling abroad is attitude. In preparation for going abroad, many travelers with disabilities worry and are often overwhelmed by the perceived physical barriers associated with disability, whether it be lack of ramps, lack of Brailled signage, lack of accessible public transport, or communication barriers to getting around.
Ms. Karine Grigoryan, founder and President of the Agate Center, shares the motivation behind her work and the status of disability in her country.
When Katharine Royal was five years old, she told her grandfather that one day she’d welcome a child from Africa into her life. Years later, her childhood dream came true as she and her husband opened their home to Stella, a high school exchange student from Kenya who has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair.
Katharine understood the challenges that Stella was facing. Like Stella, she, too, has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair.
"Pretty much before [my friend] even fully asked me if I would consider hosting Stella, I told her we are doing this."
Azat Toroev jokes that he is happy if his classmates can find Kyrgyzstan on a map. Since he arrived in his host state of Colorado, he has been raising awareness of his native country while studying for a year at a U.S. high school. Toroev, who has cerebral palsy, has also increased his own self-awareness while in the United States.
I first got involved as a homestay host in my city of Akron, Ohio when a fellow member of the National Association of the Physically Handicapped (NAPH) contacted my housemate and asked if we would be interested in hosting someone through Global Ties Akron.
In the past, I have hosted international guests for dinner. Although those occasions were only a couple of hours, our time together was very worthwhile. It was very interesting to talk to doctors from Vietnam and a delegation from Kyrgyzstan, who told us about the services for people with disabilities in their countries.
I’ve gone in a shed, I’ve gone in the forest and I’ve gone in the middle of the desert. I’ve gone on top of a mountain, and yes, ladies and gentlemen, I have gone behind a bus.
A Deaf student from Russia, Tatiana experienced the best of both worlds by attending two schools during her Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) year in the United States.
She attended the Delaware School for the Deaf (DSD) for the first five months of her exchange program while taking pre-calculus at Christiana High School, a mainstream public high school. After five months attending DSD, she transitioned to Christiana full time.
How do short term international exchanges advance equal rights for people with disabilities? It starts with an individual taking action.
For Lizzie Kiama, a disabled activist from Kenya, an afternoon spent on a YMCA basketball court in Oregon, USA, gave rise to a new idea. “This was when my dream for Women & Wheels was born,” says Kiama who has a physical disability. “I had the opportunity to take part in Wheelchair Rugby, and I knew I had to play the sport again.”
Talking through her concerns with others helped study abroad student Amanda let go of her anxieties over the summer she spent in Florence, Italy.
As a visitor from England to the U.S., Portia recalls striking differences in U.S. culture and the academic accommodations she received for depression.
I have always considered India to be one of the most vibrant and fascinating areas of the world. The idea that I could study in Bangalore seemed like a remote dream to me until I received the Gilman Scholarship. In India, I observed how people deal with poverty and adversity and am attempting to incorporate my findings into conquering my own personal struggles.