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The Road to "Yes"
“The philosophy in our office with regard to students with disabilities who would like to study abroad is to default to yes and then find a way.” - Ryan Larsen (Director, Education Abroad Institute for Global Engagement at Western Washington University)
One day in 1971, members of the Berkeley City Council were stunned to see a posse of UC Berkeley students in wheelchairs stream into their council meeting.
The students—which included Hale Zukas and Ed Roberts, two pioneering leaders of the disability rights movement—were there because they wanted curb cuts on every street corner in Berkeley, explaining that they needed to get around and wanted to do so as independently as possible. Since curb cuts were not standard at the time, wheelchair riders contending with curbs meant hoping a willing passerby would show up to give a hand or having to wheel into traffic to avoid curbs entirely.
Loni Hancock, the mayor at the time, recalls what went through her mind after the students made their case:
“Realizing the effort that it took for them to be there—and that they were requesting something that had NEVER BEEN DONE, to our knowledge anywhere on earth… was an overwhelming sensation. But realizing it was something we could do and should do and would do.”
At a time when many would have said “no,” the City Council started with “yes.” They made a long-term plan, starting with 15 corners in the center of town and expanding from there. It did not happen overnight, but with the help of the roadmap that city planners assembled, the city of Berkeley made strides towards achieving that dream of access initiated by the group of students with disabilities and championed by the City Council nearly 50 years ago.
To be a divergent voice saying “yes!” is to be part of something exciting. In the context of international exchange—where the stakes are high and the room for creativity great, it can be positively exhilarating.
As international educators, we can effect change to make going abroad a reality for students with disabilities.
We just need a road map of our own.
For this issue of A World Awaits You (AWAY), we asked higher education professionals from institutions across the United States about their best practices for adding to the disability diversity of their education abroad programs. Points along their road map include:
- Designating a study abroad advisor to formally liaise with the disability services office at the University of Texas at Austin
- Offering trainings for international exchange staff at Missouri State and the University of Denver to learn about disability culture, rights, and resources
- Creating funding streams at Duke and University of Arizona which ensure that the cost of disability-related accommodations are never a barrier to sending a disabled student abroad
Whether you are a longtime champion for inclusion abroad or you’re just getting started, we hope that this AWAY will show you that you’re not alone on your journey and that you’ll be able to map out some new strategies along the way.
Copyright © 2018 Mobility International USA, All rights reserved. This publication may be printed for educational purposes only. Editor: Ashley Holben. Authors: Justin Harford, Ashley Holben, and Monica Malhotra
Information provided throughout the A World Awaits You (AWAY) publication has been compiled by the National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange. The National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange is project of the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, designed to increase the participation of people with disabilities in international exchange between the United States and other countries, and is supported in its implementation by Mobility International USA.
Select information featured in this article is courtesy of the "Curb Cuts" episode of 99% Invisible's podcast, reported by Cynthia Gorney.