During the summer, I had the opportunity to study English at the American English Institute (AEI) at the University of Oregon through a joint scholarship from Mobility International USA (MIUSA) and AEI. My experience was wonderful; the staff and teachers were extremely kind and I met classmates from Japan, Korea and Taiwan.
In the beginning, I had to overcome many challenges, the first one being the language, because my English knowledge was scarce.
I was the only person with a disability in the classroom. This presented another challenge because instructors were unfamiliar with my needs, however this was resolved thanks to the support and collaboration of the Disability Services Office at the University and AEI staff.
I was provided with books in Braille and a computer equipped with the JAWS program. I also had the support of a volunteer assistant during class and a tutor with whom I practiced my English skills.
During my studies, I observed that the majority of University buildings are accessible for people with physical disabilities. For instance, there are curb cuts, accessible restrooms and grab bars.
Another challenge I faced was navigating the campus, as there were many times in which I got lost and could not understand the directions provided to me by those I asked.Therefore, I decided it was better to ask for help before I got lost, and people were always very kind and walked with me to my destination.
The Office of Disability Services at the University also provided me with a scale map in Braille that I was able to touch and learn about the layout of the campus.
In addition, a person from the office taught me different routes to follow throughout the University, which was very helpful, for example when I had to change my route due to construction work.
A significant challenge for me was traveling by bus. It was very difficult in the beginning, but overall it was a wonderful experience because the buses are completely accessible and the majority of drivers are very kind and supportive.
I consider it extremely important that we, people with disabilities, be integrated into regular settings and attend different educational programs that can contribute to our personal and professional development.
This is especially true for women with disabilities because we experience more discrimination in these situations. However, we also have the willingness, enthusiasm, intelligence, and strength to succeed and overcome adversities in our environment and the discrimination we frequently face.
Regarding my personal experience, I think knowing another language can facilitate communication with different people around the world and build understanding about other cultures, customs, ideologies, advancements and challenges.
I encourage others with disabilities to look for these kind of educational opportunities because we have the right and the ability to make our dreams come true.
Reina is an alumna of MIUSA’s Women’s Institute on Leadership and Disability program who went on to study at the American English Institute on a scholarship. Reina is from Guatemala.