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Personal Stories
Group of wheelchair athletes

When Sports Spark Social Change, Everyone Wins

Organized sports can be much more than a pastime. They can also be a way to teach leadership skills, encourage inclusiveness, and build confidence. In the right situation, sports can even be a tool for social change.

It was with that mindset that Trooper Johnson and Carlie Cook traveled to Morocco and Algeria as part of the U.S. Department of State’s Sports Envoy program to promote inclusion and transform attitudes that marginalize people with disabilities.

Personal Stories
Alex, a young man in a power wheelchair and his black dog with its paws on Alex's lap. Behind them is a guard rail with brilliant blue sea in the distance

Cultivating “Amandla” for a Global Impact

As Alex stood on the stage of a dimly-lit comedy club, he smiled even wider as the laughs and cheers grew stronger. Alex never thought he would be performing stand-up comedy, and this was just one way that participating in an internship with a disability advocacy organization in South Africa altered his life and the path he chose to pursue.

Alex has cerebral palsy and has ridden a power wheelchair since he was two years old. “I was obviously disabled to everyone that saw me ever since I was very young, but I always ran away from that identity. I did not want to be labeled.”

Personal Stories
Island surrounded by clear blue body of water

Sharing Good Practices for Disability Inclusion in Indonesia

Growing up as someone who is deaf, with parents who were very involved in the disability community, Seth always felt a connection with disability, and he identifies that as a significant contributing factor in his overall life trajectory. Halfway through his time at IBM working in the finance department, he moved over to work on accessibility, and appreciated the work that he and his team accomplished together.

"I think that it is just a natural progression based on my upbringing and my passion."

Personal Stories
A young woman (Reveca) smiles over her shoulder with coastline in the background

Connections Are What Matter Most

Becoming a successful artist and founding a flourishing nonprofit doesn't just happen - it takes a certain perseverance and fearlessness. For Reveca Torres, the paths to those achievements run parallel to her paths from Chicago to England, from Arizona to Costa Rica.

In 2002, Reveca applied for MIUSA's U.S./England Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Disability Leadership Exchange Program. As a wheelchair user who had acquired a spinal cord injury at age 13, Reveca was eager to challenge herself and seek out adventure.

Personal Stories
Michelle presents in front of a group of Colombians

At the Table and On the Bus in Colombia

Michelle, who organizes Latinos with disabilities at Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago, educates the community, people with disabilities, and their families about independent living and getting the opportunity to experience, for example, riding public transportation on one’s own.

In Colombia, where Michelle traveled for 10 days as part of a U.S. Department of State sponsored professional exchange program, the path to independence was not as straightforward. Few options for accessible transportation existed, and those that did were expensive.

Personal Stories
Linea (right) with a group of Indian community mental health workers

Real World Experiences in Mental Health

Most recently, Linea spent a week in Kerala, India, observing a local community mental health team, which was coordinated through Linea’s mental health advocacy mentor.

“I had never been to a developing nation before, and I went in with my American mindset that perhaps there was something that I could teach them. Perhaps there was, but I learned so much from them.”

Personal Stories
Callie in center of a group of Cameroonian women

Sit Beside Me, Go Forward Together

“‘How is a black person’s life in America?’ They asked me a lot of questions about that. I said my life is different than it is for white Americans, but I’m successful, I’m motivated, and I’m enthusiastic in how I’ve gone through my life.”

Personal Stories
vegetables at a market

Compelled to Do More in a Complex World

Sean didn’t know what to expect on his first journey abroad, so he focused on the usual.

“I wondered how easy it would be to get around, what people’s reactions would be to me, and how different it would be from what I’m used to in the United States.”

What he discovered in Nicaragua was the travel concerns ended up being much less of an issue, for which he now admits he may have over prepared. Instead, he found himself grappling more with the cultural contradictions he discovered there.

Personal Stories
Throwing drill of goalball players

USA–Russian Connections On and Off the Court

For the first time, Asya and other U.S. athletes were traveling, not to compete, but to educate. Rather than bringing home the gold, their mission was to teach coaches and athletes, and to introduce goalball to both sighted and blind students in Moscow.

“The sport of goalball brings a lot of people together, and you can find people who have other things in common with you, whether it is an eye condition or being competitive.”

Personal Stories
Diverse actors moving together in a circle

Theatre Art Creates Common Ground

Quest Visual Theatre takes the concept of using movement and visual interpretation to cross cultures one step – or make that several steps and a leap – further.

The majority of this company’s theater performances include no spoken or signed language, which also levels out communication between Deaf and hearing actors and audiences. Tim McCarty, who is hard of hearing, is the U.S. theater group’s President and Artistic Director.  

Personal Stories
Tara Wickey near green tea fields

More than Just Research in Kenya

In a village five hours outside of Nairobi, Kenya, with no electricity or running water, Tara Wickey, who has muscular dystrophy, was studying abroad for her graduate degree in Public Service Management at DePaul University. While there, Tara observed the ways in which Kenyans are responding to the HIV/AIDS epidemic at the government and non-governmental levels. “It was difficult and quite a culture shock. It made me appreciate and acknowledge all the developed world comforts I had come to take advantage of.”

Personal Stories
Busy street in Zambia

Connection and Community from Zambia to California

Surfing the internet, trying to find other career options, landed Frank Lester on the Peace Corps website and led him to its Deaf Program in Kenya. This immediately sparked Frank’s interest.

He always enjoyed teaching and working with Deaf youth, and this seemed like an exciting international experience, which still allowed him to apply his existing skills. That was all Frank needed to see. He applied, got accepted, and was ready for his flight to Africa, but little did he realize the impact this would have on his life and others.

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