Two arched windows let light into a new gathering place in the Romanian-U.S. Fulbright Commission and its EducationUSA Advising Center. It’s less about the setting and more about what is inside this corner space that matters – new accessible computer stations.
Computers equipped with screen readers and magnifiers, two large monitors, and a desktop magnifier, which will enable students with vision disabilities to have access to test preparation materials and information about U.S. study options.
Most mornings of her Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) Program in India, Esha Mehta would wake early and catch a rickshaw with her roommate to her Hindi classes. The morning she remembers most, however, happened at sunrise while on an excursion to Pushkar in Rajasthan, India. Mehta, who is blind and an avid hiker, joined others from the American group to hike to an old temple. Dressed in traditional Indian clothes, Esha trusted her feet, as she usually does, to guide her along the rocky way and up many stairs.
“When we got to the top, it was really beautiful. My friend Nicole was tracing my hand along the horizon as the sun was rising and telling me what it looked like. Then I asked everyone to stop talking and to experience nature with their eyes closed, just listening to the birds and other sounds.” For Esha this type of interpersonal exchange creates an opportunity to educate and learn; something that occurred frequently on her U.S. Department of State-sponsored CLS program.
In Siberia, Russia, I teach blind and low vision people how to use a computer, so they can continue with their education. We have many different educational challenges for people with disabilities in my country. I know this situation very well because I have been blind since birth. I studied in a boarding school, and earned two higher education degrees.
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.
On a typical evening, I pour a cup of coffee and follow the contours of the counter until I reach a cash register. I pay by meal card, and walk back to the dorm lobby where one of my students is waiting. We have a study session tonight, and my job is to explain how to use comparative forms of Russian adjectives. If this sounds like an everyday routine for a Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA), it is. Unless, of course, the teaching assistant is blind, and traveled to the United States from Russia for the first time on the U.S. Department of State’s Fulbright program.
At age ten, I watched as my older brother went on his first exchange venture to Europe. From that moment, I decided I would also go abroad. But even then, upon mentioning my dream, I encountered obstacles. The adults around me focused on the difficulties that a girl with low vision would have on her own in a foreign land, and they could not conceive of a plan to prepare for the perceived problems. But, I continued to learn the German language and study the culture. After my freshmen year of college, I just went for it.