Going to college was not optional — I had to go. I knew I was smart, and being Deaf couldn’t be an excuse to not go.
Once in college, I realized that I had not yet taken that bigger step — making choices for myself. Looking over things I could try, I came upon the idea of studying abroad. I thought it was an excellent opportunity provided by my university, not to mention a great chance to get a reality check.
When Molly Rogers was a professor at the University of Oregon, she visited the island of Penghu, Taiwan, to present a paper on Kansei Engineering and Emotion Research, it was the first time she’d traveled solo since becoming a wheelchair user. Molly, who is a member of Mobility International USA’s board of directors, was excited to visit a new place, but also admitted to being a little nervous.
“Taiwan is a very long way from home, and I don’t read or speak the language,” she says. “I knew I would have to rely entirely on myself to solve problems or get to places I wanted to go.”
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.”
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.
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.
Talking through her concerns with others helped study abroad student Amanda let go of her anxieties over the summer she spent in Florence, Italy.
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.
It’s a really big transition to go from high school to college, and I really needed a year off from academics to go out and see the world. In high school or college, you are expected to do what people tell you to do; I was suffocating in high school and just needed to get away.
With a gap year it was more about advocating for myself on what I wanted to do based on my needs and what I felt comfortable with. I enjoyed the independence I got during my gap year, and by doing volunteer work, I was accomplishing something and being helpful to those who needed it.
It’s ten at night and I am sitting on the Seawall in Galway, Ireland. With my knees to my chest and my arms wrapped tight around my legs, I crouch on a low stone bench watching the last of the day’s fishermen pack up their coolers and head home. My gaze follows their slow procession as they vanish into the damp night. Then I feel the rain begin to fall.
In 2018, Carina Ho was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to promote access to dance for people with disabilities in Uruguay. As a wheelchair-user, Carina wanted to share her passion for dance and philosophy of dance to more people globally and did so specifically in Montevideo, Uruguay during her Fulbright Fellowship.
As soon as Anthony heard he would need to find an internship for his Bachelor’s degree in Public Health Promotion, he knew he wanted to complete it abroad. He wished to further his cultural awareness and knew he wanted to spend time living in a Spanish-speaking country, since he already spoke some of the language. After finding out about the Gilman Scholarship from his professor, Anthony applied and was awarded a scholarship to fund his time abroad.
Miles first discovered his interest in Japan in elementary school. His best friend was always wanting to show him the latest manga and anime that she had discovered, but Miles wasn't interested and would always say that he would try to look at it later. That "later" came when he was 13 years old and he read his first piece of manga. That led to him watching an anime show. Between the Japanese language, storyline and school uniforms, Miles was hooked.