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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
Noah wearing skis standing next to ski instructor in front of mountains.

Access to All Fields of Study

People who are blind often are funneled  to certain fields of study, such as the arts, while the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields are frequently seen as not viable options. This was the reality that Noah Al Hadidi was not going to accept.

“When I was a little kid, I used to play with electronic devices and I loved how they helped people. Later I moved to computers, and that’s how it all started.”

Personal Stories
Floriane paragliding over many trees, houses, and pools below her.

Distances Worth Discovering

Floriane, who has muscular dystrophy, has been using a power wheelchair since age three, and when she was eighteen years old, she joined disability groups that planned holiday travels. She has traveled from her home country of France to the souks in Morocco to the museums in London.

“If you struggle at home, you won’t necessarily struggle in other countries. There are always great surprises!”

This love for discovery of cultures would carry on not only with her personal endeavors, but also her educational pursuits.

Personal Stories
Mohammed playing the drums wearing a traditional hat.

On the Go Globally

The World Bank, Fulbright Program, and the World Blind Union are a few opportunities that has Mohammed Ali Loutfy moving across the world map. There could be no better fit for someone fascinated about international studies, different cultures, and learning about disability inclusion across the world.

Personal Stories
Gabriela at the CLE office smiling with mentor

A Circle of Support

Gabriela knew with this support that she wanted to challenge herself to achieve more. With her family photos, favorite music, and favorite yucca breads packed, Gabriela was ready to pursue her studies at The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale in Florida.

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
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
A young woman using a bright red wheelchair smiles at the camera.

Professional Exchange: A Catalyst for Change

Gohar Navasardyan is the only female athlete playing with the Pyunic Center for the Disabled’s wheelchair basketball team. She powers her chair across the court with strength and grace, as she does when she’s on the dance stage. Armenia doesn’t yet have a women’s wheelchair basketball team, but there is momentum to create new sport opportunities for people with disabilities across the nation, fueled by MIUSA’s U.S. Department of State sponsored Sports for Success professional exchange program.

Personal Stories
Naama Lerner, Naama Katz, Stephanie Blum, Shmuel Kanner

In Israel, One-on-One Support is Far Reaching

While Shmuel Kanner attended a presentation during his professional exchange to the United States, Naama Lerner sat with a computer next to him. She listened to the translation of the presentation from English to Hebrew, and then she simplified what was spoken and typed it on her laptop screen for Shmuel to read. The night before, he also received supplemental materials related to the presentation, so Naama could prepare him for the content being delivered. This was an accommodation for his intellectual disability.

Personal Stories
Halyna Kurylo presenting

On Recovery & Reaching Out

Halyna Kurylo applied to the U.S. Department of State-sponsored Global Undergraduate Exchange Program (Global UGRAD) program twice. After not getting selected the first time, Halyna, who was severely underweight at 80 pounds, went into treatment realizing that her eating disorder was limiting what she wanted to do.

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