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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
Christie with class in China

Disability Research in Hong Kong

When Christie Gilson received an offer to teach at Moravian College in Pennsylvania, she was ready to make the move. “I was not at all intimidated by the thought of pulling up roots and moving far away from home by myself. After all, I had successfully done so in Hong Kong beforehand.”

Personal Stories
Carla Valpeoz in Arabic covering dress

Middle East Experiences Lead to Career Path

Carla Valpeoz wouldn’t take no for an answer. When her application for the Peace Corps was unsuccessful, she decided to contact a friend in Yemen to brainstorm other ideas for an international exchange. 

“I asked him if he knew of any job I could do for six months that was social justice based. He then emailed me and said he had something waiting, so I went."

Personal Stories
Palm trees in Guatemala

Touching Down in a Different Place

A Hendrix College graduate in English Literature, Laura Podd traveled for a year to Guatemala, Ireland, Thailand, and Ukraine. And she had $25,000 on a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship to do it. Laura didn’t speak the local languages, but she took some Spanish courses and found local volunteers who translated into English. Those she met who spoke with heavy English accents took repetition to understand. Laura, who describes herself as having a mild hearing impairment, uses hearing aids and lip-reading well enough that most people do not immediately know that she has a disability unless she tells them.

Personal Stories
St. Basil's Cathedral

Laughing Through Russia's Barriers

Going overseas was something I had wanted to do since my early college days. I had always dreamed of being in the jungles of Africa or on a camel riding through a desert, but when the opportunity came to travel to Russia with Wheels for the World, I enthusiastically accepted the challenge.

Personal Stories
Boats are out in the water and along the beach in Costa Rica.

Dream Big through International Exchange

In Italy, my friend Neika always did the haggling for me.  Left to my own devices, the shopkeepers would have taken me for thousands. She was skilled at bargaining and probably the reason I came home with so many delightful souvenirs and jewelry from Venice. 

It is not just with bargaining that I have trouble “putting myself out there.” Despite my tendency to shy away from things, I have always had very big plans for myself. Early in high school, I realized that I wanted to travel extensively, earn a PhD degree, and live an adventurous life. 

Personal Stories
Loren stands next to a gondola operator during an excursion in Venice.

Cross-Cultural Communication Challenges

With an interest in learning about the cultural, political, and food differences between France and the United States, Loren Ashton embarked on semester-long study abroad to Aix-en-Provence, France, where she attended the Institute of American Universities. Loren, who is Deaf, had the added chance to learn about another aspect of French culture, Deaf French culture. In doing so, Loren built pride in her sign language and new cross-cultural communication skills.

Personal Stories
Denise's guide dog rests on the floor of a stage

International Exchange Launches - and Enhances - a Career

Denise works for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Natural Resource Conservation Service. She has been blind from birth and has always loved languages. Her study of French and Spanish began in high school and continued through college, where she was a language major. As Denise enhanced her language skills, she sought out opportunities to get involved in international exchange, but encountered barriers related to her disability.

Personal Stories
Building in Middle East with spires

A Journey through the United Arab Emirates

When I arrived at Dubai International Airport, I was struck by how cosmopolitan and busy it was, despite the very early morning hour. The women in the airport were covered from head to toe in flowing black robes, and I could see the dark eyes of only a few. Among some of the younger women I encountered, however, I noticed hints of “Western wear” under their traditional dress, including jeans and designer handbags.