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."
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.
Welcome to the online A World Awaits You (AWAY) journal on people with disabilities traveling with a purpose.
This issue introduces you to people with disabilities from the U.S. who have participated in experiential programs abroad. They are volunteers, interns, performers, athletes, and citizen diplomats. Stories and best practices include the strategies that were influential in their success.
Kimberly Tissot, Executive Director of Able South Carolina, heard the determination in the voices of her partners in the Dominican Republic: “We need to know how it is possible for you to be independent in the U.S., and how to make those changes here.”
Dr. Jack Godwin has made international education his life mission. He is changing the assumption that it’s just about one study abroad experience as an undergraduate. Throughout his professional career as a university administrator, he has participated in the U.S. Department of State-sponsored J. William Fulbright Program to different countries every few years.
While an international experience is voluntary, he finds those who choose it to be most interesting.
His travels for foreign language study have landed him in Greece, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, France, England and Scotland, where he’s been able to communicate directly with Deaf Europeans about their experiences. Steven is Deaf, has partial vision loss and uses a cochlear implant for access.
When Mary Hodge, head coach of the USA Paralympic Powerlifting team, travels internationally for competition, others often approach her looking for assistance from the United States. In the past, uncertain of how to contribute beyond just money, she kept her interactions short. Now that Mary has connected with Armenians with disabilities as part of Mobility International USA (MIUSA)’s U.S. Department of State SportsUnited exchange, she has a different perspective.
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.
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.
In many ways, Christy Smith is the ultimate survivor.
She was born premature and weighed just two pounds at birth. When she pulled her breathing tube out as a baby, she became deaf. Later, she became the first Deaf person on reality TV when she starred on the Amazon edition of CBS’ popular reality TV show Survivor. She lasted thirty-three out of thirty-nine days before she was ousted and finished sixth.
Christy is more than just a survivor. She’s also an adventurer, a world traveler, and an advocate for Deaf communities everywhere.
Professional exchanges, such as internships and fellowships, provide opportunities for international visitors to gain career experience or to share their knowledge or skills while living in a particular country. These exchanges can last from a few weeks to a few years.
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.”
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.
Before you begin your search, consider:
- Type of experience. Are you interested in conducting academic research? Service-learning/volunteering? Sharing your expertise with a local community?
- Length of program. Would a short-term program (ranging from a few weeks to a few months) be ideal, or are you interested in a longer-term experience (6-24 months)?