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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
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.

Personal Stories
View of the Arc de Triomphe on a bright day

Tracing the Steps of a Deaf Leader through France

As a teacher at the Wisconsin School for the Deaf, my students started a project to assist their peers who struggle with reading. Although my students are fluent English readers, the vast majority of the school’s freshmen students are English Language Learners who cannot read at the 9th grade level, which makes novels used for course curricula inaccessible to them.

Personal Stories
People with and without disabilities flex their arms to show their strength.

Nothing Compares to "Travel with a Purpose"

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.

Personal Stories
Jagoda on Capitol Hill with others

Building Connections to Find Solutions

For Jagoda Risteska, the true measure of success is “to enrich someone else’s life in a way that you never remain the same.” From that perspective, the disability advocate reflected that her U.S. fellowship has been very successful.