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.
Hannah Mann describes herself as independent, a go-getter and a risk-taker. She is also a deaf cochlear implant user who is fluent in Cued Speech and American Sign Language.
She has traveled to China three times, including a semester abroad studying Mandarin at Peking University in Beijing. Her Mandarin studies began when she signed up for a summer class at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
As a Harris Wofford Global Service Fellow, Teresa Pichardo was selected to participate in a Cross-Cultural Solutions volunteer program in Ghana. At the school where she worked, Teresa had a chance to work with students who are Deaf like her and open their world.
To escape Michigan's cold winter, Juanita Lillie, who is blind, sought Spanish immersion in Central America, where she found warmth not only from the sunshine, but from classmates, professors, and the community.
Get to know one of MIUSA's partners for a SportsUnited Exchange program in Armenia. Founded to provide relief to children with disabilities following a major earthquake, the Armenian Association for the Disabled (Pyunic) has since grown to empower people with disabilities to be involved in culture. MIUSA talked to Mr. Hakob Abrahamyan, Pyunic's president to find out how sports and recreation play a role in disability rights in Armenia.
Going to college was not an option — 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.”
In the remote mountainous Gulmi District of Nepal, Ms. Ganga Rayamajhi of Nepal, a double amputee, serves as chairwoman for Hope Disability Centre.
Following her participation in MIUSA Women’s Institute on Leadership and Disability (WILD), her organization hosted a campaign to advocate for disability rights and ending violence against women and people with disabilities in Nepal. During the campaign, Ganga participated in interviews on the radio and television to influence policy makers toward justice and social change.
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.
Ms. Karine Grigoryan, founder and President of the Agate Center, shares the motivation behind her work and the status of disability in her country.
When Katharine Royal was five years old, she told her grandfather that one day she’d welcome a child from Africa into her life. Years later, her childhood dream came true as she and her husband opened their home to Stella, a high school exchange student from Kenya who has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair.
Katharine understood the challenges that Stella was facing. Like Stella, she, too, has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair.
"Pretty much before [my friend] even fully asked me if I would consider hosting Stella, I told her we are doing this."
Azat Toroev jokes that he is happy if his classmates can find Kyrgyzstan on a map. Since he arrived in his host state of Colorado, he has been raising awareness of his native country while studying for a year at a U.S. high school. Toroev, who has cerebral palsy, has also increased his own self-awareness while in the United States.