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Broadening Horizons and Shaping Careers through International Experience

By Andrea Lynn Shettle, IID (red-trek@drycas.cc.club.cc.cmu.edu)



International travel can help people with disabilities develop skills that they can use in their future employment, said representatives from Mobility International USA (MIUSA), during a workshop on the topic, held during the Proyecto Visión: Bridges to Employment conference last August in Anaheim, California. MIUSA helps people with disabilities to identify and organize learning experiences in other countries.
Pamela Houston, a representative of the organization, indicated at the workshop that MIUSA has been offering a youth leadership program every summer for the past eight years. The program is offered to people aged 18 to 24 who have disabilities. Houston encouraged Latinos with disabilities to apply to the program.

Clearinghouse

Houston also said that MIUSA serves as a clearinghouse for information on disabilities including home study, study abroad programs, and language studies. "For example, if someone has an interest in traveling to Thailand and learning Thai, we provide disability contacts there and research," said Houston. "We figure out how a blind person can travel to Morocco or how a wheelchair user can go to Paris. We help them solve problems. We try to help people with any disability go anywhere." MIUSA can also provide consultation to student exchange programs that want to include students with disabilities. "Disabled people have that creativity--we can help exchange programs use the disabled person as an ally."

MIUSA also has some programs for professionals who have disabilities. Most of these programs have some limited scholarship assistance available, said Houston. Programs are available for people from a wide range of professions.

Youth Leadership Program

Robin Gentry, a former participant in the MIUSA young leadership program, shared her experience traveling to Mexico and to Japan in two separate trips through the program. Gentry, who is deaf, learned about the MIUSA program through a sign she saw posted at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, a university in Rochester, New York.

In her Mexico trip, Gentry traveled to Nayrat and to San Luis Potsi in Mexico with a small group of young people with various disabilities. In Mexico, she had the opportunity to visit organizations of deaf people, organizations of blind people, and other organizations. "Rights for deaf people are stronger in the United States than in Mexico," Gentry said.

Later, Gentry participated in another program in Japan through MIUSA. "Japan was very technical," said Gentry. She met one family in which both parents had no legs. Their daughter was named Akemi, which means "she can walk." "Akemi was very helpful with her parents," Gentry recalled. "She was very softhearted and humble. In the United States, we're big headed. In other cultures, they're humble and people work hard. I like Japan and Mexico because they don't take advantage of their freedom. In the United States, they say 'I don't have to help you, it's a free country.' MIUSA is a good place to start changing your life."

Gentry also shared some of her experiences growing up as a child who became deaf at three-and-a-half from spinal meningitis. She entered and won a spelling bee with hearing competitors while in middle school. In high school, she competed with 109 hearing girls to become one of the six students chosen to be a cheerleader.

Studying in England

Shannon Hy shared her experiences as a wheelchair user setting up a student exchange program in England. "I wondered if universities in England were wheelchair accessible," said Hy. "I talked with the study abroad office and they told me about MIUSA. I talked with Pamela [Houston at MIUSA]. I told her I didn't want to struggle my whole life there. Pamela sent me information about different universities in England."

Hy eventually chose to study at Lancaster University because of their study program on cultural communication, and because they have a disabled students office. "MIUSA helped set up everything. They helped me connect with the people I needed to connect with."

Members of the audience directed questions to Gentry and to Hy about their experiences using MIUSA's programs, and to Houston about travel opportunities in general. One participant asked how open the Peace Corps and other programs were to individuals with psychiatric disabilities who were on medication. "People with psychiatric disabilities are on that final frontier," Houston said. "People are starting to understand who to call for a deaf person or a wheelchair user, but with psychiatric disabilities, we're still educating ourselves. It's important, don't assume that a person with a disability can't do it. Describe what the program is like, tell them about the stairs or whatever, then let them decide for themselves."

Peace Corps and Other Opportunities

Houston acknowledged that the Peace Corps still has "hoops" that people with psychiatric disabilities need to jump through. She advised all individuals with disabilities to "communicate with them." People with disabilities should show that they are aware of what they're "getting into," said Houston.

Houston herself has traveled to other countries, including Peru. She indicated that a new movement is beginning among people with disabilities in Peru. "Until now disabled kids rarely went to school before, and teachers had limited ideas about what to expect," she said of the past in Peru.

Some travel programs require that participants pay part or all of their own way; other programs, like the Peace Corps, cover all expenses and even offer a stipend, said Houston. "Almost every program is different," she said. MIUSA provides information on international exchange scholarships. Houston also suggested that individuals interested in travel consider raising money a little at a time through their church, friends, and family. She also encouraged people to use whatever talent they have to help with fund raising; she shared the story of one individual who was able to raise money by singing and selling tickets.

One audience member at the workshop asked how MIUSA meets the needs of young adults with disabilities who might have been so extremely cloistered that they have not yet had a chance to learn independence. Houston indicated that the MIUSA youth program is "very structured," but that participants also have opportunities to explore on their own.

Contact for MIUSA

To get more information on their programs, you can contact MIUSA at PO Box 10767, Eugene, OR 97440, USA. Tel: (541) 343-1284; Fax: (541) 343-6812; E-mail: info@miusa.org; Web site: (http://www.miusa.org).

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