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.
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
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
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
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,"
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: email@example.com;
Web site: (http://www.miusa.org).