In this video, Shannon Hy-Coe narrates her own success story. You can watch it by clicking on the embedded video shown below. This video has closed captions that you can enable or disable by pressing the menu icon at the lower righthand corner of the video, and the transcript is also provided below. Click here to view the video with audio descriptions of the images.
I was born in Vietnam and got polio because my family couldn’t afford good health care. Having experienced poverty and discrimination, I applied to the Peace Corps so I could give back to society and advocate for people with disabilities in the developing world.
However, the process was not easy. My application turned into a two-year battle. The Peace Corps assumed people with disabilities were liabilities, unable to care for themselves, and incapable of working in poor countries, even though I had traveled to many countries and found ways of adapting to tough conditions. After realizing they did not want to accept me, I had a lawyer write them before they’d let me join.
In 2004, I went to Paraguay as an Urban Youth Development Worker. During my service, the Peace Corps continued to treat me differently than my non-disabled peers. Peace Corps Volunteers have the right to vacation anywhere, but they denied my request to go to Machu Picchu. They threatened to fire me because they assumed my health would be at risk. They thought they were the experts about my disability, not me. But I didn’t let the Peace Corps take away something I worked hard for, so I went after I completed my 2 years of service and didn’t have any health issues.
The fight never ends for people with disabilities. We constantly have to prove our abilities because society only sees our disabilities. Paraguayan children with disabilities often can’t go to school because buses and schools aren’t accessible. Most adults are unemployed and others earn their money on the street begging or selling candy. Some are even hidden at home because they can’t afford mobility devices.
In Paraguay, I worked on projects with disability rights organizations, spoke to the Paraguayan government, and appeared in the national media showing the lack of access for Paraguayans with disabilities. Many people told me that they never thought a woman with a disability could work, live independently, have an education, and be in relationships. Changing these perspectives and attitudes made my time in Paraguay worth every struggle.
My success also changed the Peace Corps. In the end, they sent filmmakers to record my work and now they use my story in Peace Corps promotional materials. By advocating for ourselves and those who are marginalized, we are changing the world for the better.
Written and narrated by Shannon Hy-Coe.
Photos provided by Shannon Hy-Coe and from the Public Domain.
Music: Sereno by Claudio Bustos.