Monday, June 25, 2012

The Fight for Disability Rights

This week, I continued my lobby experience by attending a meeting with representatives of the U.S. International Council on Disabilities (USICD).  Here, I learned more details of the Convention on the Rights of people with Disabilities and the importance of getting it ratified.  We discussed our game plan and went our ways to lobby to the legislative assistance and interns of various senators.  This week, I got to lobby with a really cool person named, Rachel.  She is just a few years older than me, but is doing so many great (like the awesome, greatness of great) things like teaching special education and training teachers abroad how to better accommodate their students who have special needs.  This summer, she is headed to Lebanon.  How cool!! 

Oh yeah, back to the story.  Lobbying is fun mixed with challenges, which I'm not complaining because I could always use a challenge.  However, it's kind of discouraging and frustrating when the people you're talking with don't seem to be on the same page as you, and when you try, they just seem uninterested.  But we won't let this keep us down.  We will keep on fighting for the rights and equality for those with disabilities here and abroad.

Aside from the terrible heat and humidity on Saturday, I had a wonderful time trekking to the FDR Memorial and learning more about the great works of this great (grand, cool, awesome, remarkable, all the good stuff).  He really paved the way for rights of those with disabilities.  It was fun seeing the replica of the “wheelchair” he invented himself.  It only went straight and he had to have people push him.  I wonder if I would have had that patience…. Probably not! 

It's so cool to see how far we've come in terms of disability rights in our country.  Now, we need to get this treaty ratified, so we can pave the way for other countries to follow us on this trek of equality for persons with disability.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Advocate for your Rights

This week, I participated in a conference held by the National Council on Independent Living.  Here, I attended workshops related to different issues such as violence among those with disabilities and the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD).

I also participated in my first protest march to the Capitol.  I learned a few catchy and significant chants,

"What do we want?"
"When do we want it?"

 Allie and I on our march towards Capitol Hill. Sweet!

My roommates, Allie, Bonnie, and Me at the protest.  The coolest ever!

"We're here, we're loud, we're disabled and proud."

Afterwards, we participated in lobbying by going to different Senate offices and talking about the importance of the ratification of the CRPD, which is a international treaty that pushes for equality of rights for those with disabilities.  Often times, countries-- especially developing ones-- don't allow people with disabilities to obtain legal rights to vote, determine their own medical treatment, nor do they provide accessible buses, taxis, buildings, etc.  People with disabilities including vets and ex-pats that are abroad experience more challenges because they lack access basic human rights.  Every single person has a right to get into a post office, grocery store, swimming pool, independently and with ease.  Unfortunately, not every country has something like the ADA to protect and care for people with disabilities.  We are overlooked... and there is definitely something wrong there.  Back in 2008, the U.S. signed the convention, but has yet to ratify it.  Therefore, we are pushing for Congress to ratify the convention (hopefully for this session) to officially commit to equality for persons with disabilities and set the example for other countries.  Why shouldn't we? It is modeled after the ADA, it doesn't cost anything more, and it builds up the morale of our citizens 
because they know they are heard.

This whole conference was been an amazing experience.  Not only am I proud to be disabled, but I am also proud to be part of such a strong and purpose-oriented community.  I'm learning so much about disability-related issues I never even thought of, how to address them, and how to self-advocate.  I'm so fascinated by the relevance it has to public health.  There are many issues to address, but little by little, we can conquer them all as a team.  We can and must never give up on what we believe in and that which 
we are passionate about.

On a personal note, I'm enjoying my time here with wonderful roommates and friends from the program.  I'm learning that friends are very necessary for our well-being.  They provide us with company, comfort, laughter, and support (at least the really good ones).  I'm getting to know so many amazing, strong, and honest people.  Whether it be shopping, hanging out, visiting museums, or having dinner, I thoroughly enjoy spending time with my new friends.  It has also been wonderful to be able to express myself and be accepted by others for who I am.  It's so very important to be honest with others and appreciate ourselves for who we are.  Be as kind and patient as possible because there are no good consequences that come from constantly putting others down and criticizing them.  We've got to learn to accept other people and respect our differences, and that comes by first loving them.  Strive to maintain a good relationship and don't let the little things get to you. Instead, make light of it and enjoy the funny quirks people have.  We are all different, and we are all equal, so make the most of friendship.
Allie, Bonnie, Carly, Judy, and Me at the National Museum of American Indian

Theresa, Tiffany, Don, Carly, Ross, Dwight, Jeff and Me outside the Kennedy Center

Shawn, Greg, Courtney, Don, Carly, Cory, Rodney and Me at Clyde's celebrating birthdays 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

First Week at Disability Rights International

My first week of my internship has been a wonderful experience already.  Let's begin with my journey getting to work.  Each day, I leave my apt at South Hall and wheel up 21street (and when I say up, I literally mean up), get onto 20th eventually and head approximately 17 blocks to my internship.  The wheel takes about 40 minutes each day.  Who knew that a summer internship could be such a good work out? My arms are becoming beauties already...

This week, I was warmly greeted by staff members at Disability Rights International.  Each person was so willing to come talk to me, answer my questions, and show me the ropes.  I was given many materials to become even more familiar with the organization's mission and past works.  From reading the articles and book as well as watching the videos, I have learned so much already about universal mistreatment, or rather abuses, of disabled individuals around the world, especially within institutions.  I didn't realize the abuses people with disabilities in other countries have to live with such as being strapped down for hours and even months because of self-destructive behaviors, tied to a crib and left in darkness and silence, forced to endure aversive shock treatment, hosed down in groups of both genders, etc.  They are stripped of their dignity and denied their basic human rights.  It's such a tragedy.  All the articles I've read and videos I've seen are horrific.  You can check out some of them here.  This organization works through the UN and usage of media to pressure governments into shutting down institutions, and providing community based programs to integrate people with disabilities (mental and physical) into society. They have also helped in drafting laws in our country and international countries to defend the right of those with disabilities.

I'll be researching documents pertaining to current rights of women and girls with disabilities in specific countries.  Right now, I am finishing up a research of available grants to fund this particular project.  It's been such a new experience for me to read through donor websites and focus on what their objects are, to see if they would match our organization's mission.  There are so many wonderful organizations out there that defend human rights, especially women rights.  I was so touched by the stories I read by those who have suffered through traumatic experiences, have overcome the challenges, and are now working to inspire others and prevent those same mistreatment from happening to others.  There are many great works out there and I hope that they and I succeed in creating environments in which the equality of women is a normalcy in society.  This will be a crucial milestone for the world.

Monday: I napped under a tree at DuPont Circle during my lunch hour. It was so refreshing!  Then, I went to a burger joint and had dinner with my friend Ashley, who is from BYU and did the same internship I did at HELP International.  She is so much fun!!! Then, Carly and I went to a mall in Pentagon City.  It's six stories high and has TONS of expensive shops...which means we window shopped for the most part.

Tuesday:  I went to a reception for AAPD and met many wonderful, successful people who are a part of the disability realm.  I'm looking forward to learning lots from them.  Afterwards, Shawn, my new friend from Kansas, made us a pasta dinner.  He is so awesome.  We had tons of fun with him, Cory, and Don.

Wednesday:  Carly and I went to Institute at the Barlow Center.  We are learning about Prophets and Presidencies.  We learned about Brigham Young and the trek west.  Then we continued the movie we began on Sunday: "The Fugitive." It was so cool!  Jeff says I pass and am now allowed to join the classics movie watchers group (They sure do have standards).

Oh yeah, I woke up from my nap at DuPont Circle today and was getting ready to leave when a guy just comes and plops right down in front of me.  He told me he's been watching me sleep there for the past three days and started asking me about why I was in a wheelchair and I automatically was grumpy because 1.) I just woke up from my nap and 2.) I didn't think it was necessary for a random stranger to inquire about my disability because it's personal, but I told him, reluctantly.  Anyways, he told me he was from India and that I needed to try non-westernized methods like acupuncture and offered to get some Indian oil for me.  He said he uses it all over his body and even in his hair, and that it works! I'm not sure he understands the extent of a complete spinal cord injury, but I'm pretty sure it's not going to work that way... or maybe I need more faith in alternative non-western medicine?  Anyways, I'm kind of sad because I think I just lost my ciesta spot.

Thursday: We hung out with Cory and his apt mates.  They are all so much fun to hang out with.  We had a great laugh over there.  Now that's where the party is at.

Friday: I was wheeling back home from work and along the way, there were sirens going off on about 10 police cars and motorcycles.  However, I spotted that written on the side of the cars were "United States of America."  And after the long and loud procession, a car passed by me, and in it was the side profile our President, Barack Obama. So sweet!

We went to a Karaoke bar with friends from the Barlow Center and had a totally entertaining time.  B2B and N'Sync...what more could you ask for in Karaoke beside awesomenesss?

Then, we celebrated Alex's birthday at the Cheesecake factory.  I had a super fun time getting to know new friends like Elizabeth.  Then, we topped off the evening with Michael-Sean and Preston dancing gleefully to New Directions.  So AWESOME!! What a fun crowd to be with :)

Saturday: Happy 21st Birthday to my sissy, Molly! I can't believe she's 21!!! That is a huge milestone in her life and I'm so proud of what she has accomplished already.  I can't wait to see all that will come to pass because of her in the near future.  I'm excited to be with her for a month in D.C.!!

Carly and I bought our flight to Italy.  However, I made the terrible mistake of purchasing the wrong flight for the wrong day.  I had a nervous breakdown, but 80 euros later, we got it all fixed.  I'm so excited to go and I just know it will be an AMAZING trip, especially because I'm going with one of my best friends.  It'll be super fun!

Sunday: Church in the morning in Chevy Chase, MD, a 45 minute bus ride away.  It was so refreshing to hear from our first speaker, Jordan.  She is newly baptized and shared how she had never been a religious person before because of her family's customs.  However, she read the Book of Mormon and felt that there was something more, so she sought out answers and felt the Church is true.  Her testimony was so simple and sweet.  I loved the testimony and appreciated her so much for sharing it.