This week, I was invited by my mentor, Sofija to attend a meeting at the Dept. of State regarding disabilities and HIV in conjunction with the HIV conference held in Washington D.C. this week (btw, this is the first time the conference has ever been held in the states and for a long time, foreign people with HIV were automatically denied entrance...epic moment in history). There were representatives from various African organizations who spoke about the challenges of those with disabilities in receiving health services. Those with disabilities around the world are highly stigmatized--second class citizens--and those who have disabilities and HIV infected are even more looked down upon. They are the last to receive help, if any.
It also doesn't help that there is a virgin myth that if you are infected with HIV, you can rid of it by sleeping with a virgin. Those with disabilities are generally perceived to be unwanted caste from society, therefore, virgins. They are easily targeted and not only become infected, but don't receive treatment and have to suffer. It's terrible that people have to endure this injustice, especially because it is NOT their fault! These organizations are striving to change this as best as they can, but with little support. Many of the representatives mentioned the CRPD and how it's ratification by the U.S. will become a model for improvement in their countries as well (I really hope this is the case), and I'm thrilled the convention was sent to the floor this week. I'm so excited and am hopeful of what happens this following week.
Another topic discussed is the call for youth leaders with disabilities to rise up and become the voices of their disability communities, to educate others and push for those basic human rights--health and equality. People should never be discriminated against because of their disability (or anything for that matter), but unfortunately, we are. We, as disability advocates, need to work alongside able-bodies to integrate people with disabilities into society, and teach people to become not only tolerant, but accepting of others different from them. At least, we can educate others on our disabilities so they can better understand our needs, our abilities, and how we can contribute to our society. Disabilities add diversity to every society and make up part of the definition of melting pot. In actuality, everyone has a disability of some sort or will experience it at some point. We are here and proud of our disabilities, and we should never allow these challenges to hinder us from attaining our right to equal treatment, health care, and opportunities.