Wednesday, August 8, 2012

My goals (Part 2)

My Goals (Part 2)

In order for this coalition to be successful there are several goals that I have in mind. First and foremost I would like to spread awareness about the challenges disabled people face on a daily basis. This can be done though creating personal videos, blogging, hiring speakers, holding awareness events, and staying involved with the local community.  My second goal is to set up a network for peer support and advice. I think it would be extremely beneficial for Youth who have successfully overcome their disability to offer their expertise and support to others who have not yet learned to cope with their disability. My third goal is to foster personal bonds among Youth with disabilities. This would be accomplished by organizing social events such as picnics, ice-cream socials, bowling trips or even something as simple as getting a group together for pizza.  My fourth and final goal is to shape disability policy. This can be done by calling writing letters and maintaining connections with U.S. Senators, Congressmen and other policy makers, working closely with nonprofit organizations, attending congressional hearings and promoting awareness of Disability-related internship opportunities, career and professional development.

My goals (part 1)

I have almost finished with my internship experience at the American Association For People with Disabilities. At my internship I have been working on the same project so I felt it would be important to talk about what I got out of this internship oppertunity and how I plan to stay  involved with the disabilites community after. I have decided to devide this blog into three parts.
Part One
This internship has made me aware of the need for the development of a coalition for Youth with Disabilities. After doing some research and speaking with numerous people, I discovered that there is no such group within New Jersey that is open to all Youth with disabilities, in particular kids that are in middle and high school. Ultimately I hope to create such an organization on a grass roots level based out of New Jersey to provide support to Youth with Disabilities and to further educate the public about different types of disabilities.

Youth in general face some of the most difficult challenges and make some of the toughest decisions in their life. Youth with Disabilities face  the same challenges and must perform at the same level  as everyone else but are forced to overcome many additional obstacles such as bullying, depression, concentration, processing and mobility issues . A person’s Youth is the time that their character, interests and ultimately their path toward the future is set.  Providing support to a struggling child can be the difference between them graduating from high school and going on to college or simply dropping out.

Monday, August 6, 2012

D.C. in D.C.- week 10

Hello my fellow Americans, I just started my post off like this because I'm a silly person, in which I hope everyone enjoyed my humor this summer! Last week flew by so fast and this coming week marks the last days of my internship. Throughout this past week, I did a little venturing out on my own but not nearly as much as I hoped to accomplish this summer. I kept putting  off all of my museum visits by constantly telling myself "I'm going to be here for 10 weeks, I have enough time to see all the places I want to." But to my surprise, I managed to see about 3/5ths of places I wanted to see while here this summer. Although, I must admit that I did get to go to some pretty cool places (hints the 3/5ths) like the Library of Congress and The Pentagon!

Again, as I mentioned before, last week went by so fast and the only couple of things that hit the top of my chart of "cool things" was that the employees in my department ODIFP (Office of Data Integration and Food Protection) threw all of us interns a cookout which was nice because I missed so many cookouts back home.

Next would definitely be that when I visited The Pentagon and I had the opportunity to sign a book that would be given to the families of the victims of  9/11 who lost their lives at The Pentagon once it was all the way full. A sombering moment that really hit home. The tour guides, who were both members of our Armed Forces pointed out where you could see the difference in the outside layer of brick and how they tried to replicate what the not-so damaged inner layer looked like; you could still see the scorch marks from the jet fuel fire stained against the inner layer of brick which burned upward of 1,000 degrees. I remember when it happened, I was in the 6th grade in middle school. It was mainly the reason why when I turned 17, I joined the Navy, sadly enough, I didn't get to go help give the payback that the other Americans in the Armed Forces does, but nevertheless I want to come back to DC soon and fight the good fight even if it is on the civilian side of the war efforts in defending this great nation we all call home.

I want to move forward with my highlights because thinking about 9/11 makes me angry, not so much that I want to flip out but it is well said that "We Will Never Forget". Lastly, on the brighter side of my week, I did get to go see The Dark Knight Rises which really blew my socks off! One reason it did was because it costed 12 dollars to see and another reason was that it was three hours long! I won't complain though because in my opinion it was worth every cent (could have been three bucks cheaper at home) and every minute of the film. I am very anxious for that to come out on DVD, I have The Dark Knight on DVD already so this and Batman Begins will be my Trilogy Collection which is pretty neat! I have recently found out that I really love movies! It has become a hobby of mine now and I am officially announcing that I will probably go broke in the months to come just from going to midnight releases of Blockbuster films! I have come to terms with that being a new passion of mine and Lord Willing no one else will be able to smuggle shotguns and assault rifles into anymore premieres.

In closing, I can say that I was amazed that in this week I did not have any follies! Maybe that's why my week didn't seem so full and went by so fast! God is good and I am glad that AAPD, Wal-Mart and MEAF has allowed me to have the DC Experience this summer. Working full time this summer was sort of a challenge as the weeks progressed because it is the first time I have done so in three years so I would like to give myself a pat on the back. Thank goodness that I will have 17 days left when I get home before school starts! On the contrary, about 14 of those days will still consist of me running around like a chicken with my head cut off! Bills to be paid, classes to be scheduled, cars/motorcycles to be purchased and applications to be filled out; I appreciate weekends a lot more than I used to, but I prefer to be busy way more than to have idle time on my hands! Here's to being PRODUCTIVE because now 24 hours isn't enough time for me in a day!

I have much love for everyone, I enjoyed my time here this summer! This is not a goodbye but only an...

Until next time

Daily Democracy

Although it’s the last week this week, I am planning to write another blog once it’s really the end of the internship. There are so many people I want to thank, but I’m going to wait until the end of this week for that. For now, I have one more topic I wanted to talk about which is youth and disability voting.

On Saturday, my roommates and I had a wonderful dinner with my mentor, Yoshiko. I am so fortunate to have her as my mentor and to be able to learn from her great work and advocacy. She has such a passion for youth involvement in the disability rights movement. At dinner, she talked about the importance of voting.

Youth historically have a low voting turn-out and low participation in the democratic system. I know many young people who are dissatisfied with the current political system, who feel like nothing changes in government. Although change is slow and sometimes we move backwards, if we want to change our world for the better, political and social participation is vitally important. Disengagement does not foster change. Involvement and empowerment do.

In the 2008 election, 51.1% of citizens aged 18-29 voted. This is an increase from 1996 and 2000, when youth voting was at an all-time low. Yet half of all youth eligible to vote did not go to the polls in 2008. The numbers are even lower when you look at state and local elections. Polls suggest that the youth vote in the 2012 Presidential election will go down. We've got about three months to turn those numbers around. It is vitally important that we vote in elections. We're voting about our future and if we don’t participate, we’re the ones that will have to deal with the consequences the longest.

People with disabilities are also a huge voting bloc, yet we are underestimated. According to various studies, nearly 15 million Americans with Disabilities voted in the 2008 Presidential election. This was a rise in voting for the disability community, but there are 54 million Americans with disabilities. People with disabilities make up 19% of the US population, yet our voice is not as powerful as it should be, given our numbers. While there are still challenges with voting places being inaccessible, states and advocacy groups are working to make voting more accessible. We must empower our community and show that we are a force that needs to be listened to. We need to support candidates that address our interests and our issues.

From this summer, I have learned the importance of advocating for issues that matter to me. We should all educate ourselves about bills and policies that will affect us and our communities. This means contacting our Congressmen. It means caring about who is running for Governor, for State Congressmen, for City Council and Town Meeting Member. It means making calls, sending emails, advocating and lobbying.

In closing I will quote Justin Dart Jr., who wrote, "Vote as if your life depends on it. Because it does." Decisions are made by those who show up. If you don't vote, advocate, and make your voice heard, the issues you care about will not be addressed. Candidates listen to those who vote and those who speak up. We've got an important election coming up in November. Make sure you're registered and make sure your friends and family are too. For those who are working or going to school away from home, be sure to apply for your absentee ballot.

But don’t forget that spirit of empowerment once you fill out your ballot. Democracy doesn’t come around every four years. It can and should be a part of our lives every day.

Sources used for this article:

Something to Point To
Angela Denise Davis

I first encountered a recording of the Broadway musical, Working, when I was an early teen whose only desire was to be cloistered in my local, public library. Working was an adaptation of Studs Terkel’s book by the same name, and was a musical exploration of how some Americans viewed their jobs. I have never forgotten some of these songs, and recently added the digital recording to my iTunes library. The songs included stories of a young boy who had a newspaper route, a woman who cleaned office buildings at night, and a housewife who managed her home. I have been thinking a lot about Terkel’s book and how it would be different if it were based on the working lives of persons with disabilities.

The unemployment rate for persons with disabilities is over 70 %. Work is such an essential aspect of human life. For those individuals who do work, it may be easy to take for granted the feeling of putting in a long day of work, or the feeling of, as they sing in the musical,  “having something to point to.”

Last week, the interns attended a reception given by Wal-Mart. An employee from the company asked us to talk about one highlight we experienced this summer. I thought about it for a minute. The summer has had many highlights. It has been a great pleasure to work with Ginny Thornburgh on the “Statement of Solidarity.” I have enjoyed meeting various business people and government officials. I have enjoyed being able to make some opportunities for myself such as attending a conference on theology and disability in Chicago, and spending a couple of days at the 2012 International AIDS Society Conference. There were so many other bright lights during the past ten weeks, but I hope to never forget one moment I experience during my internship.

During one sweltering, triple digit degree evening. I left the office, and started my way back to the dorms. I was heading west, and it was impossible to hide from the sunlight. In a circus of pedestrians and cars, I navigated my way through the rush hour traffic. At the corner of H Street and 21st Avenue I was struck with a visceral acknowledgement. I had not felt this way in years. It was not the heat, or the membrane of sweat that covered my body. It was the recognition that I had completed a hard day of work at the office. I had brainstormed with colleagues, investigated problems, and created solutions. I had “something to point to” for my day. I had not felt like this since I resigned from my work at Vanderbilt University.

As I leave D.C. this week, I take that feeling with me as I create my own work in consulting, vocational rehabilitation, and theological education around issues of disability. We all should have “something to point to.” We all can make a contribution. We all have gifts.

It’s about time to head out for work, but there is just enough time for one more song. I wish you were here to listen with me.

“Everyone should have something to point to
Something to be proud of…
Everyone should have something to point to…”

The end to a beginning...

It has been nine weeks and four days since I landed here in D.C. and this upcoming week marks our tenth and final week as interns. Looking back I’ve experienced both positive and negative experiences, but if I had to do it again, I would. Whether I go into a disability related field or not, I am still walking away with a better understanding of my own needs as a person with a disability. Prior to this internship, I used to be wary about requesting an interpreter for any event outside of school and simply accepted lack of accessibility for the DHH in movie theaters and concerts as “just how it is”.  I used to consider myself a self-advocate, but being an intern here has really made me open my eyes to the world of accessibility and possibilities. Being here has helped me become a better advocate. Just this past weekend I experienced my first captioned movie in theaters. It was an amazing experience knowing that I wouldn’t have to wait for a movie to come out on DVD in order to watch it with subtitles. Afterwards, I did some research on my home state and was disappointed to learn that the closest theaters with captioning are either in Minnesota or Illinois. Even a friend back home, who works at a movie theater, was surprised to learn of the lack of accessibility for DHH individuals in theaters. With the digital projectors used today, it shouldn’t be hard to accommodate DHH individuals, especially when there is technology available that would allow DHH individuals to watch the same movie with their hearing companions via infrared captioning glasses. Whether I end up pursuing a career in mental health or economics, I hope to be able to apply what I’ve learned from this internship about myself and others with disabilities, whichever direction I choose in life.

This summer...

So, as I began to think about what I should write this week I thought to myself: where did this summer go? I mean really, I can’t believe it is week ten already. I decided to spend this post trying to figure out what happened to this summer. Have you ever used that “Year in Statuses” program on Facebook? Well, if you have, know this blog is going to read a lot like one of the collages that could be generated by that program. So, this is what happened this summer:

I traveled for the first time across state lines in my wheelchair (using Amtrak); Met my roommates; we became live advertisements for Target the first couple of days we were here; Jess and I learned how to fit in the Metro elevators together; a metro door closed on my wheelchair (six people rescued me); Orientation week; Joyce Bender dubbed me a trouble-maker; crash course in disability history; went to church; Visited with my grandma days before she died; met my aunt London for the first time; intern Bible Study; Dan walked me to the Metro station; struggled, NICL women’s forum;  Security clearance; received my badge (and felt special); Created a presentation for managers and employees on the reasonable accommodation process, CRPD hearing; CRPD mark-up; went to small group with my mentor; learned of the greatness of frozyo (it’s Kosher!); went to the Air Force memorial with a friend from home; went to the AIR orientation; resume workshop; Schedule A; watched fireworks from my roommates window; medical issues, rode a handcycle in Maryland; JFA Awards (I am CP!); Disability Pride Parade in Philly; 30th Street Station with Yoshiko; planned women’s forum for DHS; Sunday evening reflections; read books; met awesome people; Roti (“see you later” dinner); tested people’s patience; swallowed my pride; learned about mobility assistance dogs; great conversations with my roommates; FDR Memorial; laughing purely from exhaustion; cleaned; ordering groceries; Starbucks meetings; lunch with friends; MLK Memorial; ACMS data entry; Wal-Mart cupcake party; Lebanese Tavernea; prayed elevators would keep working; wrote a business case and learned a lot.

There is much more I am sure but I have already gone over my word limit. I just have to say that I am so thankful for this opportunity and experience. It has been a sweet gift. Thank you AAPD for making all of this possible for me!