Sunday, August 15, 2010

Five Things to Walk Away With

I’ve been home for one week and the fact that both my internship & my summer have just flown by are starting to sink in. Truly, I can’t imagine spending the summer of 2010 any other way than as a participant in AAPD’s Summer Congressional Internship Program in the office of Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin. While I could write & write & write about absolutely everything I’ve taken away from my experience, perhaps I can succinctly summarize just five for you:

1. Through AAPD, I’ve learned so much more about the disability justice movement- where it come from, who is a part of it and how I can become part of it, too. To paraphrase my amazing roommate, Amelia, disability is a unique way of living in the world, certainly not something one should be expected to compensate for. Truly, this is a cornerstone of the concept of disability justice, one that includes not just physical accessibility (though this is certainly crucial!) but examines how certain privileged ways of living, understanding, and communicating in the world are deemed to have potential while others are completely devalued to the point of stigmatization.

2. As I’ve written in past entries, I’ve found even stronger links between disability justice and reproductive justice. Ensuring individuals are able to make personal choices in this realm of their lives which they deem best for themselves includes recognition that a person with a disability has not given up their right to bodily autonomy. The current stigmatization of disability only perpetuates justification for forced sterilization, institutionalization, parents with disabilities losing custody of their children, and a culture of eugenics which still persists today.

3. To think beyond “disability policy”. As my mentor, Day Al-Mohamed mentioned to me, out of the thousands of positions within federal, state, and local government, only a tiny handful have “disability” as part of the title. If what we are fighting for is disability justice, we need folks on our side who know the ins & outs of health care, housing, employment, education, technological development, construction, you name it. There are many ways to be an advocate for people with disabilities regardless of what title one holds in one’s place of employment.

4. Just exactly how Congress works. Before my internship, I thought all I needed to know the technical steps a bill must take to become a law. It was from working on Capitol Hill that I learned the roles numerous individuals play in working together (or against each other) to draft, influence, mark-up, and pass a bill in Congress. Our nation’s legislative body and its policy-making process have become very much de-mystified in a way a textbook can’t convey.

5. How important professional networking is! Many of the opportunities which became available to me were made possible through a commitment to connecting with as many professionals as possible and more importantly, following up. Considering 80% of jobs are found through networking, this aspect became the most important part of my summer in Washington D.C. aside from my internship responsibilities. A congressional internship might possible brighten up your resume, but in the end, it’s all about making sure there are the right connections to make sure you get to where you want to go.

Thank you, AAPD for such a wonderful summer!

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