November 12, 2010
Recently I had the joy of overlooking the United Nations Plaza from the 12th floor of the Institute of International Education, our local host for the annual National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange Roundtable Consortium meeting. Surrounding me were national-level leaders from the international exchange and disability communities, all with one topic on their minds: how do we increase the number of people with disabilities having international exchange experiences?
Their positive attitudes are an investment in inclusion and their experiences guide us on priorities. The organizations that comprise Roundtable Consortium members are making a difference in the lives of people with disabilities by changing organizational policies. Several members have set aside line-item funding in their overall program and administrative budgets to provide for disability-related accommodations upon request. Way to go! Others have modified their outreach materials to explicitly encourage applicants with disabilities through positive language and photos. Kudos for their proactiveness! Disability organizations shared how they are internationalizing their membership and serving as consultants and trainers to international organizations. Such a valuable resource, thank you!
Yet still, organizations are struggling with systemic issues that prevent the full inclusion of people with disabilities in the broad range of programs. Organizations should establish a company-wide policy for funding accommodations for participants, regardless of the source of income to administer the program (i.e., fee-paying or sponsored student). Strategies around encouraging disclosure without violating the right to privacy and avoiding applicants being ‘screened out’ can be put into place using resources from our Tools for Professionals page and tipsheet on Screening and Disclosure.
With flags from many nations waving in the fall air, I am witnessing what I have come to believe is a real shift in the goals toward disability inclusion. In the words of Robert Francis Kennedy, “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why… I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”. I was proud this week to count myself among the dreamers of what is possible.
Cerise Roth-Vinson is Chief Operating Officer at Mobility International USA and Project Manager of the National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange.