Skip to content

Promoting Inclusive Spaces for STEM Fields and Agricultural Sciences

July 20, 2017

By Jenna Shelton

Woman with shoulder length hair and a dark suit jacket smiles at the camera

Jenna Shelton

The narrow rows and rocky terrain make it difficult for people with physical impairments to navigate.

An agricultural research space at UC Berkeley

This article was first published as a guest column in World Learning’s Transforming Agency Access and Power (TAAP) Tuesday newsletter on July 18, 2017. It is cross-posted here with the permission of author Jenna Shelton and of World Learning.

Although people with disabilities have the capability to be doctors, engineers, agriculturalists, and chemists, there are few people with disabilities in these science-heavy areas. The absence of disabled people in Science, Technology Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) is a symptom of the all too frequent inaccessible experiential learning opportunities in STEM fields.  How do people with disabilities access and thrive in STEM opportunities if training and field spaces cannot provide inclusive accommodations? In Addressing the Inaccessibility of Research Spaces at UC Berkeley: Fostering Participation of People with Disabilities in STEM Fields, Jenna Shelton, a former student at UC Berkeley and a disability rights advocate, explores the lack of people with disabilities in science-based fields on UC Berkeley’s campus. She attributes the lack of people with disabilities to the exclusive built environment of science field spaces on college campuses as well as negative attitudes of disability within scientific fieldwork and practical sciences.

The project started when Jenna, then a junior at UC Berkeley studying agriculture and environmental sciences, could not find an inclusive accommodation for an agro-ecology course. Since she started gardening in a wheelchair at age six, she knew that inclusive accommodations in agricultural spaces were possible. After her request for inclusive accommodation received considerable pushback from the university, she led efforts to survey research spaces for accessibility with disabled student researchers. While the research team focused on surveying agricultural research spaces, the team also collected testimonials from students with disabilities who have faced barriers to accommodations in other STEM fields. With the information collected, Jenna wrote a policy analysis on why inaccessibility in STEM fields and agricultural sciences is a problem on UC Berkeley’s campus and how it can be addressed through a combination of universal design using environmental sustainability and training on inclusive accommodations for professors. Some recommendations include integrating raised garden beds and braille into the spaces, creating accessible pathways for cane and wheelchair users, and training professors on integrating inclusive accommodation in their work.

While this project was conducted on a very local scale, it can also be applied to global issues of accessibility in agriculture. Disability is not uncommon in agricultural work. Farmworkers who become disabled often face difficult decisions in how to provide for their families. Thus, implementation of inclusive accommodation in sustainable farming on a global scale can support the livelihoods of disabled farmers as well as environmental health. “Agricultural sciences within our global food system is a prime example of how people with disabilities have been excluded. People with disabilities are not seen as farmers. If farmers become disabled, they lose their livelihoods. It is time that we implement inclusive design and social structures that allow people with disabilities to access opportunities and participate in a global society,” says Shelton.

To learn more about Jenna Shelton’s work visit here.

Jenna Shelton is a member of the 2017 cohort of the USICD Youth in International Development and Foreign Affairs internship program.  She and other USICD program interns are writing a series of blog posts about their experiences with USICD’s internship program and other topics, to be posted at this blog during the summer.  USICD coordinates the internship program, which brings a cohort of students and recent graduates with disabilities to Washington, DC, each summer to complete internships at various international organizations in the Washington, DC, area.  The internship program was enabled by funding support from  the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation(MEAF). Jenna Shelton is completing her internship at International Medical CorpsRead the biographies of our interns in the summer 2017 program.  Or read blog posts by other current and past interns. The views and opinions expressed at this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of USICD, MEAF, World Learning, or International Medical Corps.

 

The American Way of Exclusion

July 19, 2017

“Nothing about us, without us!”

By Janelle Lyons

Woman smiles at camera

Janelle Lyons

Everyone, at one time or another, has experienced the dreaded feeling of exclusion. When considering what it means to be excluded, many think of social exclusion. Social exclusion occurs when individuals or groups are denied access from certain activities or experiences that are available to other members of society. Social exclusion often starts from the childhood playground and can last until the retirement home, and for those confused, being excluded in adulthood can be just as painful, especially for those who have repeatedly been ostracized throughout their life. Therefore, social exclusion is a timeless classic that can take many forms: never being picked for the little league team, a “lost” invitation to the community BBQ, or even being denied admission to a NYC nightclub. Honestly speaking, it is amazing how often and how creatively people exclude others. The reality of exclusive behavior is that after a while this lack of inclusion and integration can chip away at a person’s psyche, making it no longer something one can just “get over.”

While exclusion is a universal issue felt around the world, it is important to understand that the U.S. was founded on the idea of “us” vs. “them” and the use of exclusivity to ensure dominance. Exclusion in the U.S. dates back to its inception, but some of the most noteworthy examples can be found in the following discriminatory U.S. policies: the Jim Crow Laws of the 1890s, the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986/ War on Drugs,* and our newest addition, the immigration ban of 2017. For a country that was founded by people who were seeking escape from religious persecution/prejudice, any form of discrimination and exclusion seems rightly absurd.

Exclusion and its devices are destructive to say the least; however, for marginalized communities, social exclusion is just the tip of the iceberg. It is one thing to not get invited to a popular, social event, but it is another to be structurally excluded from governmental policies that directly affect you and your community. Given the U.S.’ diverse population, democratic values of equality, and vast infrastructure, policy inclusion should already be an established norm. But inclusion is a far found notation, especially under this current administration. For example, how can a small group of wealthy, white men sit in a room and decide the healthcare and reproductive standards of a nation? Are there no longer Women of Color Senators like Kamala Harris, Tammy Duckworth, and Catherine Cortez Masto? Or at the very least, are organizations like Planned Parenthood and Medicare Rights Center no longer in operation?

Therefore, the titled quote, “nothing about us, without us,” means just that. I actually decided to add this as my title not only because it is one of the first things I see on my way into the USICD office every morning, but because it is a reminder that my work this summer with Women Enabled International and the importance of advocating for the inclusion of women with disabilities in United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 National Actions Plans. The UNSCR resolution 1325 calls upon actors to increase the participation of women in all UN peace and security efforts. After spending hours sifting through countless pages of dense government documentation, it is this quote that keeps my mind focused and allow me to gain perspective on the goal at hand. It is impossible and counterproductive to create U.S. legislation without including the affected parties, whether that be persons with disabilities, minorities, LGBT+ persons, the elderly, youth, etc. If you exclude members of these groups from participating in the creation, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of these policies, you will inevitably miss the mark. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

However, there are numerous U.S. based organizations and advocacy groups, like the National Diversity Council, the National Inclusion Project, and the Disability Visibility Project, that work tirelessly everyday on inclusion. They seek to not only expose incidents of injustice and exclusion, but also add proactive recommendations that help remedy the issue of widespread exclusion in U.S. policy. Although each of these groups has their own agenda, they each seek to do their part in helping to create a more inclusive world for all.

*Used as an example of exclusion due to the fact that these policies disproportionally target and affect African-Americans. For example, under the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, drug offenses involving crack cocaine, which was predominately used by African-Americans, were given extremely severe punishments when compared to those involving cocaine in its powdered form, which was primarily used by white people.

Janelle Lyons is a member of the 2017 cohort of the USICD Youth in International Development and Foreign Affairs internship program.  She and other USICD program interns are writing a series of blog posts about their experiences with USICD’s internship program and other topics, to be posted at this blog during the summer.  USICD coordinates the internship program, which brings a cohort of students and recent graduates with disabilities to Washington, DC, each summer to complete internships at various international organizations in the Washington, DC, area.  The internship program was enabled by funding support from the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation (MEAF). Janelle Lyons is completing her internship at Women Enabled International.  Read the biographies of our interns in the summer 2017 program.  Or read blog posts by other current and past interns. The views and opinions expressed at this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of USICD, MEAF, or Women Enabled International.

Immigrant’s Tale: Bridges not Walls

July 12, 2017

By Yuliya Gileva

Young woman smiles at camera

Yuliya Gileva

I am an immigrant in United States who has a disability and a purpose—words that I now feel the need to say more and more often as the current political climate shifts towards neglecting the hopes and dreams of so many people who have uttered these words before.

When the executive order that targeted people from Muslim-majority countries came to light, I thought of the Berlin Wall because of its significance in history. People were willing to die for their beliefs and the prospect of a better life as they crossed from East to West. Today, a similar theme is present, except not in the Cold War context. We should be building bridges rather than building walls.

One of the key ways to build bridges between people is to embrace diversity and include people from all walks of life in every community regardless of how large or small. Diversity, in my opinion, is in some ways similar to a kaleidoscope of beads in which unique individuals all come with varying life experiences, backgrounds, perspectives and goals for the future. Diversity leads to creative discussions and a vast array of potential solutions to difficult questions. It is that very distinction of each individual that adds to a more vibrant community.

Inclusion, the proactive and collective process towards appreciation of diversity, is a key factor to a stronger community. It is the embrace of uniqueness. Inclusion, in its ideal form, is a constant process that builds the pieces of the kaleidoscope that is diversity. Each piece shines on its own while also bringing out the beauty of the pieces around it. One of the main goals of inclusion is to give each individual a voice.  The importance of the voice is twofold. On the one hand, the voice of the individual helps that individual grow by sharing personal thoughts and experiences. On the other hand, that individual’s voice has the ability to impact the listeners in a positive way and shape or change the conversation.

It is my sincere hope that in the near future many more bridges will be built which will withstand the test of time. My tools are ready. Let’s continue to build the foundation— inclusion for all on paper and in practice. I’m thrilled to be a part of the Youth in International Development and Foreign Affairs program which has continued to highlight the importance of inclusion throughout the years in a remarkably proactive way.

Yuliya Gileva is a member of the 2017 cohort of the USICD Youth in International Development and Foreign Affairs internship program.  She and other USICD program interns are writing a series of blog posts about their experiences with USICD’s internship program and other topics, to be posted at this blog during the summer.  USICD coordinates the internship program, which brings a cohort of students and recent graduates with disabilities to Washington, DC, each summer to complete internships at various international organizations in the Washington, DC, area.  The internship program was enabled by funding support from the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation (MEAF). Yuliya Gileva is completing her internship at the International Finance Corporation (IFC) at the World Bank.  Read the biographies of our interns in the summer 2017 program.  Or read blog posts by other current and past interns. The views and opinions expressed at this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of USICD, MEAF, or IFC or World Bank

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

July 11, 2017

By Anna Custis

Young women smiles at camera

Ann Custis

On June 16th, Handicap International USA celebrated Handicap International’s 35th birthday with a charming little tradition they like to call Cake Day.  Three cakes were baked, icing was piped, and sprinkles were spilled all over the floor and table.  It took a sizeable team to put these cakes together. It was a bit of a messy and time-consuming process, but in the end, it came out looking and tasting pretty good.  The time and effort led to a result that everyone could enjoy. It’s much like what we do with international development, foreign affairs, disability inclusivity and more on a daily basis.

This kind of work is not easy.  Much like when we were making our cakes, working in international development and in inclusivity can be frustrating and messy.  There are tears, setbacks and obstacles to all the work that we do, but it can still be fun and rewarding. In the end, it is all worth it.  When we put our minds to something and we all work together, we can come through and make such an incredible impact for people all over the world.  It doesn’t matter how small the team is either; as long as you are dedicated and you’re willing to work hard make things happen, then it will happen.

Through USICD’s internship program, I have been given the amazing opportunity to be part of something bigger and life-changing.  Within the past month alone, I have learned more about teamwork than I have ever done in these past twenty-one years, and for that I am extremely grateful.  It is humbling to see the hard work people put into their passion for humanitarian aid and international development with my own eyes, and I hope to have more rewarding experiences like this in my future.  Oh, and more cake.

Ann Custis is a member of the 2017 cohort of the USICD Youth in International Development and Foreign Affairs internship program.  She and other USICD program interns are writing a series of blog posts about their experiences with USICD’s internship program and other topics, to be posted at this blog during the summer.  USICD coordinates the internship program, which brings a cohort of students and recent graduates with disabilities to Washington, DC, each summer to complete internships at various international organizations in the Washington, DC, area.  The internship program was enabled by funding support from  the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation(MEAF). Ann Custis is completing her internship at Handicap International USA (HI USA)  . Read the biographies of our interns in the summer 2017 program.  Or read blog posts by other current and past interns. The views and opinions expressed at this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of USICD, MEAF, or HI USA.

Enabling Careers—For Me, For Them

July 7, 2017

By Vanna Song

young man is looking at camera

Vanna Song

I have not lived in a dorm setting since sixteen, which was eighteen years ago. You’re probably thinking by now “Wait a minute! What were you doing in a dorm at sixteen?” No, I wasn’t in college at the time. What I was doing was participating in a program run by the Washington State Department of Services for the Blind called YES (Youth Employment Services). That program gave jobs for the summer to youth who are blind or have low-vision. The program secured a sorority house at the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington for the high school students to live in for the duration of the program. After the program concludes, the high school students leave and the sorority women get their house back. There were many jobs available to us. Jobs from doing clerical work to working as a cashier at a cafe. I had the cashier job. The program did a lot more than give youth who are blind or visually impaired opportunities to hold summer jobs. The program also taught skills like budgeting and daily living skills like cooking.

Living in that sorority house was interesting to say the least. The rooms were a lot bigger than the rooms here at the Potomac House. But our rooms didn’t have microwaves and bathrooms, unlike our rooms at the Potomac House. We just had beds and desks. The bathrooms had their own space down the hall. Downstairs on the first floor was where everyone hung out. That was where everything was — the kitchen, the living rooms, TV, you name it. Ok, it was a bit fun. After all, we were teenagers, away from our families and friends, working and just being teenagers.

What the United States International Council on Disabilities (USICD) Youths in International Development and Foreign Affairs internship Program is doing is similar to what YES does. Both programs take place during the summer. Both programs secure housing for participants in university housing. YES serves youths who are blind or visually impaired. The USICD internship program serves people with all types of disabilities. Both programs aim to give people with disabilities work opportunities nonetheless. These programs allow folks to practice old skills and gain new ones.

I guess this is where the similarities end…or maybe not. After reflecting a bit more, I see these programs aren’t all that different from each other. Superficially, they may seem very different. YES deals with summer jobs for youths, while USICD deals with potential careers in the fields of foreign affairs and international development. YES deals with jobs at the local level. USICD gives folks opportunities to work with major international organizations such as the World Bank, the International Medical Corps, and World Learning. I do not want to work as a cashier ever again—however, I will always carry with me the skills, such as customer service skills and connections I gained from the YES program. One of my goals after all is to craft and implement policy that will open up opportunities for gainful employment for Cambodians in Cambodia. That includes providing the poorest youth and youth with disabilities with summer jobs. Thanks to the YES program and my internship at World Learning, I think I have an idea of the type of program I want to develop.

Living in a dorm setting again after so many years isn’t too bad. At least we have microwaves in our rooms and don’t have to go down the hall to use the bathroom or to shower. I’d like to cook, but since I won’t be here for very long, I didn’t bother bringing any cookware. I’ll save the cooking for when I move in to my apartment at the University of Washington for grad school. There, I can get back to cooking chicken adobo, fried rice, and so much more. There are plenty of restaurants including Khmer and Thai restaurants around here that serve edible food. I don’t mind eating out for the two months that I’ll be here in DC.

Vanna Song is a member of the 2017 cohort of the USICD Youth in International Development and Foreign Affairs internship program.  he and other USICD program interns are writing a series of blog posts about their experiences with USICD’s internship program and other topics, to be posted at this blog during the summer.  USICD coordinates the internship program, which brings a cohort of students and recent graduates with disabilities to Washington, DC, each summer to complete internships at various international organizations in the Washington, DC, area.  The internship program was enabled by funding support from  the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation(MEAF). Vanna Song is completing his internship at World Learning  . Read the biographies of our interns in the summer 2017 program.  Or read blog posts by other current and past interns. The views and opinions expressed at this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of USICD, MEAF, or World Learning

 

Not Just an Internship

July 6, 2017

By Ryan O’Malley

Young man smiles at camera

Ryan O’Malley

The “Washington D.C. Intern Experience” is often something many students, myself included, have always dreamed about. The opportunity to see up close and personal national and international policy change is a magnet for young people around the country and even around the world. Most people, including myself, do not end up interning for the Federal Government. However, that does not mean we cannot advocate for change.

As a person with “invisible disabilities” or honestly for anyone with disabilities, it is a risk to move across the country to work.  For me it is not so much the physical struggle of moving, but the mental struggle. My invisible disabilities, although mostly treated, can really disrupt my life. Luckily, my disabilities have not given me too much trouble thus far in D.C. The first few weeks settling in were quite stressful for me, but knowing that I have the support of the USICD staff and staff at Management Sciences for Health (MSH) has helped me settle into my internship quite well. USICD’s effort to place me at an accepting place for a person with disabilities, accommodate me for housing, and provide me with mentorship and support has made this transition much easier.

Because of the support I receive, I can focus on my internship, which is work on global health issues. I currently do work on two projects at MSH: the No More Epidemics Campaign, and the Leadership Management and Governance Project. The No More Epidemics Campaign is a global campaign to help promote preparedness to prevent future epidemics. The research I have done for publication on the campaign has opened my eyes to secondary impacts, including economic and psychosocial, of epidemics besides the disease burden. We are lucky in the United States to have a strong disease surveillance system that helps prevent epidemics. This is not the case in much of the world. The Leadership, Management and Governance (LMG) Project is collaborating with health leaders, managers, and policy-makers at all levels to show that investments in leadership, management, and governance lead to stronger health systems. The Leadership Development Plus (LDP+) is a project I have been working on data analysis for. LDP+ is a part of LMG that helps teach skills to clinical managers, in order to become better at their jobs. This in turn fosters better health outcomes for patients.

I am excited to work more with the Leadership Management and Governance project because I will get to help develop materials on disability inclusion.  This is especially important to me because I believe that invisible disabilities, such as my own, often go unnoticed. They can cause significant problems, especially in places where disabilities are stigmatized or unrecognized. I have personal experience with this from my time in China, where my teachers punished me because I could not learn Chinese characters like others or control my impulsiveness in class.  Unfortunately, my story is not too uncommon. The Chinese education system does not recognize learning disabilities and there is very little knowledge on mental health issues in China.

Unfortunately, there are countries with even poorer track records than China and thus people around the world struggle day-after-day.  The MSH mission statement is; “A world where everyone has the opportunity to live a healthy life”. Only recently have they been working on disability inclusion. I hope that I can help be an advocate and example for accommodating all kinds of disabilities in the future within MSH, and aid in the push for health programs that address disabilities around the world.

Ryan O’Malley is a member of the 2017 cohort of the USICD Youth in International Development and Foreign Affairs internship program.  he and other USICD program interns are writing a series of blog posts about their experiences with USICD’s internship program and other topics, to be posted at this blog during the summer.  USICD coordinates the internship program, which brings a cohort of students and recent graduates with disabilities to Washington, DC, each summer to complete internships at various international organizations in the Washington, DC, area.  The internship program was enabled by funding support from  the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation(MEAF). Ryan O’Malley is completing his internship at Management Sciences for Health (MSH) . Read the biographies of our interns in the summer 2017 program.  Or read blog posts by other current and past interns. The views and opinions expressed at this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of USICD, MEAF, or MSH

Shifting Identities: Paralympian and International Development

June 29, 2017

by  Chuck Aoki

Young man smile at camera

Chuck Aoki

My road to the USICD internship program has been non-traditional, to say the least. Having spent the last eight years of my life playing for wheelchair rugby for the U.S. National team, I’ve come to reflect on a few things. First and foremost, it is an honor and a privilege to be part of something so incredible as the Paralympic movement. I’ve made memories and friendships that will last a lifetime. And don’t worry everyone, I’m not done just yet. The other reflections are a bit harder to admit, however.

When I began graduate school this past fall, at the University of Minnesota, I was nervous to talk about my Paralympic career too much. I knew that I would have to discuss it some, since my wonderful professors and school leadership allowed me to start a bit late due to my being in Rio, but I was worried about allowing it to define me. This might seem odd, given that rugby had defined my entire life up until that point, and still largely does to this day. But I wanted to be taken seriously. I’ve always had a passion for policy, governance, and international affairs, broadly speaking. But for so long, my life had been consumed by a sport that I love dearly, but had not allowed me to pursue my other passions. I don’t regret a minute of the time I spent playing rugby, not in the slightest. But pursuing it meant setting other things aside.

What all this added up to then, was a fear that my graduate school career, and thus my professional one as well, would always be defined by my sport. Was this an irrational fear? Luckily, it was. I have felt so at home at the Humphrey School, where I have made incredible friends and been taught by outstanding professors. I can’t wait to get back home, and have another great year there.

Starting my internship on the other hand, brought about a whole new set of worries. Going from smashing into people daily, to sending emails and reading reports is not a transition most make. It’s fortunate that I have managed to be civilized so far, and I have enjoyed my work greatly. However, there’s still days, although not as much anymore, where I look at myself, and say, do I belong here? Trading one identity for another is hard some days. I love being in the professional world, learning at my internship, and getting a chance to see what my future could look like. But that future means losing part of my other identity, one that has been with me for a long, long time. I’m certainly not looking for any sympathy here, I know that I am coming from a privileged position as a Paralympian. Expressing these feelings through writing helps me to understand them better though, and allows me to be more and more comfortable with the idea of letting some things go in life. I feel as though I’ve only scratched the surface of what the world has to offer.

I’ll close by just saying how honored I am to be spending the summer in Washington D.C., with the USICD internship program, interning at the National Democratic Institute. After so many years representing our country across the world, coming home and working in our nation’s capital could not be more fitting. The last eight years have been simply tremendous. I can’t wait to see what happens in the next eight.

Chuck Aoki is a member of the 2017 cohort of the USICD Youth in International Development and Foreign Affairs internship program.  he and other USICD program interns are writing a series of blog posts about their experiences with USICD’s internship program and other topics, to be posted at this blog during the summer.  USICD coordinates the internship program, which brings a cohort of students and recent graduates with disabilities to Washington, DC, each summer to complete internships at various international organizations in the Washington, DC, area.  The internship program was enabled by funding support from  the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation(MEAF). Chuck Aoki is completing his internship at the National Democratic Institute (NDI). Read the biographies of our interns in the summer 2017 program.  Or read blog posts by other current and past interns. The views and opinions expressed at this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of USICD, MEAF, or NDI