Onwards and Upwards!
Anais Keenon graduated magna cum laude from the University of Oregon in 2012 with a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism: Advertising. After her internship experience at Mobility International USA and free lancing a feature story on people with disabilities in Ghana, Ms. Keenon became inspired to pursue a career advocating for disability inclusion in development work. She is now halfway through a Master’s program in International Development at Gallaudet University, known as the world’s only major university for the Deaf, and is expected to graduate in June 2014. Anais is completing her Youth in Development (YIDA) internship at the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), which has worked in more than 135 countries to support citizens’ rights to participate in free and fair elections. She is one of seven interns in the YIDA internship program who are completing internships at various international organizations in the Washington DC area this summer. In this blog post, Anais reacts to her experience during YIDA training and orientation and her first week at her internship.
As tropical storm Andrea bears down on the east coast this Friday afternoon, I’m sitting at my desk at the International Foundation of Electoral Systems, more commonly known as IFES. Today is casual Friday and I’m quickly realizing that “casual” in DC looks very different than “casual” in Oregon. Lesson learned!
After the first week of orientation from USICD, I was left feeling divided whether I was the target audience for the program. There were a few inspiring and fascinating components, such as the discussion about the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), learning about the history of people with disabilities, and listening to lectures by guest speakers knowledgeable about indigenous rights, women’s rights, refugee rights, LGBT rights, and (naturally) disability rights worldwide. However, there were some components of the orientation that felt too basic for someone who’s had at least four or five internships.
So I entered the first day of my internship unsure how I was going to be regarded. Did IFES see me as another intern to be a one-woman copy machine? Or would they see someone that could – and would – be expected to contribute?
I’m very pleased to report it’s been the latter. My supervisor is the Inclusion Program Officer, so thankfully she was already in tune with any accommodation request I had. I ended up being the Inclusion Program intern, meaning that my work all day every day is about disability inclusion in electoral systems and the right to vote for people with disabilities. Since day one, I’ve hit the ground running; in this week alone, I’ve done the following:
- Read up on a literal stack of IFES-related reading materials about past and future projects, many related specifically to disability inclusion and access
- Read and assessed four website proposals from developers for the upcoming renovation of the ElectionAccess.org website
- Attended a panel about election integrity and a subsequent lunch with one of the panelists, an esteemed professor from Norway
- Attended a panel in the Senate building that included several prominent panelists discussing how the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) would benefit international businesses and trade
- Drafted a one-page tip sheet for working with clients or employees who are deaf and hard-of-hearing
- Held several disability-related conversations with my supervisor, and subsequently learned about many developments in regards to international disability rights and language
- Reviewed a draft of a manual for the inclusion of people with disabilities in the electoral system.
This internship is a great immersion into the practicalities of disability advocacy work, and an excellent experience to have for the near future. In one week, I feel as if I’ve leapt forward a rung on the ladder in terms of expanding my knowledge about disability inclusion work, especially in electoral systems (which is a brand-new area of discourse for me). I am very excited to see what happens in the weeks to come.
Onwards and upwards!
Connect with Anais via her LinkedIn profile at: http://www.linkedin.com/in/anaiskeenon