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Cracking My Confidence Code

June 27, 2017

By Adeline Joshua

Young woman smiles at camera

Adeline Joshua

QUESTION: Have you ever been in a classroom or a meeting and had something to say but you were too afraid to say it? You sat there internally debating the relevance of your potential comment, you’ve pieced together the perfect wording, and just when you’ve summoned the courage, the conversation changes. Welcome to my world…

When I found out that I was going to be a USICD gender intern for the International Finance Corporation (IFC)—the World Bank’s private sector division—I was thrilled to have the opportunity to exercise my skills and passion for gender inclusion at an institution I admire. Then the fear kicked in. Did I know enough about gender inclusion to offer valuable insight? Will I be able to keep up? The first few days into the internship I wasn’t quite sure, but out of sheer coincidence, the bank organized an event that covered this very issue.

Last week, the World Bank held the “Women’s Career Conference,” where author and journalist Claire Shipman spoke about the findings of her most recent book “The Confidence Code” which she co-wrote with fellow female journalist Katty Kay. The idea originated from conversations the authors had with powerful women in politics, the media, and the military who, despite their impressive achievements, still lacked confidence in their capabilities. This prompted the authors to seek out research on whether this confidence issue affected other women as well, and it turns out it does.

Despite the fact that women are working more and are better educated now than ever before, a gendered confidence gap exists that prevents many women from advancing in their careers. According to Shipman, data shows that many women only feel confident when they are 100% sure about something versus men who only need to feel about 60% sure. This inability to have a little faith in ourselves is the reason why women are less likely to ask their bosses for a raise, or why they’re more hesitant to take credit for their role in a project.

All of this information prompted me to think about the sources of my insecurities. For one thing, it’s really hard to be a young professional woman with a visible disability. On top of having to deal with gender and age stigmas, women with disabilities have to put up with condescending people who think they know what’s best for us better than we do. As a result, I feel this added pressure to do everything right because when disability isn’t encountered in a person’s everyday life, you become an ambassador, and I am not about to be the person who messes up that responsibility.

So where do I go from here? Well, Shipman says women need to do a lot less thinking and a lot more doing, and I completely agree. Having confidence is a choice, and if we want to see big wins in our future, we need to take big risks and not worry about what other people think. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ll probably continue to mull over things to say at meetings like I’m drafting the next great American novel in my mind. But I’m a work in progress, and I’ve been doing well so far, so I must be doing something right.

Adeline Joshua 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). Adeline Joshua 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.

 

Unapologetically Me: The Power of Intersectionality

June 20, 2017

By Janelle Lyons

Woman smiles at camera

Janelle Lyons

As an African-American woman with Attention Deficient Disorder (ADD), today’s political climate has stretched me to my breaking point.  With almost every post on social media provoking conversations about racial tension in the U.S., the continuing gender wage gap, and how people with ADD/ADHD just need to focus more, I can sometimes find myself going numb.  As the very essence of me—my race, gender, disability, etc.—are constantly coming under attack and scrutinized, understanding the power of intersectionality has become more important to me than ever before.

For those new to the term, intersectionality is the idea of overlapping identities that make up a whole.  As a framework for understanding the challenges of shared identities, intersectionality helps to expose the ways in which identities such as race and gender interact to marginalize certain persons within a group.  The term is often used to critique “progressive” movements of equality that fail to include the needs of all members within that identity group.  For example, I feel you cannot call yourself an activist, leader, or member of a racial justice movement like “Black Lives Matter” if you don’t believe in the needs and plight of Black Transgender Women, who are disproportionately targeted for hate crimes within the U.S.  Intersectionality makes people look at the bigger picture and truly understand the meaning of diversity and inclusion.  Honestly, how can you expect anyone to believe that women deserve to be given equal pay, if you do not even believe that all women are equal?

In today’s society where individuals are made to feel as though they must choose among their many identities or only fight for one identity at a time, understanding the functionality of intersectionality is critical. Within many justice movements, it is as if we* are asking people to give up a part of themselves in order to be taken seriously or in order to be understood.  Therefore, in some movements, it’s acceptable to fight for women’s rights–but disabled rights? Maybe not … As if disabled women don’t exist.

I think one of the beauties and challenges of intersectionality is the amount of constant focus and practice needed to even begin to understand its vast nature.  This understanding should not make you overwhelmed for lack of mastery, but instead should help you realize the many dimensions of “self” and how you, as a constant and inadvertent student of intersectionality, can grow and transform with a deeper understanding of not only yourself, but others around you with whom you have shared identities.  For me, as a member of the disabled community and an intern at Women Enabled International via USICD’s internship program, intersectionality is constantly in play.  It ultimately structures the way in which I approach each project.  Even as I walk around D.C. and take in its beauty, I have become hyperaware of its accessibility issues and how those issues affect members within my community, even when some of these issues may not directly affect me.

To know intersectionality and its wonder is to glance back to my initial sentence and understand that being an African-American woman with ADD is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding how I identify in this world.  However, even if you understand just these identities alone, it is enough to transform and expand your notion of my needs and desires in this world, for I am not just a woman, nor am I just African-American, but a host of intricate pieces to a complex being that should never be stifled or pressed down for easier consumption.  I am unapologetically me.

* “We” should be interpreted as individuals within the movement as well as the larger community.

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 InternationalRead 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.

Beyond Dream to Real World Travels

June 13, 2017

By Jenna Shelton

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

Jenna Shelton

When I was in first grade, I would come home from school and join my dad in his brown La-Z-Boy recliner, eager to watch the travel channel. Everything else faded away and my dad and I were on our way to an unfamiliar land. My eyes glued to the screen, I watched with childish fervor as a chef from Japan with a tall white hat performed a choreographed Teppanyaki routine. His spatulas danced over the iron griddle while an onion volcano erupted in a blaze of golden topaz.  I sat in awe and appreciation; mesmerized by lands, people, and practices I had never seen before.

As time passed, my father and I took other tele-trips: from a beachy get-away with water so clear that you could see every pebble of sand, to the whimsical architecture of what I would later learn was Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow. That was one of my favorites because it looked like a bundle of colorful ice cream cones that you could lick off the television screen. Sometimes we would switch to the cooking channel where Chef Mario Batali would be making homemade Italian pasta which reminded me of Batali’s thin strawberry-blonde hair. I would picture him with a mop of spaghetti falling off his head and my dad and I would laugh. The more I watched, the more I became fascinated with the world beyond my California home in the desert and the more determined I was to build my own adventures. My dad encouraged it.

In many ways, bonding with my dad over the travel channel as a child spurred my interest in learning about international affairs as an adult.  Until recently, I thought that I was only capable of tele-travel because traveling through television is more accessible. Tele-travel allows me to glide gracefully through the cobblestone streets of small cities, rather than slosh-step my way through uneven roads, stubbing my toes along the way. Perhaps because of the passing of my father, I unconsciously grew into the mindset that I, and other people with physical disabilities, are only capable of tele-traveling. I thought that I could never find a career in international affairs as a result of barriers to accessible travel. However, I am starting to unlearn this mindset as a participant in USCID’s Youth in International Development and Foreign Affairs Program. I have met other disabled women who have traveled to multiple continents, participated in community-based development, and been involved in foreign affairs. They have shown me that I am capable of traveling and pursing international affairs if I choose.

The few years I spent tele-traveling with my dad were not meant to substitute for travel, but were meant to show me the places I can go. In honor of my dad, I will turn my tele-traveling into a reality when take my first trip overseas to Spain and Italy in August.

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, to be posted at this blog.  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 Corps. 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 International Medical Corps.

First Impressions of the U.S.

March 28, 2017
semin pic

Semin Seo from South Korea

By Semin Seo

Semin Seo is a fulltime USICD fellow from South Korea who is here in the U.S. via the German American Chamber of Commerce in California. She will assist USICD staff on a range of projects from March through September.

I arrived at the multicultural hub of U.S. politics, Washington, D.C., two weeks ago. I am completing the last semester of my Master’s degree program in International Development cooperation at the University of Public Policy in Yeungnam, South Korea. My concentrations are International Aid and Welfare System Policy, and Project Management.

“The Korea WEST exchange program is partnering with the German American Chamber of Commerce (GACC) California to bring me and other students to the United States for our fellowships here. The Korea WEST exchange program has been a joint initiative of the Republic of Korea and the U.S. Department of State since 2009. It provides top South Korean university students an opportunity to work, complete an intensive English study program, and explore the life and culture of the U.S. GACC California works to promote cross-cultural understanding and knowledge; one of its projects include helping students from other countries in finding internship opportunities in the United States.”

My fellowship at USICD, has given me the opportunity to enrich my academic studies and advance my career. Before coming to USICD, I wanted to work in the field of human rights. I thought about sustainable development programs in the areas of human trafficking, women rights, education for children, and advocacy work. Because I do not have enough knowledge of people with disability, I hope to learn how various organizations promote disability inclusion development in all their work in order to protect the rights of people with disabilities. My current project is to consolidate disability findings from the U.S. State Department Country Reports on Human Rights.

I hope I can broaden my perspective of the world’s human rights on disability, as well as child abuse, which is another topic I am really interested in learning more about.

In addition, I am interested in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Korea’s implementation of this important disability rights law. I’ve been thinking about how I could incorporate the current status of the US Official Development Assistance (ODA) in the disability field into Korea’s ODA for my Master’s degree thesis. For my thesis, I wish to discuss U.S. disability NGOs or USAID and how they can be replicated in Korean ODA policy.

This internship in USICD will give me lots of experiences with researching, updating projects, and monitoring online articles and world news. I expect that I will meet a diverse group of people who have a passion for helping others who are excluded by society. The best part of my internship will be that it will help me to figure out what I want to do in terms of my career and exploring the kinds of interests and passion I have.

Learning Disability Advocacy through Engaging U.S. Senate Campaigns

December 20, 2016
Young man with short light brown hair and short beard wearing a suit and tie

Chris Damon

By Chris Damon, USICD Intern

Simply put, I could not have picked a more momentous time to rejoin USICD’s staff as a full-time intern.

I had worked with USICD’s staff once before, right before my senior year of college.  Now, a year into my dual-degree graduate school program at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs (Syracuse University), I found myself back in Washington, DC, working again with the organization that had first opened my eyes to how disability rights and advocacy (which I was already involved with at the local level) could have an international focus and global ramifications.  I was with the team right when the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) first went to the U.S. Senate for ratification in 2012, so it was only fitting that one of my main tasks this second time around was to help coordinate outreach efforts to U.S. Senate candidates and incumbents campaigning for this year’s election cycle.  Our goal was to keep track of whether candidates were emphasizing the CRPD during their campaigns, or at least publicly supporting the treaty,with the hope that we would be able to connect USICD members who live in their state to educate their candidates on the CRPD.  As the outreach effort proceeded, I could not help but be touched how many candidates seemed to care – sometimes with an unexpected passion – about the rights and struggles of our community.  By the end of the 2016 election season, we heard from 13 different campaigns concerning the positions of their candidates on CRPD ratification.

However, as touched as I was by these positive responses, I also could not help but be disappointed.  Seventeen prospective officials may seem like a lot, but that number becomes quite a bit smaller when remembering that number is out of a total of 60 campaigns.  At the same time, though, I doubt if any of this was the fault of the candidates in particular.  I remember that, when calling certain campaigns to see if they had received our inquiries or if their candidate “was close in making a decision” the person on the other line always made it seem like they had simply not looked at our previous messages and/or forgotten about us.  After all, campaign e-mails were no doubt monitored by multiple people, who had to sort through hundreds of different messages and e-mails at any one time (no doubt even more of a problem for candidates who already had a seat in the U.S. Senate).  Therefore, it only makes sense that the outreach of USICD’s staff and our members had to occur at a specific time, and during the shifts of specific people, for us to get noticed.  The problem was, no two campaigns had that same “specific time,” nor the “specific people” tasked with the same set of duties; and on top of that no two campaigns had the same guidelines on what questions they could or could not answer.  Some campaigns, for example, were more than happy to answer USICD’s question, and to convey (or at least make it seem) that they took interest in what we were trying to accomplish.  On the flipside, the campaign for at least one incumbent candidate explicitly told me that they could not answer legislative inquiries – meaning that attempting to get through an overloaded e-mail and voicemail server was the only convenient way for their constituents and others to get ahold of them.

Nonetheless, despite the odds we faced, there was always a hope that putting whatever information we had out there would make a difference – that those officials who may have demonstrated a less-than-stellar record towards the issues of persons with disabilities would face enough opposition (and enough calls flooding their offices) that their likelihood for winning a seat in the U.S. Senate this year would diminish.  As this year’s election cycle drew to a close, though, I was surprised and dismayed at how irrelevant displayed solidarity with the disability community seemed in dictating whether candidates won or lost.  As it turns out, the vast majority of people who supported the CRPD and won were incumbents, running relatively noncompetitive campaigns.  While two staunch CRPD-supporting incumbents did end up losing their seats, ironically their opponents have also displayed potential for allying with our community – arguably just as strongly as they had.  Now, in another day and age, I would have not have thought too much about it.  Disability, after all, is supposed to be a nonpartisan issue with members of our community stretching across all sorts of political and cultural lines. Historically, it has been just that.  Alas, we are not living in “another day and age,” – for it was not long before I realized the disability community likely had a lot more than a handful of senate campaigns to worry about.

Now, as my internship at USICD draws to a close, the only other thing I can say is that working with the organization’s staff was an invaluable experience.  I learned a lot of valuable lessons in how to carry out public service and advocacy, working in an organization that had to quickly adapt and try to keep their members energized and positive into these next few (very long) years in a rapidly changing political climate.  In turn, my experience next spring semester when I am poised to intern in the State Department will be another eye-opening experience, as I will see first-hand how a federal agency adapts to the outcome of an election that has surprised so many.    I only hope I can carry over the same line of work that I was doing in USICD and in most of my working life into this completely new, and changing territory.

Considering International Perspectives on Disability

August 10, 2016

By Elizabeth Heideman

Woman with shoulder length blond hair

 

 

I’ve spent my life as a disability rights activist in the West, which means that I’m a passionate supporter of the Social Model of disability. This means that I don’t believe “Disability” is just a medical or health condition—I believe that it’s a sociopolitical construct arising out of the barriers posed by society upon people with different bodies. 

For me, a flight of stairs is the true source of disability, and not anything to do with my physical impairments. 

Because of my history with disability activism, I was incredibly excited to work on inclusion practices within international development work this summer as part of my USICD internship. Yes, I’ll admit, I even thought it would be easy. And while the work has been incredibly rewarding and relevant to my career interests, I’ve also encountered some unexpected challenges along the way.

I didn’t anticipate how Western-centric my own particular disability politics are. When researching inclusive development in countries such as Nigeria, for example, I didn’t find staunch advocates of the Social Model, but instead found local activists fighting every day against traditional religious and cultural beliefs which hold that disability is a curse and the utmost source of shame. These Nigerian activists weren’t expounding on the evils of (dis)ableism—they were actually fighting for a Medical Model of disability to become accepted within their local communities. 

I was totally unprepared for this, especially within countries that have ratified the UN CRPD, which is based on the Social Model.

What I found this summer is that there is a big difference between the principles embraced within the CRPD by state parties to the convention and the principles actually held by local activists on the ground. And that’s okay. While it was initially a challenge for this Western disability rights activist to accept, I now see that as long as the rights and dignity of disabled people are central to local advocacy efforts, that’s really all that matters for now.

I credit the opportunities USICD has given me this summer for this amazing learning experience.

Elizabeth Heideman is one of the participants in the 2016 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, to be posted at this blog.  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.  Elizabeth Heideman is completing her internship at the National Democratic Institute (NDI).  Learn more about USICD’s internship program at http://usicd.org/template/page.cfm?id=257.  Read the biographies of our interns in the summer 2016 program.  The views and opinions expressed at this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of USICD or NDI.

The State of Disability Inclusion at International Organizations

August 3, 2016

By Shafeka Hashash

IWoman with long hair smiles at camerat has become apparent to me that rhetoric around disability inclusion, much like all else in political discourse, is at best a talking point for most. I think speaking honestly about the state of inclusion is extremely important before then giving tips of optimism.  To give some background, I have spent the summer participating in the U.S. International Council on Disability (USICD) Youth in International Development and Foreign Affairs internship program as an intern with the Women’s Refugee Commission. The internship program was started because, despite there being one billion people worldwide who are disabled, there is a lack of disabled professionals working in the field of international development.  Prior to working in D.C., I could not have imagined the state of inclusion, or lack thereof, of disabled persons working on international policy or disability.

Oh the stories we could tell you about well meaning folks who struck us with their naivety. There are two stories that are really unforgettable in my mind, but I’m sure everyone else has their own favorites.  There was first the discussion with a high up official, who spoke about the need to employ disabled persons.  The anecdote he presented was of a woman who developed her disability later in life.  Since she lived in an under developed nation, the only choice her employer had was to effectively fire her because their office was inaccessible for her.  After being effectively fired, this woman worked doing unpaid advocacy work on the need for accessibility.  This, somehow, was supposed to be the tale that showed us how there were people working in the field and why we needed more.  He did not address why the employer did not work to keep this valuable employee once she became disabled by making their building accessible, or by finding a new accessible location.  He did not address why they didn’t think that caring about inclusion starts with not firing their employees and working to be a model for inclusion.

There was also someone from an international development organization who, after explaining the need to hire disabled persons, said that their website was not accessible.  However, if a user with disabilities wanted to apply to work at their office, they could just send an email explaining why they could not apply online and attach their application materials.  So much for disclosure anonymity.  Also, if the first interaction a hiring manager has with a disabled person is hearing that they could not take the first step of even applying without accommodation, I fear that this sets up the notion in their head that working with a disabled person is much too difficult.

If there is something this summer has shown me, it has dispelled the myth of the lack of disabled people who aim to work in development fields. I have easily met hundreds of disabled graduates, many with masters, law degrees, and more, who have done the fellowships, done the internships, who have stellar achievements, but after working within disabled groups, the doors are shut.  Spare us all the ideas that somehow we all just do not know how to network or leverage opportunities, which we have had to patronizingly hear from non-disabled folks who are younger or less experienced than us.  Please spare us this idea that “Oh no, Judy Heumann works in the U.S. State Department, so things are definitely open.” As if we would not at the bare minimum hope a woman who has fought for disability rights for some forty years should not hold a position of importance.  Time and time again, the names of much older, extremely incredible, employed disabled activists are used to show that organizations do hire disabled people.  If the script was flipped, and we could only name three top officials without disabilities, that would not be seen as anything less than completely absurd.

We are all no doubt grateful for Judy Heumann and the countless other activists who have paved the way for us today. I am extremely grateful to have an adviser at the Women’s Refugee Commission who allows me to work very independently on a project I love, but also who allows me to tag along to important meetings at InterAction or the U.S. Institute of Peace in order to really understand how government and non-government organizations operate.  I am immensely grateful for USICD who knows that disability integration has barely scratched the surface in social science fields, despite this commonly being overlooked in favor of project creation in the STEM fields.  God knows if they had worked on STEM inclusion their funding would triple, and yet they focus on international development.  However, we are also tired of saying thank you for every ounce of opportunity that comes our way because of how many avenues remain shut.  The progress has been very slow, but at least we can say there is progress.  Whether you think that is optimistic is entirely up to you.