Posts Tagged ‘disability’


Daniel Schwen [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

Last summer, National Student Advisory Council member Odunola “Ola” Ojewumi was an intern at the White House, where she hosted a briefing on the importance of youth mentorship in low-income communities. Ojewumi, who is herself passionate about disability rights, recently spoke with White House Director of Priority Placement Rebecca Cokley about her work as an advocate for disabled youth.

As a woman living with a disability, what experiences sparked your interest in advancing the lives of disabled youth?

When I was in junior high school, a younger friend of mine at another school was thrown into a dumpster by some bullies at lunchtime and could not get out. No one in the school reported him missing from class, and it wasn’t until later that evening when he didn’t come home from Boy Scouts that his parents went to look for him. The next day, he carried an 18-inch baseball bat to school to defend himself and was expelled for harboring a weapon. When his parents reached out to a number of advocates — including my mom — to mediate with the school, the principal responded that “boys will be boys” and that my friend “should just get used” to the teasing.

The teachers and administrators at the junior high school I went to would never have tolerated that type of behavior, and it blew my mind that there were people in the world working with children who thought it was OK to treat young people with disabilities horribly.

I was lucky — until I got to high school and my guidance counselor told me, “Kids like you don’t go here.” I was enrolled in honors classes, was already taking steps toward becoming a nationally recognized [disability] advocate, and had been planning on ending up on the U.S. Supreme Court someday, and here was this man telling me that he didn’t think people like me should attend his school. Unlike most youth with disabilities, both of my parents had the same disability as me, and both were college-educated advocates in their own right. My mother quickly stepped in and appealed to the principal, who was embarrassed and apologetic for the behavior of his staff member. But I never got over the idea that an adult, a leader in the school, just by looking at me decided that I wasn’t eligible.

You are a mother, a wife, and a key member of the Obama administration. How do you juggle all of these roles?

When I had first joined the administration and wasn’t yet pregnant, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice was hosting a conference call, and someone asked her about balancing work and family. And she responded that if you want a family, you have to make it a priority — you can’t wait until the time is right, because there’s never a time that’s right. In a lot of ways, this really spoke to me and in some ways gave me permission to start a family. I also have a completely amazing husband who is truly my best friend and champion. He makes me a better person in every respect, and from the moment I found out I was pregnant, he has worked to make his life more flexible. It also helps that I have a boss who has children of her own.

What are your responsibilities and goals as White House director of priority placement?

The president has asked us to create an administration that reflects the diversity of America. It matters who sits at the table. My role is reaching beyond the Beltway to communities that often don’t get a seat at the table and bringing those voices into the administration. The best part of my job is reaching out to a candidate who has submitted their information on whitehouse.gov and telling them that I’m calling from the White House and would like to talk to them about a potential role in the administration. Most of the time people think that I’m prank calling. But to reach out to someone who truly believes in the work that we’re doing and wants to improve the lives of all Americans and say “hey, we want your voice in this discussion” — it’s amazing.

As a youth development specialist for the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth, you created new avenues for employment. What does equal employment opportunity mean for the thousands of young people who are living with disabilities?

Equal employment means — to me — going beyond a functional shift and resulting in a philosophical shift in the expectations of young people with disabilities so that in elementary school when students present what they want to be when they grow up, no one will say that a kid with a disability cannot be an astrophysicist, a lawyer, a chef, or whatever they may want to be. Equal employment opportunities mean that youth with disabilities do not have to limit themselves to working in the eight F’s of disability employment: food, filth, filing, flowers, fetching, folding, friendly, or festive. That’s not to diminish those important jobs, and it doesn’t mean that if that’s what you want to do that you shouldn’t pursue those paths. But you should not find your goals limited to just those things.

July 2010 was the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. How has the ADA impacted your life?

A few years before the ADA passed, my mom was on the tenure track at the college she worked at. She ended up being denied tenure, and one of the reasons she was denied was that she was only able to use the bottom six inches of the chalkboard. My mom had worked her whole life to improve the lives of students with disabilities, and here she was being directly discriminated against because of her own disability. Post-ADA, she received tenure.

How is the Obama administration working to increase the presence of people with disabilities in the American workforce?

The president believes that the government must serve as an example. In 2010, he signed Executive Order 13548, which was designed to make the federal government serve as a model employer for people with disabilities. Agencies are developing training programs for their [human resources] staff, and agencies are to develop model recruitment and hiring strategies. I think the president also understands how important it is for the public to see people with different types of disabilities in his administration.

What do you believe is the largest obstacle facing youth with disabilities?

False expectations — from our families, from society, and from ourselves.

What words of wisdom or advice can you give our readers, some of whom are among the thousands of disabled young women and girls the White House is advocating for?

My desire for you is that you be successful in whatever you want to do in your life. You don’t need to be officially working as an advocate at a disability organization or a center for independent living. We need people with disabilities succeeding everywhere in the public and private sectors. If you want to be a chef, then go for it, but I better see you being awarded Michelin stars. That’s how you lead — by serving as an example and being successful in something you love to do and not conforming to anyone’s expectations of what they think you should do. I’d also encourage you to look for mentors outside of your community. In joining the Obama administration, two of the best mentors I’ve had are leaders in the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender] community. They’ve taught me so much about being an effective political appointee, working with diverse communities, and how to maneuver the challenges of leadership. I don’t doubt I am more effective in my job because of both of them.

As an Obama administration official, which of your accomplishments has been most meaningful?

I feel like we accomplish something extraordinary every time we appoint someone to a position in the administration who brings a new voice to the table or a new set of personal experiences that contribute to the carrying out of the president’s vision for America.

When did you decide to become involved in public policy?

I grew up with a passion for politics. I remember being a little kid and getting to stay up late on election night watching the returns come in. I came to Washington in 2004 in large part because I felt that I hadn’t done my part in the 2000 election and wanted to make a change.

When a family friend, Paul Miller, was appointed as the deputy director of the U.S. Office of Consumer Affairs and White House liaison to the disability community in the Clinton administration, it really struck home that someone like me could be asked to serve the president. And when I’d hear Miller talk about it, he’d sound so matter of fact about it when speaking to crowds but among friends was so excited about the chance to serve, the chance to show his colleagues on a daily basis that people with disabilities could and should fully contribute alongside their non-disabled peers.

This post was written by National Student Advisory Council member Ola Ojewumi.

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I am an African American. I am a woman. I am disabled.

I stand as a triple minority, and each of these identities has afforded me a variety of unique life experiences. As I enter a room in my wheelchair, I am faced with the inevitable stares of pity and discernment. The world seems to view my wheelchair as a hindrance, but I see my disability as a blessing that has provided me a platform for social change.

When I was younger, I was a leader in transforming the legal treatment of people living with disabilities. I observed that disabled students were dropping out of high school at an alarming rate. The underlying reason behind this startling pattern was the pervasive notion that students with disabilities are incapable of being educated.

Though many of you may not notice us, young people with disabilities are on the cusp of a social revolution for equality. I am inspired by those who are working to effectively eliminate discrimination against people with disabilities. In order to ensure that the rights of disabled people are recognized, we must tackle the issue of ableism — the institutionalized oppression of persons with disabilities. Ableism creates a system of privilege for those without physical or mental limitations.

University of Maryland women’s studies doctoral candidate Angel Miles is leading a second disability rights movement to fight ableism and other injustices. Miles says, “My liberation is dependent on the eradication of injustice associated with all of these identities, not just one of them.”

The daily challenges that Miles and I face range from being unable to utilize basic methods of public transportation, reaching a public event to find steps we cannot climb, or working to receive accommodations in employment and educational environments.

In spite of these challenges, we continue to press on in our fight to ensure that inequality is eradicated. When I interned at the White House, I grew to admire Director of Priority Placement Rebecca Cokley. During the 2008 presidential campaign, she worked on President Barack Obama’s committee on disability policy.

The Obama administration has given Cokley the opportunity to advance equal employment for disabled Americans. According to Cokley, “Equal employment means to me going beyond a functional shift and resulting in a philosophical shift in the expectations of young people with disabilities so that in elementary school, when students present what they want to be when they grow up, no one will say that a kid with a disability cannot be an astrophysicist, a lawyer, a chef, or whatever they may want to be.”

Cokley is as a personal inspiration because she demonstrates that despite the subordinate place society has given me, I can rise above these stereotypical expectations. When the world expects people with disabilities to fail, we triumph instead. I will embody this triumphant spirit by igniting change within my community so that the next generation has the strength to overcome all barriers.

I am disabled. I am an advocate. I am the new revolution.

This post was written by National Student Advisory Council member Ola Ojewumi.

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On Friday, May 13, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights held Peer-to-Peer Violence and Bullying: Examining the Federal Response, a daylong public hearing. Participants looked at bullying and other types of violence in which students are targeted due to their race, national origin, religion, disability, gender, sexual orientation, or perceived orientation.

AAUW is pleased that the commission held a hearing on this important and timely issue. We support policies and programs that address relational aggression, bullying, and harassment to ensure students’ overall health, safety, and well-being. Simply put, children cannot learn if they don’t feel safe.

Hostile HallwaysAlmost a decade ago, AAUW’s research revealed that 83 percent of girls and 79 percent of boys reported experiencing sexual harassment, with over one in four experiencing harassment “often.” More recent research shows that bullying affects nearly one in three American children in grades six through 10. The Girl Scout Research Institute reports that girls in particular are concerned about bullying. One-third of girls surveyed considered speaking or participating in class a threat to their emotional safety.

Bullying and harassment significantly affect GPAs, school attendance, dropout rates, and the likelihood of obtaining a postsecondary education. In addition, bullying and harassment can lead to even greater safety problems. Many high-profile cases of school shootings have involved students who were bullied and harassed in school. Whether based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, religion, gender identity, or any other characteristic, bullying and harassment interfere with students’ ability to learn.

To address this issue, the U.S. Department of Education issued an opinion letter in October clarifying that bullying can be a Title IX (discrimination based on sex), Title VI (discrimination based on race, color, or national origin), or Section 504 (discrimination based on disability) violation. Although the letter reminded schools that they could be held responsible for violating students’ rights if they failed to recognize and address discriminatory harassment or treatment, many loopholes remain. Because of this, AAUW supports the adoption and enforcement of federal law to deter and address bullying and harassment, which will help ensure a safe learning environment for all students.

If you’d like to learn more about this issue, join us for AAUW’s 2011 National Convention panel, Safe Schools: Bullying and Sexual Harassment in America’s Middle Schools. Additionally, the AAUW website offers excellent tools for students, administrators, parents, or anyone interested in making campuses safer for students:Drawing the Line

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A lot can change over a very short period of time. For nearly a half million people nationwide and 2.1 million worldwide, this is one of those simple, powerful, and sometimes painful truths we know all too well. Today is World MS Day, a day designated to raise awareness about a chronic, often disabling disease that strikes women at a rate nearly 3-to-1 over men. Highly unpredictable, multiple sclerosis is most often diagnosed in people between ages 20 and 50, during prime degree-seeking and income-earning years. A multiple sclerosis diagnosis can have enormous consequences on someone’s daily existence, just as any disability has the potential to affect one’s quality of life, sense of self-confidence, lifetime earnings, and financial security.

But these outcomes aren’t certain; a different journey can be charted. As someone living with multiple sclerosis, I am both proud and fortunate to work for an employer that not only vigorously advocates for progressive workplace policies but also practices them. For people living with disabilities, affordable, high-quality health care, paid sick leave, reasonable accommodations like flex time and telecommuting, and a responsible work-life balance enables tens of thousands of otherwise fully qualified and productive individuals to continue contributing their skills, talents, passion, and experience to the workforce and the community. Disability should not prevent this win-win-win opportunity for employees, employers, and our nation.

This year, the theme for World MS Day is Work in Progress, and the focus is on raising awareness about how making small, low-cost changes in the workplace may allow people with MS and other disabilities to stay working for many years following a disability diagnosis. AAUW protects the rights of those with disabilities, advocates for progressive policies in the workplace, and continues fighting to break through these barriers for us all.

National Multiple Sclerosis SocietyFor additional guidance on workplace accommodations and disability employment issues, visit the Job Accommodations Network. And for additional information on multiple sclerosis, check out the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, which is an excellent resource for people affected by MS.

“Disability is a matter of perception. If you can do just one thing well, you’re needed by someone.”

— Martina Navratilova

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Maria Alexanda Artunduaga

Maria Alexandra Artunduaga, a 2009–10 AAUW International Fellowship recipient, started her career in medicine at the early age of 16. That’s when she enrolled at Pontificia Universidad Javeriana medical school in her home country of Colombia. After her younger sister was born with cerebral palsy, Artunduaga decided to devote her life to helping children with disabilities.

After completing her degree in Colombia, Artunduaga moved to the United States and began work at Harvard Medical School, researching human genetics and ear malformations. Her work specifically focused on microtia, which is a formation of the external ear that is associated with deafness and other craniofacial anomalies. She explained that microtia primarily affects those of Latin and Asian decent and that reconstructive surgery is often not available to children affected by the condition. “I want the opportunity to provide form and function to children suffering from congenital malformations. When I accomplish this, I will be giving many children the opportunity that my sister barely had,” she explained.

Artunduaga received an International Fellowship in 2009 after starting her research at Harvard Medical School. When the lead scientist on her project left Harvard, Artunduaga found herself without funding for her research or access to most U.S. research grants. “AAUW was my savior! I was so lucky to have found the International Fellowship program. … Without it, I don’t know what I would be doing now.”

Artunduaga will soon be starting her residency at the University of Chicago’s Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery program. The residency will allow her to master reconstructive surgery techniques and apply her research skills to new projects. Additionally, she plans on remaining involved in promoting technological and education reform in Colombia and beyond. “I plan on continuing traveling abroad with medical missions. This time I won’t be on the bench; I will be at the operating table!”

AAUW applauds Artunduaga’s dedication not only to the medical field but also to social change. Artunduaga explained that while it has been a long journey to obtain a residency position, she received a great deal of support from mentors who pushed her to follow her dreams. “Although it has taken me a long time, every single effort was worthwhile. I would do it all over again if I had to!”

AAUW would like to congratulate Artunduaga on her acceptance to the University of Chicago’s prestigious residency program, and we wish her the best of luck in the upcoming years!


This post was written by Fellowships and Grants Intern Mia Cakebread.






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By Jnn13 [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], from Wikimedia Commons

This Veterans Day, professors and students on college campuses shouldn’t have to look far to find someone to thank: Hundreds of thousands of veterans and their dependents are now enrolled in college.

But the 2010 National Survey of Student Engagement found that student veterans at four-year colleges and universities in the United States perceive lower levels of support on campus than nonveterans and interact less with faculty members.

In a recent Washington Post article, Michael Dakduk, the deputy executive director of Student Veterans of America, said that, for veterans, trying to fit in on a college campus is “a culture shock that’s hard to adjust to.”

They are more likely to have a disability, be enrolled part time, and shoulder greater family and work obligations, Dakduk said. But none of these challenges are good excuses for not engaging veterans in the classroom or outside of class.

AAUW strongly supported the post-9/11 G.I. Bill, which increased soldiers’ benefits and restored the promise of a four-year degree for post-9/11 veterans. Thanks to this important bill, more veterans — including National Guard and military reserve members — will be able to attend college and earn a degree.

Moreover, in a provision AAUW strongly supported both in legislation and through comments to the Department of Veterans Affairs, veterans will be able to transfer the education benefit to family members if they so choose. By building on the homegrown talent of veterans and their families, our nation will increase our competitiveness in education and the workforce while honoring those who serve.

Having served in the U.S. Army for nine years, I know firsthand that the qualities needed to flourish in the military are the same qualities that can lead to success in the classroom. But camaraderie plays a big part in both situations.

So to those of you in the classroom: Step up to the plate and make student veterans feel that they’re part of the campus community. If you’re looking for other ways to help, consider the Student Veterans of America’s Operation Graduation, an effort that helps veterans with the transition to college.

Today is Veterans Day. So say thanks to the veterans on your campus. Then ask, “How are you?” But ask again tomorrow.

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More than two-thirds of people over age 65 will need long-term care, but how many of us can define long-term care, let alone say we have a plan?

Long-term care is much more than booking a room in a nursing home. It’s the day-to-day help people need when they have illnesses, disabilities, or other conditions. It’s the technology that helps people stay independent, the home renovations that make it easier to get around. It’s the help with meals and housekeeping and the skilled medical care.

AAUW has joined an AARP campaign to raise awareness among baby boomer women about long-term care planning.

As part of the campaign — Decide. Create. Share. — AARP offers four reasons why women should start planning for long-term care right now, including that women outlive men and will most likely pay for long-term care out of pocket.

With the potential to cost several thousand dollars annually, there’s no time to waste on providing for long-term care. Check out AARP’s planning guide for a convenient collection of the resources you need.

And join us at one of AAUW’s free workshops about long-term care:

  • Little Rock, Arkansas: Saturday, November 6 from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the Arkansas Workforce Center, 5401 S. University Ave. E-mail k-ros@sbcglobal.net to register.
  • Greensboro, North Carolina: Tuesday, November 9 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Congregational United Church of Christ meeting hall, 400 W. Radiance Drive. E-mail dlrmassey@yahoo.com to register.
  • Washington, D.C.: Wednesday, November 17 from 5 to 8 p.m. at the AAUW national office, 1111 Sixteenth St. NW. E-mail wittj@ncpssm.org to register.
  • Columbia, Maryland: Saturday, November 20 from 1 to 5 p.m. at the Bain Center, 5470 Ruth Keeton Way. E-mail aauwhocomembers@gmail.com to register.

Help us help you by checking out Decide. Create. Share. and giving your input. AAUW has agreed to provide AARP with 250 volunteers by November 15 to review the effectiveness of the campaign. AARP will use the feedback — which involves two questionnaires and two webinars — to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the guide.

AARP statistics show six in 10 women don’t know how they’ll pay for long-term care. We’re not OK with that. Are you?

This blog post was written by AAUW Communications Fellow Elizabeth Owens.

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