From educating themselves on local laws to volunteering at national organizations, individuals working to advance the rights of people with disabilities use many of the same tactics other activists use to promote their own causes. Let's take a look at some of those tactics and how disability rights advocates are using them to help create more inclusive societies around the globe. Photo: Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, left, addresses a rally for Disability Day at the State Capitol on February 24, 2011, in Atlanta. Deal spoke to hundreds gathered at the Capitol for Disability Day and was praised as a champion for disabled rights during his four decades as a public servant. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
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The first step to getting involved is learning. Educate yourself about your community's policies toward people with disabilities. Research the organizations that promote the rights of people with disabilities in your area. Find the people who share your commitment to advancing the rights of people with disabilities. This research provides the foundation for whatever movement you hope to build. Photo: Young man researches the Internet on his computer. (Shutterstock/Peppi18)
Part of research is identifying those who share your passion. These individuals and organizations provide a source of knowledge, support and inspiration. They also represent your network. The Disability Rights Fund (DRF) a collaborative project between donors and the disability community uses the power of its network to advance the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) at national and local levels. The DRF raises funds from individuals interested in maximizing their impact; packages those funds into grants; and awards those grants to organizations operated by people with disabilities. The DRF network has supported Disabled Persons Organizations (DPOs) in 26 countries ranging from Bangladesh and Uganda to Ukraine and Nicaragua. Diana Samarasan, DRF's executive director, hopes to expand the organization's network by encouraging the creation of other grant-making organizations dedicated to DPOs. "Just as gender has been mainstreamed into most human rights and development organizations, disability must also be mainstreamed," Samarasan said. "We are talking about 1 billion people – one in every seven human beings – and if you count families, 2 billion people who are affected on a daily basis by the ignorance, stigma and discrimination that surrounds disability." Inspired by working in institutions housing people with intellectual and psychological disabilities in Eastern Europe, Samarasan has spent more than 15 years advancing the rights of people with disabilities. She has directed the Mental Disability Advocacy Center, an organization in Budapest, Hungary, that litigates abuses of the rights of persons with mental disabilities; and has worked with the American Refugee Committee and Doctors of the World to address the issues of vulnerable populations. Photo: A Disabilities Rights Fund program officer shares conversation with women with disabilities in Amazon, Peru. (Disabilities Rights Fund)
A great way to expand your network is to volunteer. Whether you are giving an hour of your time or months of your time, volunteering enables you to meet new people and learn about new opportunities. Amy Doherty earned her position as 2008 chair of the U.S. National Council on Disability (NCD) Youth Advisory Committee after interning for the NCD. Through her position, Doherty was able to advocate for policies that included the needs of young people with disabilities. Doherty, a research assistant at Schepens Eye Research Institute , now works to develop devices for people with vision impairments, but she still devotes her free time to new volunteer opportunities such as the National Youth Leadership Network (NYLN). NYLN, an organization that seeks to build power among young people with disabilities and the only youth-led disability rights organization in the United States, is a natural fit for Doherty. "I have always had a passion for working with people and supporting others to reach their goals," Doherty said. As vice president of NYLN's governing board and the former chair of NCD's Youth Advisory committee, Doherty has developed friendships that make her feel connected to and part of the disability community. "I have learned so much and met many incredible people through my work with NYLN and National Council on Disability Youth Advisory Committee," Doherty said. "I am a stronger leader and advocate for it.“ Photo: 17-year-old Max Aguirre, right, water skis behind a Texas Adaptive Aquatics boat with help from volunteer Austin Smith during the 21st annual Adaptive Water Sports Festival for Individuals with Special Needs on September 10, 2011, in Galveston, Texas.The free event hosted by Hope Therapy allowed dozens of participants with physical and intellectual disabilities to water ski, kayak, sail and get active in the water. (AP Photo/The Galveston County Daily News, Kevin M. Cox)
Working with a team toward a common goal is at the heart of partnerships and of sports. A legacy of the 1996 Paralympic Games, BlazeSports is a nonprofit organization that empowers people with physical disabilities through sports. Recognizing the unique ability of sports to foster shared experiences and break down stereotypes, BlazeSports uses sports not only to develop individual character and promote a healthy lifestyle but also to increase mutual understanding and civic engagement. For more than a decade BlazeSports has led international sports development projects from two-day leadership seminars for South Africans to disability sport workshops and training sessions in Jordan. "By cultivating local, state, national and international strategic partnerships with like-minded organizations, BlazeSports is advancing the equality, visibility and human rights of people with physical disabilities through sport.“ Ann Cody, the director of policy and global outreach for BlazeSports and three-time U.S. Paralympian, harnesses the organization's international partnerships to advance the rights of people with disabilities. Cody was instrumental in pressing the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), a partner organization, to establish a policy that increases the participation of women and girls in sports. As the organization's website states, "women and girls with and without disabilities who participate in sport are healthier and more empowered, and their participation in sport promotes inclusion in larger society.“ Illustrating the power of partnerships, Cody won her gold medal as one of four women on the U.S. 4 x 100 meter relay team in 1992. Photo: A participant in the BlazeSports Youth Leadership Training at the University of Georgia smiles as he plays basketball. Youth leaders with physical disabilities from Georgia and South Africa engaged in a multicultural leadership retreat. (BlazeSports)
Sometimes, the organizations, networks and partners your community needs don't yet exist. Donald Washington, an autistic individual from Massachusetts, found that his community needed greater autism awareness. " We need to speak up and speak out about what we want," Washington said. To bring attention to autism, Washington created the Missing Pieces Project , a collection of pictures of those affected by autism that are shaped into a large jigsaw puzzle. Washington hopes his initiative will inspire others to advocate for the full inclusion and equal rights of people with disabilities. "Figure out what problems are there and then come up with solutions that can be used to create your own movement," Washington said. When he's not working on the Missing Pieces Project, Washington works as an image service representative at Brigham and Women's Hospital, volunteers with the Massachusetts Developmental Disabilities Council and serves on the National Youth Leadership Network's governing board. Photo: Christopher Astacio reads with his daughter Cristina, 2, recently diagnosed with a mild form of autism, in her bedroom in New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
Another NYLN governing board member used existing groups to advocate for the rights of people with disabilities. Kevin Fritz joined organizations at his college, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, that were not dedicated to the rights of people with disabilities. By doing so, Fritz was able to make records, break stereotypes and introduce a whole new segment of the population to disability advocacy. "I was the first person and the only person with a physical disability to ever be a [student] senator and chairman of the [student] senate," explained Fritz, who was also director of the Illinois Student Programming Board and president of the Delta Sigma Omicron fraternity. "What I really did was bring other people on board to try to change some disability issues.“ For the first time, Fritz met people who did not have a disability but were passionate about disability rights. Together, they advocated for change. "One of my biggest accomplishments was having automatic door openers installed on several restaurants on the main street on campus," Fritz said. His advocacy made both the university and its surrounding community more accessible to people with disabilities. It also made people with disabilities more visible in the community. "I wanted people who were not disabled to get exposure to people that were because I think society is stronger when it reflects the people within it.“ Fritz continued his advocacy by working for Senator Barack Obama and later for Commissioner Chai Feldblum at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Today, Fritz is a third-year law student at Washington University in St. Louis, where he serves as primary editor of the Washington University Journal of Law and Policy and director of strategic initiatives for the school's Public Service Advisory Board. Photo: In this December 12, 2011, photo, Mike Berkson, center, is fed by his aide and best friend, Tim Wambach, as they have lunch with Mike's father, Denis, in Glenview, Illinois. Wambach and Berkson have teamed up to create a stage show titled "Handicap This" to dispel myths about cerebral palsy and disabilities, encouraging others to overcome obstacles. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
International exchanges represent another way to challenge people's perceptions of what is possible - a core belief of Mobility International USA (MIUSA). Founded in 1981 by Susan Sygall and Barbara Williams, MIUSA is a nonprofit organization that empowers people with disabilities to realize their full potential through international exchange. Sygall understands firsthand the power of international exchange. "I was attending school at the University of California Berkeley when I saw a Rotary advertisement that read 'Be an ambassador of Good Will. All expenses paid,' and thought, well that sounds like fun," Sygall said. While her time in Brisbane, Australia, was the "most amazing experience of my life," she was plagued with one question: “Where are all the other disabled people?” When she returned to the United States, she was determined to include more people with disabilities in international exchanges. What started with a few publications in 1981 has burgeoned into a major international disability exchange program. Short-term leadership exchange programs have served 2,000 young adults and professionals from more than 100 countries, while the Women's Institute on Leadership and Disability (WILD) has brought together women leaders with disabilities from around the world. Sygall works most closely with the WILD program. She wants "all young girls with disabilities to grow up loud, proud and passionate, and not let other people's preconceived notions of what they can do guide them.“ MIUSA launched its first outbound exchange program in 1984. Today, the organization has a variety of programs including outbound exchanges to China, Jordan and Spain. Photo: Participants in the 2011 U.S./Jordan Young Women with Disabilities Leadership Exchange Program visit Oregon’s Mount Hood during a cultural excursion. The program brought together nine young Jordanian women leaders with disabilities to build their management and advocacy skills in the United States. (Mobility International USA)
Shakeya Britton is one person who has benefited from Sygall's organization. Britton represented the United States in MIUSA's 2011 Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Disability Rights Leadership Exchange Program to Spain. Enticed by the international experience, Britton wanted to know what it was like to travel, to be independent. "There's a freedom that comes with having independence," Britton said. "By giving a person with a disability that responsibility and freedom, they in turn become an active member of the community. They are no longer a person with a disability but a person .“ Britton saw the exchange as more than just an experience; it was an opportunity to be a role model for those with and without disabilities. Empowered by her trip, Britton used her experience to teach people in the United States about Spanish culture, to show how people with disabilities live in Spain, and to illustrate the ways Spanish organizations serve their community. As a Harris Wofford Global Service Fellowship recipient, Britton will travel again in 2013 this time to Cape Town, where she will spend the summer learning about South African culture and working with women, children and people with disabilities. Photo: Shakeya Britton, second row, far left, poses with other participants from Mobility International USA’s 2011 U.S./Spain Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Disability Rights Leadership Exchange Program. (Mobility International USA)
Tactics and Activists
The Bureau of International Information Programs has created this
slideshow for display by diplomatic personnel addressing non-U.S.
audiences. Posts may edit these slides to suit local needs but should not
distribute the PowerPoint files or post the slides online.