by Maria Qureshi, IVLP alumna.
“I was not disabled in America”
It was an honor for me to be part of the International Visitors Leadership program on Disability Leadership in the United States as it empowered and encouraged me. It is worth mentioning here that during the said visit my earnest dreams came true, as I lived an independent life there. I could enter any place I wished to — be it any building, public place or shopping mall — every place was completely accessible. I traveled on public buses and train with my non-disabled friends, and the sense of being disabled disappeared, as we all were equal, rightful, and valued human beings, without any discrimination and sense of deprivation. It made my belief stronger that no doubt “God is the greatest creator” and disability lies nowhere in humans – but in society, public opinions, ideas, and infrastructures. It is the system that creates barriers and breeds discrimination among humans.
We, the six trainees, visited different human rights institutions including, Government, Semi-Government, and Non-Governmental Institutions. The representatives of all the institutions we visited presented their activities, objectives, working methods, and funding criteria that helped us understand their scope of work and focus areas. We learned about children rights, women rights, civil rights, protection of the law, disability rights, prisoner rights, reservation areas, shelters, journalist rights, violence against women, gender-based equality, immigrant rights, refugees right, domestic violence, human trafficking, equal employment opportunity, poverty elevation, and citizen rights.
The program was scheduled keeping in view the interests of each participant. I was provided an opportunity to visit the D.C Center of Independent living, The League, and the Black Hills workshop. It helped me enhance my experience in the disability field. I remember the accessible swimming pool of the league and the wheelchair friendly gym. I also visited “Group Homes” where four disabled persons lived independently. There were attendants available round-the-clock, privacy was ensured, and the people lived in separate rooms.
I observed persons with different disabilities living their lives in society as normal human beings. The assistive devices and well-designed infrastructure removed all barriers to accessibility for them. Restrooms were friendly for persons with disabilities. Most of the buildings had separate doors for wheel chairs. The traffic signals on roads produced a special sound to guide the blind persons.
The learning and experiences of my stay in the U.S are, no doubt, an asset of my life and I have been utilizing this valued knowledge to make my professional and personal life better.