A Need to Pave the Way Worldwide: International Disability Rights
November 7, 2018 | Johileny Meran, 2018 AAPD Summer Intern
The world has put a microscope on my disability, labeling it as the ultimate challenge, a tragic side effect of an illness or freak accident, something to pray about. But in reality, the challenge is living in a society that refuses to acknowledge that everybody is different.
Born in the Dominican Republic, I saw no positive examples of successful individuals with physical disabilities. It is only now, in my young adult life, that I can accept my disability as a positive aspect of my identity. For perspectives to change, we need to write ourselves into popular narratives. One issue is the portrayal of disabled persons on television. We are usually portrayed as helpless, a secondary or background character. As a senior in high school, I received a scholarship from an award show on the Univision channel. Afterward, at a basketball game, someone stopped me and asked if her son could take a picture with me. Through tears, she explained the powerful image of me on stage had encouraged him because he saw someone like him. A small act of representation can vastly change disability-focused media.
At the age of 8, I moved to the United States. Eleven years passed before I returned to the Dominican Republic. The difference was shocking. During my trip, I had to be dependent on family members. I couldn’t even step out of the house without two or three people helping to carry me out, and my wheelchair shortly behind me. I felt uncomfortable and discouraged by the reality that if I had grown up in my homeland, I would have never been able to accomplish the same level of independence. It shocked me to think of the stark difference my trajectory would’ve had. As my time on vacation in the Dominican Republic narrowed down, I thought about the kids that were growing up in that restrictive environment. I thought about the type of surroundings needed to develop empowered personalities.
This summer, I had the opportunity to learn about the Disability Integration Act (DIA), a piece of legislation that aims to ensures that disabled Americans have a right to live and receive services in their own homes. It contributes to the fundamental goal of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): assuring the full participation of people with disabilities by allowing individuals to live in the most integrated setting possible. The DIA is still in its primary stages of the legislative process, but both pieces of legislation assert the difference that resources and supports can have on an individual’s ability to be part of their community.
Since the ADA was signed into law, there have been several legal cases regarding certain aspects of the law that impact the lives of people with disabilities. However, other countries like the Dominican Republic don’t have fundamental legislation that affords these rights and supports to fully participate in their societies.
I am determined to be part of a change that guides other countries to offer essential opportunities to children with disabilities that will allow them to reach their full potential. I have decided the way to do this kind of advocacy work is by establishing a career in international disability rights. In the simplest of terms, I would make it my life’s work to ensure that the same rights afforded to able-bodied citizens are just as accessible.
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Johileny Meran is a 2018 AAPD Summer Intern. She interned with the National Disability Rights Network.