International Disability Advocates Train at 360
by Amina Donna Kruck
I watched a moving video about people with disabilities in Bolivia petitioning their government to provide a small monthly pension to the citizens with disabilities living in poverty. They traveled for days on foot and wheeled through the mountains to participate in sit-ins and camp out for more than 30 days; risking their lives to stand up for Bolivians with disabilities. It reminds me of the thousands of Americans with disabilities who fought long and hard to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In recent years, Ability360 has hosted international disability advocates wanting to learn from American disability advocates. They come to study our programs and services and take ideas back home. Over time, this connection to my brothers and sisters with disabilities all over the world has deepened my awareness of how fortunate America is with our accessible buses, accessible businesses, civil rights laws and Social Security Insurance programs that provide funding to support people when they’re unable to work. The assistive technology that is available through social programs and affordable loans is rare in many countries. Most international visitors report little government support for disability programs and resources. Only a few provide funding for Centers like Ability360 that promote independent living and self-determination. Many lack any civil rights protections at all.
These disability advocates are real heroes. They go back home to start or expand disability sports programs, peer support programs furthering their civil rights advocacy and recognition of the dignity of people with disabilities. They go back with a renewed understanding of the value of peer support and working together across disability constituencies replicating what has proven so successful here.
It is a privilege to meet these disability advocates from places like Zimbabwe, Madagascar, India, Japan and Taiwan that we need to share widely. We are helping plant seeds that will grow in these countries to better the lives of people with disabilities. They are now our friends and we are invested in their progress. Our community needs more opportunities to meet these international advocates and hear firsthand what it’s like in their country and their impressions of the U.S.
It has become clear to me that we all experience ableism – that destructive concept that people with disabilities aren’t whole, aren’t valuable, are defective, burdensome and incapable. We all experience the damage those concepts inflict by perpetuating barriers and dependence and even worse, our own less than positive self-concepts. Those negative stereotypes are killers – literally. They lead to the concept that people with disabilities are better off dead than disabled, feeding the physician-assisted suicide movement and allow governments to condone the mistreatment of people with disabilities.
So, in the coming months you’ll see invitations to meet the international disability advocates who sometimes single-handedly started up programs in their countries to benefit the lives of people with disabilities. Many have won international scholarships to come and learn from us. They need to meet you. They want to meet you. Take an action to meet them and you will be forever changed like I have
Amina Kruck is Vice President of Advocacy programs at Ability360. Kruck is a state Professional Licensed Counselor with a master’s of Counseling from ASU. She empowers individuals with disabilities and their families through advocacy related workshops, one-on-one mentoring, facilitating wellness groups, providing technical assistance for the development of consumer-driven initiatives, and developing community partnerships to address barriers to consumer choice, equal rights and self-determination. Kruck also provides workshops on the legislative process, disability oppression and self-advocacy skills.