U.S. Embassy Supports Study Trip on Disability Issues for Ten Members of the Mongolian NGO Windbird

In Spring 2010, Ms. Badamkhand, a Mongolian journalist and the leader of the NGO “Wind Bird” (which works on behalf of the disabled) approached the U.S. Embassy in Ulaanbaatar with a proposal for a Voluntary Visitor Program to allow members of their NGO to learn about disability issues in the United States. Ms. Badamkhand said she was inspired to organize this project after participating in an “English Camp for the Disabled,” a 2009 program organized by the Mongolian-U.S. Government Alumni Association. With Windbird NGO covering the airfare costs (thanks to donations from local businesses and supporters), and with U.S. Department of State Office covering all the costs within the U.S., the Embassy was able support a group of 10 activists – seven of them physically disabled – for an intense two week program. The general purpose of the program was to allow the visitors to:

discover how people with disabilities live, work and study in the United States;
learn how U.S. federal, state and local governments support people with disabilities;
observe how the Americans with Disabilities’ Act (ADA) works “in practice”;
meet with U.S. NGOs that promote and protect the rights of people with disabilities; and,
learn how the media can be used as an educational and promotional tool for people with disabilities.

The State Department's Office of International Visitors organized an intense and extremely fruitful two week program on disability issues. The four day program in Washington DC provided an overview of the rights of people with disabilities and the roles of government and civil society organizations in advocating the rights of the physically disabled. The group attended meetings at the following organizations:

American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) (meeting with CEO Andrew Imparato who visited Mongolia in August 2010 on a State Department Speaker Program),

The US International Council on Disabilities (USICD),
National Council on Independent Living,
The Disability Rights Section at the Civil Rights Division in the Department of Justice,
National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS),
U.S. Department of Labor,
Special Olympics, and
National Consortium on Leadership and Disability for Youth.

Highlights of the program included a meeting with Ms. Judith E. Heumann, the State Department’s Special Advisor for International Disability Rights and Mr. Kareem Dale, the Special Assistant to the President for Disability Policy, and Associate Director, White House Office of Public Engagement.

In Annapolis, Maryland, the program focused on awareness and communication for people with disabilities at the state and local levels. The group participated in roundtable discussions with the League for People with Disabilities, Women Embracing Abilities Now, Goucher College’s Disability Initiative, and the Maryland Transportation Administration’s Mobility Office. One participant noted that they were extremely impressed with the Maryland transportation system in Baltimore, and hopes to use this information to promote a more disabled- friendly transportation system in Mongolia.

The final leg of the program in Seattle, Washington examined educational, employment, and leadership opportunities for people with disabilities, the role and contribution of NGOs in promoting and supporting lives of people with disabilities, and the role of Journalism/media in creating an inclusive society. The group met with the Seattle Commission for People with Disabilities, the Bellevue College -Occupational Life Skills-Venture, the Outdoors for All Foundation, and ElderHealth Northwest. In addition, the World Affairs Council hosted a community reception in the group’s honor that provided them with the opportunity to mingle with members of the Seattle community who are interested in disability awareness and Mongolia. Participants were particularly impressed with the Outdoors for All Foundation, which provides opportunities for physical exercise and recreation for people with disabilities, and noted that this is a very effective way to help improve self-esteem.

After the group returned to Mongolia, Ambassador to Mongolia Jonathan Addleton hosted a debriefing session at his residence. The participants said this trip changed their lives and their perceptions of their own strengths, and that the greatest lesson they learned was not to let their disabilities prevent them from doing more and living life to the fullest. Several of them outlined their plans to follow up on this experience -- promoting English and computer education for the disabled, improving rehabilitation and independent living services in Mongolia, and advocating for a law such as the ADA to protect the rights of the disabled. Education TV has already started broadcasting a series about the visit, and Zuuny Medee has printed a full page article about the visit – the headline: “The U.S. Focuses on what the Disabled Can Do, Not What They Can’t Do.” The staff of the U.S. Embassy in Mongolia hopes that this message from Zunny Medee will inspire all those with disabilities to strive to reach for their dreams.

Source:US Embassy in UB, Mongolia (http://mongolia.usembassy.gov)


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