Injustice in the Justice System: Issues of Access for People with Disabilities

The image shows the sculpture of a women holding scales, which is supposed to represent justice. In the background are the pillars of the Supreme Court of the United States.
Lady Justice before the Supreme Court of the United States, symbolizing impartiality and fairness. “Lady Justice” by justindc is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

As Brady Mistic got out of his car, he was immediately met with the blinding glare of  police lights. Being a person with deafness, Brady relied mostly on his sight to interact with the world around him, so the bright light was confusing to say the least. He moved towards the light to inquire about the disturbance. Within the next seven seconds, Brady would find himself shoved to ground and tased by the police as they barked commands that were completely inaccessible to him, even as he tried to communicate that he was deaf. Within seven seconds, Brady acquired three charges, including resisting arrest, and was sentenced to four months in prison. Within seven seconds, the police officers’ inability to identify the need for, and establish, alternate forms of communication lead to a physical altercation and incarceration. Although these charges were waived after almost two years, Brady’s story is indicative of a widespread, disproportionate impact of the justice system on people with disabilities.

In fact, while only 20% of Americans have disabilities, 32% of federal inmates and 40% of jail inmates report at least one disability. The difference in these numbers is no coincidence. In this and a subsequent article, we will see that people with disability are not only overrepresented in prison and jail systems, but also treated unfairly at every step in the process of incarceration and reintegration into society. This article connects Mistic’s inaccessible encounter with the police with a broader, systemic lack of accommodations in the criminal justice system; the second will focus on the school-to-prison pipeline for kids with disabilities and the experiences of people with intellectual and development disabilities.

Mistic and Accessibility in the Criminal Justice System

Mistic’s encounter with the police was not the only incident of law enforcement getting into a violent altercation due to their inability to communicate with a disabled individual. In 2017, Oklahoma City police fatally shot Magdiel Sanchez, an individual with deafness, after he failed to respond to verbal commands to drop the stick in his hand and get on the ground. He was later found to have not been involved in the hit-and-run case for which the police were called. Witnesses who were present at the time of the event were even yelling to the police officers, saying that Sanchez was deaf and could not understand their spoken words. The lack of appropriate communication and the haste in action which is evident in both of these cases points to an underlying deficit in police training. Despite the fact that individuals with any type of disability are legally entitled to receive the same access to legal enforcement services as people without disabilities, most of the training around disability and crisis intervention training programs are not mandatory and are focused on psychological disabilities. Law enforcement training is not comprehensive with regards to disability and fails to equip officers with the necessary skills to interact with people who have intellectual, developmental, or other types of disabilities, which can potentially lead to fatal consequences.

Sadly, the lack of access in Mistic’s interaction with the criminal justice system did not end at his encounter with the police. Mistic was denied an interpreter when interacting with his lawyer while in jail. Like other aspects of Mistic’s case, this too points to an institutionalized barrier that prevents people with disabilities from being treated justly. Inaccessibility in the court and prison system is rampant. This was evident in the case of Abreham Zemedagegehu, an Ethiopian man with deafness whose first language was Ethiopian Sign Language. He was not allowed an interpreter during his six weeks in jail, making it very difficult for him to hear announcements for meals, contact his friends and family, and receive medication for his back pain.

Through multiple lawsuits over the years, prisoners with deafness reported not being able to understand the prison-wide safety instructions, to take part in classes in prison, and to defend themselves in disciplinary proceedings because a sign language interpreter was not present. In 2010, a prison in Virginia became the first in the country to have a videophone after it settled a lawsuit by a group of deaf inmates. It is difficult to imagine that this basic mode of accessible communication for people with deafness was unavailable at one point in any prison in the US and is still not available in many prisons. The lack of accessible communication methods impacts the success of people with disability as they reintegrate into society as well. One individual with blindness had the opportunity to enroll in community college courses but did not receive appropriate accommodations during classes. Another individual with a disability sought to find out how to apply for social security benefits but was denied information by their counselor, who believed they should apply for a job instead.

The image shows a corridor lines on either side by prison cells. There are two levels of prison cells. The prison cells have metal bars from the floor to the ceiling, and also some metal bars running along the length of the cells. Some of the entrances to the cells are open. There are no people in the image. The image has a very grim and foreboding atmosphere.
Prison cells in Alcatraz, San Francisco. Source: Unsplash

Access to Health Services

Decreased access to medication and health services in prisons, as Zemedagegehu experienced, disproportionally impacts people with disabilities, risking the deterioration of health problems. When 91% of jailers report they have in their facilities individuals with serious psychological disabilities who are at risk of committing suicide, it becomes imperative – a matter of life or death – to ensure adequate health services are delivered in time. The status of accommodations is no better, as many prisons deemed essential accommodations (including wheelchair, prosthetics, exercise equipment, other assistive technology) as no longer “medically necessary” in order to cut costs. Health services are placed further out of the reach of inmates due to exorbitant co-pay rates, which can be as high as a month’s labor, and additional fees incurred by prosthetics and other accommodation.  The results of these factors is best portrayed in a Bureau of Justice System study which looked into health issues of prisoners and jail inmates. Only two-thirds of participants reported receiving necessary medical treatment, whereas 11% reported that their illness was not being treated because they were not being given medication. While the overrepresentation of people with disabilities in jails and prisons may largely be attributed to unjust treatment of people with disabilities, it is possible that the conditions within the jails and prisons, including the lack of access to health resources, are contributing to the development of disabilities in inmates.

Perhaps the most shocking experience of Zemedagegehu during his time in jail is that he was forced to receive an injection, which he later found out was a tuberculosis test, after refusing to sign a medical consent form because it was not presented in a way that he could comprehend. This blatant human rights violation, of forced medical procedures and ignorance of patient autonomy, underscores the necessity of sweeping changes in the jail and prison system’s treatment of individuals with disabilities.

Inaccessibility in the justice system, however, is an issue not only for arrested and incarcerated individuals with disabilities, but also to citizens seeking justice. According to a Bureau of Justice study, people with disabilities are victims of violence at twice the rate as people without disabilities. Clearly, individuals with disabilities stand to benefit from the services offered by the court system, services which they are entitled to but cannot always access due to the failure of the criminal justice system in being inclusive to all members of the community.

The issues of inaccessibility discussed in this article violate the rights afforded to all individuals, including article seven of the Human Rights Declaration which promises that everyone is “entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law”. Reforms to the criminal justice system need to take into account the needs of people with disabilities at every level, from law enforcement to court systems to jails and prisons. Individual citizens can contribute to pushing for such reforms as well. Find your local legislators and advocate for issues of access in the criminal justice system by writing to or phoning their office. Recent prison reforms in Alabama, including a bill allocating approximately $800 billion to the construction of two new facilities that will reduce overcrowding in prisons, offer hope for progress. Whether or not accessibility becomes a priority in the future depends on you and I to organize, stand as allies, and demand change.

 

 

Asking For Help When You Have A Mental Illness

** The mental health relationship between public health and human rights is often misunderstood. Humanity can begin to see the underlying and overarching interconnections among poverty, its relation to lack of health insurance and untreated mental health issues, and individual and public safety. This blog seeks to provide insight and resources that help bridge the gap and offer solutions that remove stigma and shame. – AR

by Marie Miguel

a picture of someone reaching out to help
Help. Source: Leo Hildago, Creative Commons

It’s difficult to ask for help when you’re suffering from the symptoms of mental illness, whether that be depression, PTSD, Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, or Anxiety. Sometimes, mental illness can leave you feeling hopeless and at the mercy of your symptoms. Some people have a great ability to see outside of their symptoms and ask their support system for help, but there are challenges when getting help for mental illness. We will explore what it takes to acknowledge that you have an issue and get the help that you need in this article. 

Acknowledging that you need help

It’s difficult to admit that you need help when you have a mental illness. Here’s an example of where someone with mental illness Let’s say that you’re living with Bipolar Disorder, and you’re in an episode of mania. You’re spending lots of money, engaging in risky behavior, and you find that your life is out of control. Your friends are put off by your excessive spending habits and your wild behavior that’s out of control. You know that you have a problem and you don’t know how to ask for the help that you need because you’re in the midst of a manic episode. What do you do? Well, you reach out to a loved one first, and say: “I need help.” they might not know how to help you, but at least you’re admitting that there is a problem, and trying to get the help that you need starts with talking about the issue. They might not have a solution, but it’s time to admit that there’s something that you have to address. Next, maybe you and your loved one go to your doctor and discuss the issues. That’s assuming that you have health; this is all the optimal scenario. Then, your doctor refers you to a psychiatrist, who can treat your symptoms, and you find a therapist that works together with your psychiatrist. So, this is an ideal scenario in which you have insurance, you have a support system, and you find the mental health providers that you need. Not everybody is so lucky, and we need to see how those who don’t have access to good healthcare fare in our system. 

When you don’t have resources

Let’s examine the same scenario when you don’t have appropriate resources. So, let’s say that you have Bipolar disorder, you’re going through a manic episode, and you’ve alienated your friends and family. There’s nobody to reach out to for help, and you don’t have insurance. How might you feel? Isolated. You don’t know what to do or who to turn to for help. These are the things that we have to think about in terms of getting people with mental illness help because sometimes, the symptoms of mental illness are destructive and you end up alienating those who can help you. So if you notice that a friend or family member is doing something self-destructive, it’s one thing to be angry with them and another thing to have compassion. If you can, even if they’re acting in a way that’s not kind, try to get them the help that they need because, in a way, the person may be crying out for it even if they’re cruel in the process. Now, don’t put yourself at risk or in harm’s way – there are times to draw boundaries with people if somebody is acting in a that is unsafe and they intend to harm themselves or others. If somebody is suicidal, for example, it’s time to get them to a hospital because you won’t be able to provide them with the help that they need. Many times, it’s about finding the right resources. Some people don’t know where to find the right resources for their problems. The problem is that sometimes there aren’t enough resources available.

The resources need to be there

If you have insurance, use it. One of the things that we have to remember is that even if you have a mental illness, it doesn’t make you powerless. You can, if you have insurance, look for a provider to help you with your mental illness, whether that’s PTSD, Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, or Anxiety. Find a psychiatrist who’s able to talk with you about your symptoms and get you help. So, that’s one thing that you can do, and speak with your psychiatrist and find a treatment plan that works for you. Have your psychiatrist and therapist work together and understand that a treatment plan takes time to develop. You’ll be able to figure out what your treatment plan is over time and get better. 

Creating resources when there are none

There are instances where people cannot get help because there’s overcrowding in hospitals or they can’t find a provider that takes their insurance that doesn’t have a five-month-long waitlist. It can happen to people that have “good” insurance. So what do we need to do as a society to create more resources so that people can get the help that they need? Well, one thing is, we need to train more therapists. So, we need to understand that and value the jobs of mental health professionals. One resource we can use is online therapy. It is affordable, and it is accessible to many people. Some people don’t have the luxury of choosing from a plethora of therapists. 

Online therapy

One alternative to traditional face-to-face therapy is online therapy. Online therapy is an excellent space for people that have a mental illness to get the support that they need affordably from the privacy of their own home. Companies like BetterHelp are an excellent place for people to find a therapist that they can talk to and feel comfortable sharing their problems with so that they can get better. Our world is changing, and technology can be used for good. Let’s try to make space for people who have a mental illness to get the support that they need. Everyone deserves access to quality healthcare, which includes their mental health.

 

Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health-related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with BetterHelp.com. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.

International Day of Persons with Disabilities 2018

Today, December 3, 2018, is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD), an observance promoted by the United Nations (UN). This year’s theme, “Empowering persons with disabilities and ensuring inclusiveness and equality,” accommodates the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’s pledge to “leave no one behind” which envisions sustainable urbanization, namely through a smart-city approach that prioritizes digitalization, clean energy, technologies, and service delivery. Such ambition is salient to persons with disabilities because, above all, achieving these goals will result in communities that are more accessible and inclusive for everyone.

It is argued the main contribution to why persons with disabilities have been excluded from public life is the practice of the medical model of disability (MMD) which embraces the perspective of non-disabled persons, reducing persons with disabilities to dysfunctional people in-need of medical treatment, with emphasis on normative functioning of the body. As a result, persons with disabilities are often assigned a sick role that exempts them from activities and expectations of productivity, leaving them as passive recipients of medical goods and services. These medicalized expectations of normality, restoration, and functional independence can devalue the lived experiences of persons with disabilities, thus inviting discrimination into their daily lives.

On the contrary, the social model of disability (SMD) challenges the knowledge/power differential employed by medical authorities and suggests empowerment for persons with disabilities, ultimately strengthening the patient role and influencing changes in treatment paradigms. Furthermore, the SMD argues that social practices are what disable persons with impairments, placing many persons with disabilities into isolating circumstances and preventing full civil participation. Whether it be employment in Alabama or being a refugee in Kenya, the SMD challenges the MMD by suggesting persons with disabilities are an oppressed group that experiences discrimination and deserving of equal treatment.

On December 13, 2006, the UN adopted the Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), an international agreement which details the rights of persons with disabilities and lists codes for implementation, suggesting both states and disabled people’s organizations (DPOs) are to coordinate to fulfill such rights. In the following years, nations spanning the globe have ratified the CRPD, such as Jordan (2008) and Ireland (2018), thus strengthening protections for persons with disabilities. Although the United States is one of the only nations to have yet ratified the CRPD, this international document is largely modeled after the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), signed in 1990, which prohibits discrimination toward persons with disabilities. As a result, we are only seeing the beginning of what is to come for accessibility and inclusion for persons with disabilities, both domestically and globally.

Disabled people celebrate the passage of The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2016 by the Lok Sabha, in New Delhi. Source: Hindustan Times, Creative Commons

 

To commemorate IDPD 2018, the Institute for Human Rights is holding a blog series today that addresses access, inclusion, and representation for persons with disabilities, namely through the influence of media and power of politics.

“Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down.” – George H.W. Bush at the signing of the ADA

A 29th Floor Perspective

 

1st Ave from the 29th Floor of the UN
1st Ave from the 29th Floor of the UN. Photo by Ajanet Rountree.

The United Nations (UN) Conference on State Parties (CoSP10) experience began on the 29th floor for me. I say this because I lived in New York City and toured the UN on a couple of occasions. Additionally, living a life that is inclusive of persons with disabilities is in my wheelhouse. A friend and mentor utilizes crutches to help him walk because an accident, when he was younger, took the full use of his legs. Cancer took the use of B’s legs when she was a baby, and a motorcycle accident left my uncle paralyzed from the waist, making them both wheelchair users. I lead with all of this to say that making room in my world for persons with disabilities is something I have done for decades. My familiarity, in a sense, is akin to the knowledge gained by a couple of tours of the UN lobby and gift shop. Therefore, walking into CoSP10, I was prepared or so I thought.

I had never been on the 29th floor. The perspective is much different up there.

The Division of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) is located on the 29th floor of the UN. The DESA team is responsible for both the economic and social affairs of persons with disabilities for all the UN member states as directly related to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). They write and disseminate policies and ideas to the member states as suggested modes of implementation. Each policy and suggestion lies within the UN mandated Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) which is an extension of the 1945 UN Charter. SDGs are the 17 goals all member states, through collaboration, seek to achieve by 2020 as a means of ensuring “no one is left behind” while honoring the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and CRPD. Sitting in the conference room, I am inspired by the opportunity but not fully awake to what is about to take place.

Enter Daniela Bas.

Bas is the DESA director. During her chat with us, she disclosed a couple of points that stand out to me. First, the UN, as an employing entity, is beginning to put into action many of the policies and measures, tasked to member states for implementation. Most specifically, employing persons with disabilities in key leadership positions of which she is one. Second, the UN is an organization led by human beings seeking to do the right thing. With full acknowledgment, she reminds that the UN is not perfect but that the process of coalescing 196 backgrounds, traditions, religious affiliations, and attitudes to make significant strides at securing human rights and making the world more peaceful, is an accomplishment. Lastly, when compared to men and boys, and those who are able-bodied, discrimination against women and girls with disabilities doubles, and even triples if they belong to a minority race or class in their country. This last point, triple discrimination for women and girls with disabilities will become a recurring theme in the conference for me. The harsh reality of this fact remains an echo in my soul to this moment.

Confrontation with another person’s truth requires an adjustment to what is known through experience and education, and assumed through familiarity.

On the floor. Photo by Ajanet Rountree

I study and view life and the world with a gendered perspective in mind. I look for the role of women, our impact on families and societies, and our visibility and invisibility when it comes to equality. I am aware of the trials of living life at intersections. Intersectionality complicates because discrimination is complicated. I believe there is a temptation to separate the intersections so to obtain a solid understanding; however, it is in the attempt to separate that understanding is lost. Gaining a complete understanding of the dynamics of discrimination requires a holistic not segmented perspective.

Girls, irrespective of ability, are not as valuable or visible in many societies as boys are. Nora Fyles, head of the UN Girls Education Initiative (UNGEI) Secretariat, asserts invisibility is the fundamental barrier to education for girls with disabilities. She confirms this assertion when explaining the search for partnership on the gendered perspective education project by stating that 1/350 companies had a focus on girls with disabilities. For Bas, the failure to identify girls and women with disabilities is a failure to acknowledge their existence. Subsequently, if they do not exist, how can we expect them to hear their need? She suggests addressing crosscutting barriers. Leonard Cheshire Disability (LCD), in partnership with the World Bank, UNICEF, and UNGEI, hosted a side-event where they released their findings regarding a lack of inclusive education opportunities for girls with disabilities. Still Left Behind: Pathways to Inclusive Education for Girls with Disabilities sheds light on the present barriers girls, specifically those with disabilities, experience when seeking an education.

Article 26 of the UDHR lists education as a human right. Bas believes if knowledge is power, and power comes from education, the fact that 50% of women with a disability complete primary school and 20% obtain employment, reflects social and economic inequality. Ola Abu Al-Ghaib of LCD emphasizes policies, cultural norms, and attitudes about persons with disabilities perpetuate crosscutting barriers for girls with disabilities to receive an education. She concludes that schools are a mirror of society. In the absence of gendered sensitivity, boys advance and girls do not. Every failed attempt to address and correct the issue is a disservice to girls generally, and girls with disabilities, specifically.

It is imperative to remember that the spectrum of disability is multifaceted. Most people recognize developmental and physical disabilities like Downs Syndrome, Autism, visual and hearing impairment, and wheelchair users, but fail to consider albinism and cognitive disabilities as part of the mainstream disability narrative. Bulgaria is focusing on implementing Article 12 of CRPD regarding legal capacity. Legal consultant and lawyer, Marieta Dimitrova explains that under Bulgarian law, only reasonable persons have the right to independence; therefore, persons with cognitive disabilities receive the “unable” descriptor under assumption they are unable to reason and understand, thereby placing them under a guardian. Guardianship removes the right to participate in decisions regarding quality of life, which is a deprivation of liberty. She resolves that although full implementation into law awaits, stakeholders are seeking renewal in the new government because pilot projects have proven that an enjoyment of legal capacity in practice yields lower risk of abuse, changed attitude within communities, personal autonomy and flexibility.

Not all disabilities result from birth or accidents. War and armed conflict factor into 20% of individuals maimed while living in and fleeing from violence. A lack of medical access leave 90% of maimed individuals permanently disabled. Stephane from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) submits that for refugees with disabilities, access to essential services can be difficult on the journey and in camps, but also for those who are unable to flee. He infers a “double disability” inflicted upon refugees with disabilities: first as a refugee, and second as a person with a disability. Human Rights Watch advocates that refugee camps produce a humiliating and degrading existence for persons with physical disabilities because the “tricks” employed prior to arrival in the camps, are no longer applicable as wheelchairs sink in the mud and crutches break on rocky grounds. The Lebanese Association for Self-Advocacy (LASA) reports the underrepresentation of women and girls is significant when receiving information and access to assistance.

In a refugee simulation seminar, LASA informed that on the ground, confusion is high given that humanitarian organizations do not consult with each other, making communication difficult and non-supportive. For families with a person with a disability, nonexistence communication means a prevalence to fall victim to violence and harassment. Jakob Lund of UN Women divulges that humanitarian aid can be ineffective for women with disabilities, while Sharon with OHCHR suggests a clear dichotomy between the rights of the able-bodied and the rights of persons with disabilities holds central to the ineffectiveness. At the core of a lack of communication and accessibility is invisibility. Stephane concludes that there is an obvious need for a necessary and systematic retraining specific to educating others on how to see the invisible.

a picture of Chinatown, NYC and Brooklyn Bridge
Chinatown, NYC, and Brooklyn Bridge. Source: Madhu Nair, Creative Commons

The process of inclusion and equality relates directly to the decision to acknowledge a person’s existence. Retraining the mind to see any human being with a physical disability takes decisive action so I put myself to the test. First, I thought of all the famous women with a physical disability I could think of, and arrived at about six, including Heather Whitestone and Bethany Hamilton. I then googled celebrity women with disabilities which yielded a Huffington Post piece that identified Marlee Matlin, Frida Kahlo, Helen Keller, and Sudha Chandran as 4/10 “majorly successful people with disabilities”. I had Marlee Matlin and Helen Keller. What is more interesting is that I arrived at seven when naming men with physical disabilities. Here is the point: society is not inclusive of persons with disabilities if we have to strain our brains to remember the last time we sat next to, opened the door for, ate a meal with, or saw on the television/movie screen/church platform a person who did not look like us physically.

Perspective changes everything because perspective is everything.

Accessibility: A Paradigm Shift

a picture of the inside of the UN General Assembly Hall
Photo by Tyler Goodwin

I was given the opportunity to work as a rapporteur for the Conference of State Parties to the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) at the United Nations in New York City. As a rapporteur, it was my duty to report on each event and assembly that I attended by drafting a summary of what took place respectively. I was able to attend the opening ceremony in the General Assembly Hall, which is where the meetings of the 193 Member States originally take place; an event on data mining, which is when one uses a large database to come to conclusions, and the importance of technology for persons with disabilities, where Dr. Reuter presented her research; a Roundtable Debate, where each party was able to ask questions and address any concerns they may have; and finally, a panel discussion with members, one of which was Dr. Reuter, who had the opportunity to present their findings from their research and answer questions from the audience.

When we were getting our duties and learning our roles, the Director for the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) Division for Social Policy and Development, Daniela Bas, came in to speak to us. It was a humbling experience, as she made an effort to get to know everyone in the room. I was also able to meet delegates from Canada, Zambia, and New Zealand. I remember Zambia’s representatives standing out specifically, for many reasons. Zambia is a country in southeastern Africa, where resources are limited. However, with the resources they have left, they have made efforts to allocate some of them to persons with disabilities. They also reported on their progress in implementing the CRPD, and it claimed to have many positive strides despite the fact that there is still much to be done.

During the Roundtable Debate, the issue of travel complications was raised. It was an eye-opening moment for me personally, as someone who loves to travel. I learned that a lot of individuals and families must plan business trips and vacations around accessible places and there will more than likely still be difficulties during their travels due to accessibility issues. Catalina Devandas Aguilar, who is the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities then spoke on how there must be a greater political commitment to combat this issue. As the Special Rapporteur, she is trusted to be impartial and knowledgeable when she reports on a country’s trials. She was not speaking of a certain country in this case, but what she had examined across the globe. She also called for more respect, dignity, and a gender-equal approach when concerning persons with disabilities and the obstacles they face. It is important for all of these prongs to be met for persons with disabilities as they are seen as lesser or incapable at times. In reality, it is not feasible for persons with disabilities to accomplish something due to inaccessibility.

a picture of the stone wall outside of the UN
Photo by Tyler Goodwin

Prior to my week of working for the United Nations, I had a vague idea about how it was operated. I assumed it was similar to a business, but on a much larger scale. I imagined that the employees, directors, and delegates would be strictly focused on the Conference. I now have a small, but a clearer understanding of how the United Nations works. Those mentioned were certainly focused, but they were open to chatting and encouraging to others. Ms. Bas went out of her way to come speak to us, and the employees that I sat beside during the events were extremely welcoming and helpful. They asked about who I was, where I am from, and what I hope to accomplish one day. I expected to have to aggressively network to get to meet higher-up employees, but they were the ones who made the efforts to get to know me and the rest of the team. It changed my perspective of the United Nations in a positive way and fanned the fire inside of me to want to work there more. I was unsure of what a day at the United Nations would be like for an employee, and I only received a small glimpse of it, but I am thrilled to have gotten the experience.

Throughout the course of the Conference, I was able to see the importance of a global approach to handling persons with disabilities’ rights and implementing the CRPD. When it comes to a community so large and diverse, the United Nations must act cohesively to reach the 2030 agenda of sustainable development, and this Conference was a testament to their commitment. Doing so would ensure the world would be more accessible for all and lessen the issues faced by persons with disabilities.

This opportunity was heavily impactful for me. I was introduced to the world of the United Nations, and the humanitarian world outside of it. I met people who are involved in advocacy and fighting for rights around the globe, whether they are employed by the United Nations or not. I always envisioned myself being truly fulfilled by working for the United Nations alone, but I learned that there are many different outlets to accomplish the types of things I want to one day. It is still my end goal to be employed by them, but I have realized that I can have a fulfilling career. I am beyond grateful to Dr. Reuter for her research and advocacy, as she is truly making a difference. I am also grateful to have had her bring me along to experience the United Nations from the perspective I was given.