Report on the U.S./Costa Rica Cross-Cultural Disability Rights Leadership Program

Below is a report from Kathryn Carroll on a disability rights exchange program she participated in this summer in Costa Rica. The program is open to students 25 and under in case anyone is interested in participating next year.

“So Much Time and So Little To Do… Wait a Minute, Strike That, Reverse It”:

U.S./Costa Rica Cross-Cultural Disability Rights Leadership Exchange Program

by Kathryn Carroll

Whenever people ask me what I did in Costa Rica for two weeks this June, I have trouble describing it in ten words or less. (The name of the program itself was eleven words long.) The activities and learning experiences I had during the exchange program helped me develop as a person, promoted disability awareness, and bolstered disability rights activism. It was also one of the most chock-full two weeks I’ve ever had.

The program fulfilled a multitude of functions that have manifested themselves in my life. I was able to learn about a new culture through my gracious hosts. The other delegates and I enjoyed experimenting with new foods while also studying basic Spanish, American Sign Language and Costa Rican Sign Language. Each delegate had an experience with disability, which allowed me to connect instantly with others and share experiences. As delegates, we visited organizations which focused on different aspects and types of disability. Thus, I was able to become more knowledgeable about pan-disability issues and experience. Just the other day, for example, I used some of this knowledge when a person who is deaf started a conversation with me and I had no problem transitioning into a conversation using an interpreter. Each delegate in the program was from the vicinity of New York City. We formed strong friendships that likely won’t be forgotten as we return to our lives in New York. The connections we made will serve the purpose of disability activism in New York and elsewhere. In fact, these connections are already serving this purpose.  Recently, I met up with two other delegates in Chicago to attend the Disability Pride Parade where I got to meet local activists and learn from them. Finally, through site visits and other activities, the other delegates and I were all able to gain an understanding of disability rights in Costa Rica. While meeting wonderful people from abroad, we asked questions of the leaders of disability organizations, government agencies, educational institutions, and medical institutions. We were also asked questions in return. Even though Costa Ricans referred to their own country as part of the “third world,” the attitude towards disability of many of the people whom we met along our journey places them squarely in the “first world.” There was a marked desire to see change for more inclusion. Costa Rica’s peaceful history and growing economy have given it the chance to work on disability rights. The country has laws that demand inclusion of people with disabilities much like the United States, but there is still much work to be done.

This exchange program gave me more than I could possibly relate here. While providing a doorway to a new culture, it fostered networking and friendship opportunities with some amazing people. I hope this program encourages others to study abroad, learn about disability rights and be active participants of their world.

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