May 23, 2012

Greetings to Readers:

My name is Guida Leicester.  I am a graduate student at the University of New Mexico (UNM).  My Master’s degree is in Educational Leadership.  My thesis is Making the World Accessible for All–Students with Disabilities and Study Abroad.  Ten years ago, in 2002, I suffered a stroke that has left me physically disabled.  I have always loved traveling internationally.  Before my stroke, I had hoped to be able to study Portuguese while living in Brazil.   After my stroke, I thought this would never be possible because of my disability.  However, since entering graduate school in 2008, I have begun exploring “Study Abroad” opportunities for students with disabilities. 

Some of the questions I am addressing include:   What barriers do USA university students with disabilities (SwDs) face in travel from the United States to cities in Brazil?  How do students adapt to these obstacles?  What accessibility and adaptability issues do SwDs face when studying abroad?  How do host universities and city administrators adapt to meeting the needs of visiting SwDs? 

In March of this year, I applied for, and was awarded, a U.S. Department of Education Title IV Foreign Language and Area Studies (F.L.A.S) Summer Fellowship.  This wonderful opportunity will make my lifetime dream to study in Brazil finally come true!   This summer, I will spend six weeks participating in an intensive Portuguese Language/Culture Program in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  In the culture aspect of the program, I plan to keep field notes of my observations on how Rio de Janeiro (RJ) is implementing Universal Design throughout the city.  Generally, in terms of making RJ more accessible to people with disabilities (PwDs), how is Universal Design being implemented for the World Cup 2014 (FIFA) and the Olympics/Para-Olympics 2016, to make the city more accessible for PwDs–spectators and participants?  Specifically, how is the implementation of President Dilma Rousseff’s National Plan for the Rights of People with Disabilities–introduced in November 2011–being applied in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with the approaching events of 2014 and 2016?

What is Universal Design?  ”Universal Design is a framework for the design of places, things, information, communication and policy to be usable by the widest range of people operating in the widest range of situations without special or separate design. Most simply, Universal Design is human-centered design of everything with everyone in mind.”  (Scott Rains, 2012)

For my Rio focus, my UNM Portuguese Professor helped me develop questions to help me stay focused on my observations while in RJ.  They include:

  • How is Universal Design (UD) being implemented throughout the city of Rio de Janeiro?
  • Can I see and learn of differences between UD for Rio’s upcoming events and UD in general around the city (i.e. accessible beaches, tourist sites, restaurants, rest rooms, and public transportation)?

This lays the foundation for my summer work.  I am still in the pre-planning stages of my trip.  This part can be nerve-wracking, as I am not yet sure what accessible accommodations I can expect once I arrive in Brazil.  Frankly, communication from those working on my behalf leaves much to be desired, but flexibility is the key to success, so I will see what the next few weeks show, and keep reporting updates day by day.  To be continued…


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