Google+ Hangout with Special Advisor Judy Heumann and Senior Advisor Michelle Kwan
Special Advisor for International Disability Rights
This video is available with captions on YouTube.
MS. HEUMANN: (In progress) name is Judy Heumann.
MS. KWAN: And I’m Michelle Kwan.
MS. HEUMANN: We’re here today from the State Department and we are going to be talking with a number of Paralympians about their experiences. We’re looking at learning more about the Disabilities Treaty that we’re working on in the United States. We’re also commemorating that the 3rd of December was the International Day of Persons with Disabilities and that next week is Human Rights Day around the world. We are going to be involved in a back and forth discussion with Michelle and myself and the Paralympians, and I’d like to give you a little bit of information about myself.
So right now, I am the Special Advisor for International Disability Rights at the Department of State. My office is in Washington, D.C. I had polio when I was 18 months old; I’m a wheelchair user. I am not a big athlete, but my first foray into wheelchair Olympics, or Paralympics, was in 1972 when I went to Germany and I was an observer for the Paralympics. It was a great opportunity for me, and quite frankly, that experience for me really got me much more engaged in international activities because I had an opportunity to meet disabled people from around the world from rich, middle income, and poorer countries, and to really learn about the commitment and drive that disabled people have around the world, both the participation in the Paralympics, but more broadly, to be able to be improving the quality of life for themselves and for their peers within their countries.
There is something called the United Nations Disabilities Treaty, which 138 countries have ratified. The United States is working now on ratification of this treaty. We believe it’s important because disabled people in the United States want to have opportunities to be able to travel overseas, to study overseas, and to work overseas.
And now I’ll turn it over to you, Michelle.
MS. KWAN: Hi everybody, and welcome to our Google hangout. It is a pleasure to be with fellow athletes, Paralympians. I guess there’s a camaraderie that we all share representing the United States and what a proud moment it is to walk in the Olympic stadium and have the U.S. team uniform and try to make your – Americans proud of your performance. And I want to turn it over to the special guests that we have today and like to each individually introduce themselves. We have Erik, Emily, Renee, and Stephanie joining us all today. And if you can briefly introduce yourself, share what sports you play, your experiences, and I’ll give you a chance to brag a little bit of yourself and all that you’ve accomplished in sports.
So shall we say, Emily, take it away.
MS. HOSKINS: Sure. Well, first of all, thank you so much for having me. This was awesome. Very excited to be participating. I was on the U.S. National Women’s Wheelchair Basketball team from 2003-2010. I was on the squad that won gold in the 2004 Paralympics in Athens, along with two of these other panel members that you’re going to meet here in a minute. And then I was also on the team again in Beijing in 2008 and we got gold the second time. And another panel member was also on that squad with me. So very cool to be here. And my job, I actually – I live in Nashville, Tennessee, and I work for the Center for Independent Living. And we’ve done a lot of work pushing for this Disabilities Treaty and everything, so I’m kind of coming from not only my experience as an athlete, but a professional in the disability community.
MS. KWAN: Thank you. Erik.
MR. HIGHTOWER: Hi. I’m Erik. I’ve been racing for roughly 20 years now. I’m a wheelchair racer. I competed in the 2008 Beijing Games, as well as two world championships in 2006 and then this year in 2013. And I think that’s pretty much about it.
MS. KWAN: Renee.
DR. TYLER: Yes. So again, thank you for having me, and welcome and hi to my former teammates. This is really great. So I started wheelchair basketball – my first U.S. women’s team in 1991 and competed in Barcelona in ’92, silver medal; ’96 in Atlanta, a bronze; and then, as Emily stated, I was on the gold medal team for 2004.
My path in wheelchair basketball, I think, is a little different than my colleagues on the panel in that I’m older and have had – started when women’s basketball was not a team and was not alive and well at the university. I played at the university and started at the University of Arizona, so there wasn’t a team. I was, in fact, was the only woman on a men’s team, and really had to push and trial and travail through that challenge. So that’s, I think, something that I can bring to the table in this conversation.
Professionally, I’m a doctor of pharmacy. I am a western region pharmacy director for HealthSouth, which is a national – the largest free-standing rehabilitation hospital in the country. So I work on a day-to-day basis not only in a pharmacy career, but as a mentor and leader in seeing – in educating patients of what’s possible after life-altering illness and events. Thank you.
MS. KWAN: Thank you for participating. Stephanie, if you could briefly introduce yourself as well.
MS. WHEELER: Hi, everyone. I’m Stephanie Wheeler. I’ve almost kind of already been introduced – can you guys hear me?
MS. KWAN: Yes.
MS. WHEELER: Sorry. I’ve kind of been introduced by my two former teammates a little bit. I also played wheelchair basketball. I was on the 2004 and 2008 Beijing Paralympic teams that won gold medal – Beijing and Athens – sorry – that won gold medals. And currently, I live in Champaign, Illinois. I’m the head coach of the women’s wheelchair basketball team at the University of Illinois, which is where I did my undergraduate as well. And I’m also fortunate to now be the head coach of our USA women’s senior national team, and I’m going to get the amazing opportunity to go to the Paralympics in Rio to coach our team, hopefully, to another gold medal.
MS. KWAN: How exciting.
MS. HEUMANN: Yeah, we need that gold medal. I was in London when we didn’t get it. (Laughter.)
MS. WHEELER: Right. That’s right. We need to bring it back home.
MS. HEUMANN: (Inaudible.)
MS. KWAN: Well, I would like to ask everyone: When you travel overseas, as I mentioned, representing the United States, are there any challenges that you faced that you were surprised or encountered that you’d like to share with us?
MS. HEUMANN: We could follow the same order, so we could start with Emily.
MS. HOSKINS: Sure, yeah. Olympic and Paralympic athletes, while you’re over there, you’re overseas at the games competing, a majority of your time is spent in the Olympic, Paralympic village, which everything is accessible there. But certainly, if you do find the time, if you do have the day off from practicing or competing or what have you, if you go out in the community it’s certainly not as accessible as we’re used to in the U.S. I remember in Athens there was a lot of like cobblestone roads, which when you’re in a wheelchair is not always the easiest to get around on. Same thing with Beijing. It’s just not – from what I’ve seen, the very, very small part of other countries that I’ve seen when I travel, it’s not to the accessibility levels that we’re used to the U.S.
But on the other hand, you also see these cities really doing their best to try and change that. I know before Beijing, the city and China as a whole really made such an effort to try and improve the accessibility because they were excited to have the Olympics and Paralympics, and they put forth just a fantastic effort toward making their city more accessible than it had been previously.
MS. HEUMANN: I think one of the main reasons for that is that the Olympics Committee, as part of the requirements to be a city that will – or a country that will sponsor the Olympics has to commit to making the site accessible in venues that people will be going to accessible. And I think the U.S. played a good role in helping to make that to be a part of the selection criteria.
MS. KWAN: I’m part of a – a board member of Special Olympics, and part of my role as a member – a board member is to be part of the site selection committee, which I’ve flown to various countries to make sure that a country hosting a Special Olympics has accessibilities like hotels, transportation, things that sometimes is overlooked. And just like Emily mentioned, this is very, very critical, and countries are making huge strides to improve accessibility.
MS. HEUMANN: Erik.
MR. HIGHTOWER: Yeah, I agree a lot with, like, what Emily said, and I think the main thing is accessibility going to these other countries. Like she was saying, in Beijing, it’s kind of an older country and it’s not – every place you went to wasn’t really accessible. But you find that they are trying to make it as accessible as possible, but they can’t make every single place accessible. But also the locals that live there, you find a lot of nice people that are also willing to help out, so if you do go to a place that’s not really accessible but that you’d really like to go check out, the locals are right there ready to help you try to get over that obstacle so you can enjoy what they have to offer there. So I do agree. I think the main thing is just accessibility.
MS. HEUMANN: Okay. Stephanie Or – I’m sorry – Renee.
DR. TYLER: Sure. I agree with what everything’s been said. And I think, Judy, you touched on a big area. When I first started competing, the U.S. Olympic Committee was not part of the Paralympic parallel agreement as far as having universal accessibility and having those key points in place.
So I’ve had the fortunate ability to see the transition of not having the level of accessibility that we have now, for example in 2004, and I’ve got to see the progress and the change and impact that the U.S. has on that. And into tie into the CRPD and the convention and the treaty, I think that’s where U.S. has an enormous role in, like how they tied onto the Olympic and Paralympic and becoming joined forces, but bringing their expertise and models of the ADA to sports venues and being models for countries like Beijing and Greece who are older cities and don’t have the same level of accessibility that a U.S. city has that’s hosting Olympics.
And additionally, as we touched on accessibility, hotels, restaurants, taxis, it’s all a challenge when we go overseas. It is in some level in the United States still, too, so I don’t want to take it that way, as we know.
But I think, Erik, as you said, there’s a difference between traveling with a team and a group and an organized sport versus and individual. So there’s the group travel and the masses – and Stephanie and Emily, we’ve all done this as a team. We’ve got 12 members and we all help each other. We all carry each other, we all make due in all these different inaccessible venues and places, because you know what, we’re going to get there. We’re going to go see the Parthenon. We’re going to go down those cobblestone steps, and if you fall out of your chair twice, we’ll be all there to pick each other up. That’s the team mentality that was there. So all of that is going on as we’re traveling around, too. So, yeah, that’s --
MS. HEUMANN: Thank you.
DR. TYLER: Mm-hmm.
MS. HEUMANN: And (inaudible) Stephanie. Sorry, Stephanie. (Laughter.)
MS. WHEELER: All righty. That’s okay. Completely agree with kind of what everybody else has said. And I guess just to give some personal examples to highlight what they’ve talked about, in 2004, before the Paralympics were held in Athens, the Acropolis and Parthenon hadn’t been accessible to anyone with a disability. And so one of the things that they did – whether it was safe or not, they put a – it was like just basically a little metal box that was supposed to be an elevator that ascended the side of the Acropolis, and you could fit maybe like one, maybe two wheelchairs on this shaky little elevator that’s going up the side of the Acropolis. And it was quite a scary moment when you’re on there because it’s shaking and you’re hoping that it’s going to make it to the top, and you’re like I have a game tomorrow, I can’t be injured and miss my game. (Laughter.)
But you take that risk because obviously you’re in another country and they’ve done, like Emily said, what they can do to make their country as accessible as possible because they want to show off why they were selected. Athens was obviously an amazing place to be for the Paralympics because it’s where the movement started and it’s where the Olympics began, and so you want to make sure that you can enjoy being in a place like that. So you take the little – the rickety little elevator up to the Acropolis so that you can see it.
And I think the other example that kind of illustrates what Erik was speaking about with locals jumping in to help, in 2008 in Beijing, one of my teammates and I – after the competition was over, we wanted to go see the Great Wall again. That’s what you want to see when you’re in China. It’s one of the things you check off your list. So we grabbed a taxi, we went out to the Great Wall, and they made one particular section of the Great Wall accessible with like a little lift elevator as well. And once we got out of the taxi, there were at least three or four individuals that either worked at the Great Wall or they were just locals that were visiting the Great Wall, coming over and saying how can we help you, what do you need, can we lift you up this step, can we make sure that can get to this part of the wall so that you can check it out?
And so I think those examples kind of illustrate what everyone else was talking about with how, while accessibility, I think, is a challenge, the cities and the locals in those particular cities definitely rose to the occasion to make sure that we felt welcome and that we could enjoy their country just like the Olympians that were in town two weeks prior to us being there.
MS. HEUMANN: I remember in 1972 exactly what was being said, that the Paralympics were not held in Munich – I’m sorry if I said that before – they were held in Heidelberg. So it was different cities, completely different. You didn’t have the same level of audience participation as you did at the regular Olympics, so I think the ability now for the Olympic Committee to have the Paralympics as a part of it and to look at issues of accessibility is important.
I think one of the other issues is standards, and that’s one issue that I believe the United States really leads on in the area of accessibility is the creation of standards. So if governments adopt standards, then there’s less ambiguity about how these new buildings will be built or how the roads are going to be constructed or transportation systems that’ll be built. So I think it’s another way that we can share information.
Have any of you had any problems with airline travel? (Laughter.)
PARTICIPANT: Who hasn’t? I think that’s kind of a universal thing.
MS. HEUMANN: Anyone want to share a story?
MS. HOSKINS: When we – in 2004, it was decided that all 300-something athletes would fly, excuse me – all 300-something Paralympic – so disabled athletes would fly on the same flight. (Laughter.) That was not the best idea.
MS. KWAN: How many wheelchairs and how much equipment? Yeah.
MS. HOSKINS: Exactly. More equipment got broken, people’s ball chairs got broken. We had to – part of my chair broke. We had to literally – my roommate had to FedEx something to Greece so that I was ready to play. And on the way back – and Renee and Stephanie, they know this story – where this story’s going. On the way back, loaded everybody on the plane, which took several hours because of all the aisle (inaudible) and people needed assistance onto the plane. While we’re coming back, this is after competition is over, everybody is loaded on and they announce that something’s wrong with the plane and we can’t takeoff. So they unload everyone again and have us come back the next day. All in all, we spent about seven hours loading and unloading from that plane without moving an inch.
MS. KWAN: How frustrating.
MS. HOSKINS: So yeah, that was a hassle. (Laughter.)
MS. KWAN: Emily, you had mentioned that there were broken wheelchairs, and I see you all smiling, but I’m sure when you saw things that were broken – I know when I have like a little knick on my skating – on my blades, I freak out. So, I mean, talk about expenses and how much things cost, because I think people should be informed. This is – it’s hard to be an athlete. It costs a lot of money and sacrifices.
DR. TYLER: And it’s such specialized equipment. I mean it’s not like you can just go get a replacement part at Ace Hardware and – I had a whole camber tube, which is the part that’s under your wheelchair that holds the wheels, and I really believe that an airline decided that it had a natural camber and bend to it, but I think they thought they bent it, so they tried to straighten it, and it looked like they hit it all the way forward. So my chair arrived, prior to competition in Spain, arrived on two wheels. So it – you’re just devastated. You are dead stuck in the water. Your competition is done until that gets resolved. And you can’t just go borrow a teammate’s wheelchair or a Camber Tube or whatever. It’s that specialized equipment, so it is a horrendous challenge in our travels.
MS. HOSKINS: Yeah. All these chairs are measured specifically for you, and we don’t – we have different chairs that we play basketball in. And yeah, I can’t just hop in Steph’s chair and be ready to play, because that chair is measured, every part – excuse me, stuttering over my word – specifically for her. And like Renee said, it is expensive. And just like any athlete with their equipment – and yeah, something breaks, it’s, “Oh, my God, what am I going to do?”
So, yeah, usually we travel with spare parts and things, but there have been instances where people’s chairs get – it’s not just, “Oh, I have to replace the tire” or something. I mean, there have been times where, like Renee said, where your chair is – I mean it’s destroyed, more or less.
MS. WHEELER: Yeah, and I think when you – like when you’re looking at cost of equipment, and I think in some cases, Track Chairs and basketball chairs are somewhat comparable in price, but if you’re going to get a competition chair that you’re going to take to the Paralympics to play it in the highest level, you’re looking at about $5-6,000 for one piece of equipment that’s going to allow you to play your sport at the highest level. Obviously, they come in a vary of price ranges depending on the level that you want to compete in. But if you’re competing at the highest level, you’re investing quite a bit of money in that one specialized piece of equipment.
So, yeah, when things are damaged or not taken care of properly by airlines – and I think there’s also attitudinal barriers that you encounter when you’re boarding planes, getting off of planes, but yeah, I think those are things that you can verbally correct or you can be polite about educating them in a certain way. But I think when you look at the equipment part of it and you look out of the window of the airplane and you see your chair falling from the plane to the ground, that’s kind of a moment where you can’t educate and you really can’t do anything but hope that it doesn’t break on the way down.
DR. TYLER: And there’s language barriers in this. I mean, we’re talking, when we’re traveling out of countries, you’re – the airline staff don’t necessarily speak English. So here we are giving specific instructions on how to take a chair apart or how to do this and it – there’s challenges in that, too.
MS. HEUMANN: How many of you know about the Air Carrier Access Act?
MS. HEUMANN: You know about that law? So I think this is an important point that those of us who use wheelchairs and other kinds of specialized ice skating equipment or (inaudible) or whatever it may be. In the case of the Air Carrier Access Act, which specifically addresses the issue of disability, at least we’re in a position where if something is damaged, the airline has the responsibility to repair or buy new to the cost of what a new chair or repair would be.
I know that in Europe, because I’ve been there a lot, and in Africa and Asia, other countries and continents, they don’t have laws like that. And so it’s a tragedy to get a piece of equipment broken or damaged. And clearly, when you’re participating in a sport, you need it to be ready right away. You don’t have a couple of weeks. But for the average person traveling as a tourist or someone going over to study or work, at least if they – if people are coming here and there’s damage to equipment, there is recourse that we have which will, in fact, repair or buy new the technology.
MS. KWAN: Renee, you had mentioned language barriers. And sports has always been sort of a tool where it transcends culture and language barriers. I want all of you as athletes to tell the audience what you’ve learned through the power of sports – lessons learned.
MS. HOSKINS: I’ve always thought it was really cool, because when you go, the two Paralympics I’ve been to and in the other competitions, it’s really cool you make friends with people that don’t speak the same language as you. And there is not a whole lot of communication there, again, because of the language barrier, but somehow you’re still friends with those folks. We’ve always been really close with a lot of the team from Japan, the women’s basketball team from Japan. And with things like Twitter, Facebook, whatnot, now you can kind of keep in touch with those folks. And it’s always really cool, although we’ve – still I can consider these people friends even if we don’t speak the same language. But like you said, Michelle, just that sport and that love of sport and the game.
MS. KWAN: Erik.
MR. HIGHTOWER: I mean, I kind of agree. I meet people all over the world who don’t necessarily speak the same language. But you just kind of find a way around it so you can keep that friendship going. And like most recently at the world championships back in June, they assigned two tran leaders for us, for our team. So it helped get over that language barrier. So they spoke English really well. They’re obviously from their home country, so they spoke French (inaudible) too. So if there was that language barrier, they were right there to help us kind of get around that. So I think – I don’t think language barrier is a huge issue because there always seems a way around it to communicate and kind of get what you need or whatever.
MS. KWAN: Renee, you want to share the --
DR. TYLER: Sure.
MS. KWAN: -- lessons learned through sport? Blood, sweat, and tears, right?
DR. TYLER: Yes. Well, I think, as you said, Michelle, I mean sport is a universal language. It doesn’t matter what language you speak. And when we’re on the court, we all know the same rules. We’re friends afterwards. There’s the camaraderie in the dining halls. I mean, I’m sure you’ve experienced that. It doesn’t matter. I mean, everybody is there doing the same thing, having the same love, the same passion, and exchanging pins or exchanging shirts. And then now Facebook and all the social media just brings that all together, that it doesn’t matter what language that anybody speaks. We’ve got friends from across the world. I know I’ve got friends, like, going back from the ’90s.
And like as Emily said, we don’t see each other, we haven’t seen each other ever since, but you’ve kept in touch and have been there. And there’s just that exchange from sport, from life, showing what’s possible. We’ve all – all of us here are examples for others in being – having the opportunities that we have in the United States, in education and careers and things like that. So that’s what we get to bring forth with all our interactions and universal language of sport.
MS. HEUMANN: And then Stephanie.
MS. WHEELER: Yeah, couldn’t agree more with what everyone else has said. I think my favorite part was, I think it was Athens, if I remember correctly. I don’t think I – I think maybe I came home with, like, one or two piece of my own USA apparel, because the rest – it’s so much fun to just exchange and give it away, and coming home with shirts from Sweden and Germany and wherever else you exchange shirts and jerseys and whatever it might be from.
So, yeah, I think the power of sport is universal. And it doesn’t matter what sport it is, whether it’s basketball or track and field or goalball, when you see each other, you know that you’ve sacrificed the exact same things to get to where you are. Whether it’s sacrificing time with your family, friends, putting in the hours in the gym that you need to put in, like, it has been a collective work ethic to get where you are. And so I think when you get there, one, everyone – it’s sort of a – it’s an internal celebration of okay, we made it here, we’ve all achieved this great thing.
And sure, like, we’re all here to win. Like I know (inaudible) we win, there was nothing that was going to get in our way of winning a gold medal, but there was also nothing that was going to get in our way of enjoying the experience as well. And I think that you can do both. Like you can go with a competitive spirit to win, but you can also go with a more, I guess, collective spirit of being at the games and sharing in something like that not only with your teammates but from 3- 4,000 people around the world. It’s a pretty awesome feeling.
MS. HEUMANN: I’m wondering, when you were communicating with people, people who could speak English or others, are there particular areas that you might have spoken to them about outside of sports? Did you get into talking with them at all about conditions in their country? I mean, I raise that because, again reflecting back on my first experience outside of the U.S., and it happened to be with Paralympians, it was a time that I also – when we left Germany and went to Sweden, I got to learn more about some of the policies that existed in Sweden that were different than policies that we had here in the U.S., like in the areas of healthcare. But did you talk with people, for example, about (inaudible) in the area of physical accessibility or education or stigma that they may or other disabled people may face, and the role that the Paralympians might have been playing in their communities like many of you play today in really helping bring about some broader reforms? Do you have any stories around that? We don’t have to go in order so that any (inaudible).
MS. HOSKINS: Yeah, I had one but certainly if someone else wants to speak up.
MS. HEUMANN: No, no, no. Go for it.
MS. HOSKINS: It’s not so much a conversation that I maybe had with another athlete, but this was a story of something that happened in Beijing that really kind of opened my eyes to the Paralympic and disabled sports scene about so much more than just sports. We had one day off in Beijing, and my parents had come over for the competition and so I went outside the Olympic/Paralympic Village that day and went and had lunch with my parents. And we were just kind of strolling around and we noticed this very old lady – I mean, I would say she was probably 80, maybe 90. I mean, she was very, very old. And she started kind of following us, and we kind of noticed that she kept following us. And she never approached us very closely, never said anything, and we kind of were like, “What’s going on here?” Like why is – she followed us into some stores, back out into the street. And didn’t think much of it.
Later that afternoon back in the Paralympic Village, I mentioned that in our – as Erik said, interpreters are assigned to the team. I mentioned that, and our interpreter said, “You have to understand that this woman wasn’t necessarily trying to be rude or anything,” because she was kind of staring a lot. The interpreter explained that prior to the Paralympics being there, as a whole, China was pretty closed off to people with disabilities. And the interpreter explained it that I’m probably the first person in a wheelchair that this woman had ever seen. It wasn’t that she was staring because she was – we think people are staring because they’re rude or whatever. It was that she had never seen this before and it’s brand new to her.
And that just – that kind of really opened my eyes. This lady has lived years and years and had never seen a person with a disability out in her community. And so that, I think, is a story that kind of highlights that it really is about more than just basketball, more about just – more than just sports.
DR. TYLER: Yeah, Emily, that’s a great example of what I was going to say. I think it’s not really an open conversation and I think (inaudible) and athlete in the Paralympic Village that these folks have been chosen by these countries as the top athletes and have a separate life path or sport path than.
MS. KWAN: So Renee, following up what you just said, what did sports (inaudible) opportunities that led you to where you are now?
DR. TYLER: Well, I was always an athlete, even before I became a person who used a wheelchair. So I was always active and athletic in sports, so I had that as a motivating trait to get accomplished, to have goals accomplished, to have school, and saw that importance. But in general, I think after having a disability and seeing what sports and Paralympic sports and basketball and all these different opportunities through sport that I had, I think I was able to take those opportunities that a lot of people didn’t have that have disabilities and become employed, finish my education, and have the dedication to help others that I can’t say that I wouldn’t have had it, but it must made it so much solid, so solid and so clear. And not easy in the sense of easy, like it wasn’t a lot of work, but it just brought all that together. Yeah, very clear. Very clear. And I’ve had a lot of opportunities so that’s – I wouldn’t have had them without the sport. Yeah.
MS. HEUMANN: Do you want to talk a little bit about some of the opportunities that have come about as a result of your participation in sports?
DR. TYLER: Sure. I think just the exposure to folks, to other people in other countries, my teammates, obviously, the opportunities to be here with you to have this hangout group. These are all folks that I met – Ann Cody and some of the other folks, we have all met through wheelchair basketball. And we get to have a really great message through my education, through sport and meeting people and connections and work and all of these things, definitely, are opportunities. Yep.
MS. HEUMANN: Stephanie?
MS. WHEELER: Sure. I acquired my disability when I was six years old, so I was pretty young and started playing wheelchair basketball when I was 12. And so I think for me, I had always sort of been drawn to sports overall but never really found an outlet to do so until I found wheelchair basketball. And I always knew that I wanted to go to college and wanted to have that piece of my life, so the way sport played a role in that is I was able to go to the University of Illinois, which at the time was the only place that women in this country could play wheelchair basketball. So I had the good fortune of going there, and then that’s when I learned that I could play on a national team and travel internationally and meet tons of people.
And I was fortunate enough to receive the opportunity to do that and earn the opportunity to make our national team, and then move on to receive my Master’s. I’m currently working on my doctorate as well. So educationally, it took me exactly to where I needed to be. And I think career-wise, it is my career now. I coach for a living and there’s – I can’t say what I would have been doing if I didn’t have my disability, but I certainly wouldn’t be coaching at a big Division I school and probably not coaching our national team as well. So it’s given me every opportunity that’s led me to where I am so far. And the lessons – I think one of the things that’s universal about sport, whether it’s sport for individuals with disabilities or sport for those without it, the lessons that you learn on court – when I – the first time I went on a basketball court, I saw that, okay, if I worked hard, if I pushed myself, if I was dedicated, then I could accomplish certain things. When I was 12, learning to dribble with my left hand was a huge deal, and so when I went back to math class I knew that I was going to be able to accomplish whatever it was I needed to accomplish. And so I think those things are so universal. They can be translated from what you’re learning on your – in your field of play to whatever you’re going to choose to do in life. I think that’s something that is absolutely has been an important part of my life. So yeah, definitely wouldn’t be where I am without sport.
MS. HEUMANN: I mean, I think it’s interesting too in particular comments that Renee and Stephanie were making as older people in this group, the changes that have gone on in the U.S. and I’m sure in other countries too, where more and more opportunities have become available, and the ability to now have women’s basketball, wheelchair basketball teams, to be able to coach, to be able to do many of the things that you’ve all been discussing. I’m interested in some of your thinking about what role the U.S. could be playing overseas to assist people in learning more about what it is that we are doing and how these changes have been benefitting people in the United States like yourselves. Do you have some suggestions?
MS. HOSKINS: Well, the Americans with Disabilities Act started here. (Inaudible) mentioned really briefly at the beginning the agency that I work for and several other disability-related organizations that were all housed in one building. We’ve been doing a lot of work with this treaty and everything and trying to push for it. The U.S. is where the ADA started and it’s kind of ridiculous that we aren’t willing to sign onto this treaty to continue that commitment to accessibility, to creating opportunity for people with disabilities, creating inclusion, because that’s all it is. It’s about equal rights. And I think that the U.S. really has done a tremendous job with trying to make everything accessible for people. We’ve still got a lot of progress – a lot of ways we can improve, but I think that it’s important on the international scale for the U.S. to really step up and communicate that commitment.
MS. HEUMANN: Thank you.
MS. WHEELER: I think another way to – if we look at it from a sport perspective as well, this past January, I believe it was, when the Office of Civil Rights issued their Dear Colleague letter to K-12 schools saying that now it’s mandatory that they must offer scholastic sport opportunities for kids with disabilities, K-12, whether it’s – and they couldn’t use certain things as excuses anymore. You couldn’t generalize and use stereotypes anymore, like “Well, they’re in a wheelchair, they’re – of course they’re not athletic.” Like, those – this Dear Colleague letter said you can’t make a judgment on someone on their ability to participate in sport on generalizations of disability or because there’s no one else at the school with a disability, and there were a number of things that were said in this Dear Colleague letter.
And so I think that’s something that the United States is now doing really, really well, is that this letter was issued to say no, sport is a right for everyone, and so individuals with disabilities should have these opportunities to play sport just like their same-age peers. And so I think in the next few years – I mean, this is something that was just issued, and I think we’re working through how schools are now going to begin to implement this. Money can’t be used as an issue now, saying, “We don’t have enough money to fund any more sports.” There have to be creative ways that schools and school districts make sure that, like Emily said, students with disabilities are included in scholastic sport opportunities. And I think now what you’re going to see is it’s going to move more towards the collegiate level as well. The colleague letter was issued just for K-12, but it can expand to collegiate sport as well.
So I think it’s a new movement in the States, but it’s something that I think we’re a leader in right now. And once you see – I mean, we’ve seen, obviously, litigation in this area in the past few years, in – like in Maryland and in Minnesota. But I think now, you’re going to see states now start to see that it’s the right thing to do instead of having to do it because they’re being sued. I think that’s a great example to the rest of the world on how they can also be inclusive in a sport environment for individuals with disabilities as well.
MS. HEUMANN: So learning from us and our sharing information more broadly outside of the United States about how some laws like the ADA have been making systematic, dramatic reforms.
MS. WHEELER: Right.
MS. HEUMANN: That’s one thing I’m hearing out of what (inaudible) saying.
MS. WHEELER: Absolutely.
MS. HEUMANN: Renee?
DR. TYLER: Yeah, and I think bottom line is U.S. – not to be stingy with what we know. I mean, we’ve worked really hard in the years to get the ADA – I mean, not to be ratifying and signing this treaty in the U.S. is – it’s kind of oxymoronic, it’s like it’s good for us but not good for you. And we’re really an expert. We’re really experts in the field of accessibility, equal opportunity, inclusion, non-discrimination. And here we are not even – okay, so if you take it even away from folks with disabilities in other countries, but our folks with athletes and vets and just people who’re traveling, I mean that’s – they’re shutting off employment, leisure, as you said, Judy, sports, education, access to all these things in other countries by not being part of this treaty.
And then there’s the personal safety issue for those of us who travel abroad not to have accessibility. There’s an access – there’s a potential for injury, lack of access to healthcare or having this health setback, financial loss. I mean, it’s huge. There’s so much impact is what I see for the U.S. not being a part of this, and especially for the athletes and veterans and general population of people in the U.S., even if we take apart not doing it for the good of another country. I mean, it’s like – this just doesn’t make sense.
MS. HEUMANN: Erik, I’m wondering, do you have anything to add?
MR. HIGHTOWER: Well, I kind of agree with kind of what everybody else was saying, with – like the ADA helping us out so we’re not being discriminated against in a work environment. So we’ll have an equal opportunity to get a job and not turned down just because we have a disability. And then it – and then how it’s expanding out even to sports, where – like college or high school, you’re able to make the high school track team, you’re not chosen just because you’re disabled or whatever. Now they have it so you are able to compete with your high school or college teammates at a high school or college event.
So I think it’s come a long way. I think, obviously, there’s still room for improvement, but I think the direction that it’s going – it’s expanding out. I think it’s good.
MS. HEUMANN: Any other comments that any of you would like to make? (No response.) Yeah? Stephanie?
MS. WHEELER: Well, I think just another area to touch on too about, like, where the U.S. is leading as well, I think – I’m not sure how long ago it was, a year or so ago, when President Obama also introduced an initiative to hire more individuals with disabilities in government and then in D.C. as well, and so I think that’s – it’s just another – like, as everyone else was talking, it’s another example that kind of came in my head about a place that we’re leading, I think a place where – a diverse workplace, I think, is a greater learning opportunity for everyone in that workplace as well.
So I think it’s the same way with sport, a more diverse sporting arena, and everyone’s bringing their different experiences to the playing field, I think that it only makes sport a better place, and it can only make the workplace a better place too. So I think when we see the impact that that initiative has had and we see more individuals with disabilities in the workplace as well, that’s another place, I think, where we’ve stepped up and been a leader.
MS. HEUMANN: Thank you.
MS. KWAN: And I just wanted to give you a quote from President Obama, part of his speech in 2009. President Obama said, “Disability rights aren’t just civil rights to be enforced here at home. They’re universal rights to be recognized and promoted around the world.” And it really sums up our conversation (inaudible).
MS. HEUMANN: So I think we’re going to end now, and I’d like to thank you very much. And I think this program for me has gone more broadly than we could have hoped. I think your stories really allow us to look both at the changes that have happened over the course of a number of decades, and opportunities that continue to lay before us, both within the U.S. – I think the example of the policy change that’s gone on in sport is really important, and it also then means that those of us with disabilities who are in and outside of sports and other supporters like Michelle need to also be reaching out to disabled individuals who have not seen themselves as being able to participate in sports activities, to make sure they learn about these policy changes and can begin to participate like their nondisabled peers.
So I would like to thank you very much for taking your time, for doing this. We’ve learned from what you’re saying, and we will definitely take some of your thoughts and suggestions and implement them in our daily activities.
MS. KWAN: I’ve been very honored to be with all of you at this Google Hangout to learn about your stories, experiences that you’ve had, and the challenges you face. And I know the audience appreciates your stories as well, and recognizing the power of all your voices, your experiences. So sharing with your peers, sharing with your friends, sharing – and getting out in the community and talking about (inaudible), this is very powerful.
MS. HEUMANN: So we’d like to thank all of you who are watching this, and we also know that you have great stories to tell, too. So I think if we can use this Google Hangout as an example of the importance of storytelling and the importance of motivating all of us to be able to do more, both within the U.S. and to look at the importance of ratification of the treaty, to help spread the word of the good work that we’ve done in this country – a lot of it which has been motivated by disabled people, with all types of disabilities, and family members. So thank you very much.