Always Learning in D.C.

Always Learning in D.C.

This week was quite educational for me, and  I feel that it is important to update you on what I am learning here in D.C. So over the past few days, I went to a panel at a think tank, as well as the educational sessions of my civic engagement project. I thoroughly enjoyed both events, as I think I became more engaged in the community and knowledgeable about topics that one does not think about daily.

Think Tanks

On Wednesday, the Cato Institute hosted a panel conference event on the topic of the transition from Communism in Europe twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The speakers were all very impressive and provided accounts on the economic problems that countries faced, which countries were more successful in transitioning towards a consolidated democratic regime, the reforms created, and the outcomes of leadership.


The culmination of the event was an address by former President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili. Saakashvili was President of Georgia from 2008 to 2013. Throughout the panel, it was raised that Georgia was one of the most successful countries in their political and economic transition after the fall of the Berlin Wall.  Through a series of widespread reforms that former President Saakashvili implemented, he argued that Georgia became a country with functioning institutions, more opportunities, and safety. He also said that the citizens changed their mentality and were no longer accepting of nepotism and corruption in government. Ultimately, I thought that former President Saakashvili’s point was that a successful transition comes from a leader that is willing to change, and with that, individuals within the government will follow that example. As Saakashvili is no longer in power in Georgia, he views the current situation as somewhat troubling since oligarchs are moving in to businesses and nepotism is increasing in the government.

 

There was really bright lighting on the stage, but if you were wondering, that is Saakashvili speaking

 

One of the most memorable things of the day was when a tornado warning for D.C. went off, and nobody knew what to do or what the sounds going off were for. Saakashvili, just kept on speaking through it despite the noise. Most think tanks put their ideological spin on the topics presented, but in the end, it is interesting hearing arguments in many different points of view. I would definitely recommend going to events at think tanks while in D.C. If all else fails, there is usually a free lunch at the end for attendees.

Disability Rights Civic Engagement Project

On the weekend, I had my first civic engagement project meetings. Since I chose the Disability Rights project, the educational component occurred on one weekend. I decided to do the Disability Rights project because it is an issue that affects millions of people, and it is either directly or indirectly part of our daily lives.


Many speakers came in to talk to our group about the history of the disability rights movement, the Americans with Disabilities Act, transportation accessibility, universal design for learning, and equality of opportunity. Ultimately, I learned that there are over 50 million Americans who are disabled and worldwide, a billion people are affected by a disability. Although we may not have a disability, chances are that you know somebody who does. A quote that sums up the need to consider disability rights was that “the disabled are the only minority group you can join at any time”. Circumstances can change quickly, and potentially aging into a disability renders the topic important for all to think about not only now, but also going forward in life.


It is important not only to think about improving disability rights through easier access but also to be innovative and creative in coming to solutions.  For example, going through D.C., many Metro stations have fare gates that are wider to accommodate wheelchair users, but it is often the case that elevators are not in operation which makes transportation a great inconvenience for a large number of individuals. With regards to education, I think that it is important to look at more ways to incorporate students with disabilities in classrooms through universal design. Educators can look at alternative ways to approach a topic or find different ways to include all students so that school is truly an inclusive space. Knowing that many lives are affected by disabilities in one form or another, it is important to advocate for disability rights and to bring attention to them. One of the international treaties that the United States could ratify would be the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.


After learning about disability rights in the United States, I am looking forward to volunteering and helping out locally. I think this is an issue that deserves much more attention since so many are affected by it, and we could all be affected in the future as well.

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