I can always count on my sister, Bailey, to join me for a spontaneous movie. One summer evening, Bailey and I curled up on the couch to watch "The Iron Lady", the dramatic biographical film on the life of Margaret Thatcher. After the movie, Bailey walked into my room standing up straight, poised, with her hand resting delicately on her chest. She said, in her most noble and sophisticated voice, “Maybe I be the prime minister.”
Apart from the fact that my sister is not a citizen of the United Kingdom, Bailey has Down Syndrome. With an extra copy of chromosome 21, she will never be the prime minister, but that does not mean that she is incapable of learning, growing, and contributing in a meaningful way to her community. Bailey is in a period of transition between high school and adulthood and my family and I are thinking critically about maintaining her social, emotional, spiritual, and physical health. It is our desire to find social activities, educational experiences, and employment opportunities that are both fulfilling for Bailey and meaningful to the community. And being part of a family with a special needs young adult has spurred me to explore, to think out of the box, and to wonder how different countries facilitate mentally handicapped individuals in their communities during this transition phase and beyond.
- Excerpt from Watson personal statement
Just as Bailey is transitioning into a new routine, I too am discovering a new routine as I travel the globe as a 2013-2014 Watson Fellow. Always inspired by Bailey, I am spending the year studying how different societies support individuals with special needs. I am seeking out creative programs, engaged people, and innovative policies that work to include people with special needs in the community.
I recently graduated from Harvey Mudd College with a degree in Engineering. However, this year I am using my brain very differently as I learn how to travel, converse, eat, and live in a foreign country. Instead of thinking about engineering and homework, I am observing and engaging with the special needs communities in each country I visit.
In this blog I share my observations of special needs inclusion practices from around the globe. But I also share the challenges faced and lessons learned during 365 days of solo travel. Join me in my adventure - new routine indeed!