Before our attendance at the Global Ties 2019 National Meeting last week, we were glad to host a delegation of State Department IVLP visitors from Uzbekistan who made the journey to San Antonio to learn more about what local organizations are doing to support and advocate for young people with disabilities. The variety of organizations and support options available in San Antonio truly impressed our visitors and made for an excellent program.
Their time in San Antonio began with a stop at the one-of-a-kind Morgan’s Wonderland. As an amusement park and non-profit organization designed to be accessible to all, the visitors were thoroughly impressed by the array of attractions at the park. Adaptive swings allowed those using a wheelchair to enjoy the playground; sight and sound warning systems in the waterpark ensured that children of any sensory ability could have fun there; most of all, however, visitors discovered an ethos and a careful attention to detail that permeated every minutia of the park’s design from sidewalks to resource centers to cuisine to activities.
Following that meeting, the visitors were led to the neighboring organization of STRAPS, South Texas Regional Adaptive and Para Sports, which works to provide specialized sports programming for children and adults. Since Morgan’s Wonderland has become a hub for disability services, STRAPS has positioned themselves nearby to provide athletic events at Morgan’s Wonderland while also serving the wider region. Visitors were impressed by their range of programs across countless sports that they adapt to serve those in their community.
After a stop for lunch, visitors were treated to the refurbished, post-industrial Pearl area of town where they stopped at the San Antonio Area Foundation’s new office space in the middle of a former brewery. At the Area Foundation’s office space, visitors met with the Children’s Association for Maximum Potential (CAMP). CAMP is an amazing organization which works to create low-cost camp experiences for children with special needs. They never turn away a CAMPer based on ability, and through a conscientious group of volunteers, medical professionals, and paid staff, they ensure that CAMP participants get everything they need while participating in activities they might not have thought possible, like horseback riding, archery, fishing, or boating. Visitors were really moved by their touching videos of CAMPer’s experiences.
The next day, IVLP participants were back at it again with a visit to the University of Texas at San Antonio and their Student Disability Services Department. There, they met with the Executive Director, Dr. Dianne Hengst, and talked about all of the ways UTSA serves their students with disabilities, including counseling and referral services, proctoring help, accessibility compliance, and even volunteer note-taking.
From there, the group took a break for lunch before reconvening at the University of the Incarnate Word to talk with representatives of Disability Rights Texas. Their team of attorneys acts as the major disability advocacy group in the state of Texas and fights to protect the civil rights of those with disabilities. Julia Longoria and Brittany Whittle who met with the visitors talked about their work with schools and local interest groups to inform youth and parents about their rights and how to advocate for them. The group was really inspired by their passion for social justice and their impressive workload.
Overall, between all of these appointments and the beautiful backdrop of San Antonio, these International Visitor Leadership Program participants from Uzbekistan were able to really enjoy their educational, professional exchange and their free time exploring the city. It helped them put into focus some of the best ways for enforcing the rights of youth with disabilities, creating a non-profit infrastructure with long-term viability, advocating for effective policy, and ensuring multi-faceted assistance models. SACIV looks forward to hosting more of these groups in the future!