Today was the first day of my US State Department sponsored trip to South Korea for the disability program on employment and epilepsy. Last April, I was asked by the US State Department, at the request of the Embassy in South Korea, to discuss and engage with various groups about the employment of people with disabilities. I was so thrilled to see Geonhyeong Cho; who works for the US Embassy. I met him during my trip last year. We became friends, and he is a disability advocate and wonderful representative for the US Embassy. Epileptologists requested that I return to speak at the Epilepsy Congress. It is thrilling to have the opportunity to speak about a topic that is very personal to me.
Mary Brougher, my COO, joined me on this trip and our first meeting at the US Embassy was with a group of educators from various colleges who direct the students with disability support centers. It is amazing that in South Korea there are over 10,000 students with disabilities in colleges and universities, but the plight, no surprise, is finding employment. They asked me for direction on academic preparation that could increase the possibilities of gaining competitive employment. I explained that education in any of the STEM areas would increase the probability of gaining employment. As you may know, the US has a long way to go to see our own college graduates with disabilities gain employment, but the situation is worse in South Korea.
When I return to the US, I plan to meet with my customers who work on a global basis about employing college students in South Korea. At the end of the meeting, we did something we all love—ate pizza!
My next meeting was a Women's Leadership Forum with women with disabilities who are entrepreneurs or work as advocates in the field. From the moment I walked into the room, I felt at home. I loved this group—small but powerful. It was shocking for me to hear how much worse it is for women with disabilities than men in South Korea. There are many female children with disabilities who do not advance beyond elementary school. The feeling exists that they should just stay home. The group explained that sons are favored over daughters. One beautiful young woman who studied pharmacy said that even with good grades, it took her two years to find a job. She shared, “I thought hard work and good grades would mean employment, and I was wrong." Today she is a pharmacist and is also an advocate.
I loved the women I met, and I am determined to help them. I plan on speaking to Senator Tom Harkin about his international program, the Harkin Summit, and about working to advance disability employment and empowerment in South Korea.
It is day one and I am fired up!