Today was the final day of my U. S. State Department International Information Program visit to meet organizations that focus on employing South Koreans with disabilities. I have enjoyed every meeting, every presentation, every person I met, and my new friends from the embassy. They make me proud to represent our country.
Our first meeting of the day was with the Korean Employment Security Association for the Disabled to talk about employment and the Disability Equality Index (DEI) founded by the American Association of People with Disabilities and the US Business Leadership Network. The 20 people in the room were all people with disabilities focused on creating employment opportunities, and all were very passionate about their work. They want to learn from the U.S., about successful practices. I spoke first and then I introduced Mary to explain the DEI. Mary was part of the DEI Advisory Committee that worked to build this benchmarking tool that scores companies on their disability inclusion policies and practices. She gave a thorough presentation and answered many questions. At the end, we were in a group photo and all of sudden they all shouted—“Lead On.” I was so shocked! I did not know that our friend from the State Department told them about Justin Dart’s famous words that I had taught at the Center for Independent Living earlier in the week in Changwon. I was just overwhelmed! The group was so appreciative and very gracious. They escorted us out and were thanking us as we left the building.
We left with the embassy delegates and went to a luncheon sponsored by Women with Disabilities Arts and Culture. We were with a small group in a beautiful restaurant with absolutely delicious food. The President of the organization, Mi Yeon Kim, was our host and she was just so wonderful. She is a woman with a disability. She uses a wheelchair, and is the sharpest and most professional woman. Her mentor is Judy Heumann and you can tell by the great impact she made. She was eager to learn from me how we have been successful in the U.S. in the area of working with private sector businesses to include people with disabilities. When the luncheon ended, she was so sad that I had to leave. She told me she had read about me and hoped she could spend a longer time with me. When she comes to the U.S. this year, we will get together.
After lunch, we had a short meet and greet with the Korean Differently Abled Federation. Finally, our last meeting and presentation was with the Korea Disabled People’s Development Institute. We spoke to about 40 professionals who work with people with disabilities to train them for employment. They wanted me to share how Bender Consulting was successful in the U.S. and other best practices.
When the day ended, I just could not believe all the people I met on this visit and all of the productive meetings we had. It was so exciting to spend time with my new Korean friends and see the hope in their eyes when we discussed employment. After all, employment means freedom—freedom to live like everyone else—the dream in America and in South Korea.
We may be worlds apart, but our fight is the same.