I was born and raised in Moscow, and I am hard of hearing. I studied at the Russian State Social University, where I learned Russian sign language. Around the same time, my parents heard from their friends about the Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. It’s the only university in the world in which all programmes accommodate deaf and hard of hearing students. And this is where I’ve been studying for the past six years.
For my undergraduate degree, I initially decided to study to be an interpreter for deaf people but later I changed major to international studies. This programme helps students to understand interconnection of sciences such as history, economics, politics, culture, society, and language. I earned this degree in May of 2018 and after that I decided to continue my education in the graduate school at the same university, enrolling in international development.
My master’s programme focuses on the empowerment of disadvantaged people, including persons living with disabilities. They teach us how to enable people to live a dignified life and learn to fight for their rights. We also learn how to conduct research on the problems of people with disabilities, and ways to build inclusive societies.
I learned about UNDP several years ago, when I was an intern at the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Geneva. I found out that some of the students from my university did their internships at UNDP’s headquarters in New York.
When it was my time to look for an internship, I sent my application to several non-governmental organizations in Washington and a week later UNDP got in touch. I talked about my experience in Geneva, where I got the opportunity to talk with people with disabilities from around the world and learn about their experiences in overcoming discrimination. So during my study at graduate school, I wanted to focus on the rights of people with disabilities both in the US and around the world. Shortly after the interview, I was offered an internship at the UNDP office in Washington.
My internship started in September of 2019 and lasted through December. During this time I had been compiling information about disability projects around the world. I have had to work with two sources: a closed internal database and an open website. While doing this research, I have learned a lot about UNDP’s work and its various missions in the field of inclusive development. At the same time, I found missing information regarding vulnerable groups, especially deaf people. For example, one project mentions the issues and needs of deaf people in one of the European countries just in a few sentences. Luckily, I was told that the website will update and upload more projects that are focused on persons with disabilities as well as deaf people.
I also didn’t know that when the UN created the Millennium Development Goals, disability was overlooked. Learning from this, the Sustainable Development Goals put a lot of focus on inclusivity and needs and rights of people with disabilities.
We have studied some of the UNDP reports in class too. For example, Evaluation of Disability-Inclusive Development at UNDP and Disability Inclusive Development in UNDP, from which we learned a lot about the situation with people with disabilities and what policies exist to address some of the issues people face.
I’m looking forward to graduating, so I can find opportunities to work on the rights of people with disabilities, particularly deaf people in my country, as well as around the world. To be honest, it’s hard to think of leaving Gallaudet because I have made so many great friendships there with deaf and hard of hearing students from different countries. But I am also determined to improve the lives of people with disabilities back home in Russia.
I have some ideas about how to improve the lives, for example, employment, social life and entertainment projects, small business aimed to serve deaf people; and doing more social and linguistic research. I am looking forward to exploring the challenges and opportunities. I want to prove that persons with disabilities can contribute to society and to the Russian economy.
Time will tell where I’ll find myself.