Traveling abroad guided by sounds
Justine Shorter was 14 years old when glaucoma and cataracts began to steal her sight. At 15, she was declared legally blind.
“I shed so many tears,” she remembers, as her life, even her mother’s face, “was literally disappearing in front of my eyes.”
But the communication senior did not let her sight disability stop her from pursuing a career as a journalist. She built a resume in high school and college comprising assignments and internships across print and online formats — but she wanted to do more than cross formats. She wanted to cross continents and cultures as an international journalist. So she did something that really challenged her inner journalist: She studied abroad.
“I always wanted to go somewhere in Africa,” she says. “I felt God pulling me there. I didn’t know how I could do it, but I knew it was possible.”
She did it by raising funds for travel expenses for two — her own flights and flights for a guide to help her navigate air travel. Her escort to and from South Africa was Matthias Seisay, Arts ’06, Grad ’11, counselor in the Educational Opportunity Program.
“We say we care about our students and will do anything short of taking classes for them,” Seisay says. “When Justine said she needed a chaperone, I said, ‘You got me.’”
Shorter attended a summer program offered by Arcadia University at the University of Cape Town, tackling internships with the South African NGO Coalition and Voice of the Cape, a community-based radio station.
“Many study abroad programs occur in countries that do not have laws that require access for students with disabilities,” says Terence Miller, director of the Office of International Education. “Fortunately, there has been some progress with identifying study abroad programs that have the necessary infrastructure to support the array of access needs for students with disabilities. Due to Marquette’s range of exchange and study abroad opportunities, we are able to work with each student to identify a program that is a right fit for them.”
Shorter admits earning her first international air miles was scary. But her passport is going to get a workout, starting this summer when she returns to Africa, this time to Uganda and Rwanda to attend SIT University’s Peace and Conflict Studies Program.
Yes, she’s nervous. Imagine navigating airports and cultures guided by sound instead of sight. Shorter says she is cutting this trail so that other students with disabilities see study abroad as an option for them, too.
“I want to be an advocate, be vocal about the needs and assists that would be most helpful,” she says. “It’s important for students to serve as their own advocates, and I hope that my own experiences will show them that anything is possible.” — JMM
Justine’s tips for students with disabilities when traveling abroad
✔ Be your own advocate.
✔ Plan ahead, and let the program know what accommodations you need.
✔ Request books in PDF and disk formats so you can enlarge the font or have them made into audio files.
✔ Work with program staff and drivers to get back and forth to classes.
✔ Walk routes, and memorize landmarks.