In honor of the Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs new campaign called “Lives Without Limits,” which promotes the importance of including persons with disabilities in international exchange program, Fulbright Schuman Awardee, Thomas Keating, shares his experiences.
Washington Times: Physically Limited, with Unlimited Possibilities
When I arrived at Dulles International Airport near Washington DC in October 2012 as part of the Fulbright-Schuman class of 2012-2013, I took a deep breath. I asked myself a question: “How did I get here?” My answer, I decided, was that I had earned it, but the truth is, without the help of many, most especially my family, I would not be where I was at that moment. I knew that, being physically disabled, I was working against the grain. While I have never believed that your fate is determined by your circumstances, good old ‘conventional wisdom’ suggested that I should never have been in a position to take that opportunity. This, quite frankly, is society’s problem, for everyone on this planet, particularly those with disabilities have opportunities and possibilities and the truth is that no wheelchair was ever going to stop me from fulfilling a dream. Maybe the practicalities of personal assistants and accommodation were, but I knew in my heart of hearts that these issues would be solved.
Having had the opportunity earlier in my university education to partake in the ERASMUS international exchange program in Universitaet Marburg and the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, I was already familiar with the concept of being away from home and remembered my ERASMUS experience as enlightening and the experience opened my eyes to the possibilities of disability. Yet, Fulbright was the longest I was ever away from home and there was a sense of apprehension at the realization that everything needed to be set up before I could be left to my devices in DC.
However, now over a year since I landed in Dulles, I can say that Washington DC was a life-altering opportunity for me to experience a fantastic city and I was never more independent than I was in DC, using the Metro to sample the educational, cultural and power-hungry delights of the city named after the first president. I met power brokers and presidents, ordinary Washingtonians and people down on their luck. At every moment, I always thought of the fantastic opportunity that DC was for me and aside from the academic, the city has a special place in my heart and I can’t wait to visit again the place where the mantra of ‘limitless possibility’ gained new credence and strength. I remain eternally grateful to Fulbright, my home university, University of Limerick, my host university, American University Washington DC, the people I met, my personal assistants and most importantly my family, for an experience that remains dear to my heart and a country and city I will be most certainly be back to.
For more information on the Lives Without Limits campaign please click here.