By SIT student Antonia DeMichiel
My name is Antonia DeMichiel and I’m currently a junior at the University of Oregon, double majoring in international studies and planning, public policy, and management. I’ve been studying and living in Buenos Aires for the past two and a half months with SIT’s Argentina: Regional Integration, Development, and Social Change program.
Last week, I began my Independent Study Project (ISP) period, a cornerstone of SIT’s program model and one of the aspects that led me to pick SIT over many other study abroad programs.
When I applied to study abroad with SIT, I knew I wanted to research an issue that affects people with physical disabilities. I was born with cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder that affects the muscle function in my legs. I use crutches to help me navigate the world, although my physical challenges have never defined me or what I’m capable of. This is why I’m so passionate about disability rights and inclusive development issues.
With my crutches, I have traveled throughout Latin America, Mali, and Jamaica to work with international nonprofits and local communities and youth on grassroots development projects. However, in each of these experiences, I looked for other people with disabilities within these communities, and never found them. This endless search for others who shared my background always left me with bigger questions that remained unanswered.
Every day, I face the numerous challenges surrounding accessibility in Buenos Aires. While some policies specified by Argentina’s accessibility laws—like putting ramps at the entrances to buildings and installing elevators—are far more progressive and well implemented compared to other cities I’ve been to, it’s very hit or miss as to whether these accessibility features are in working order.
Recently, I rode the bus across the city with my host family, and when we got to our stop, the bus driver couldn’t put down the wheelchair ramp or pull up close enough to the sidewalk because there were cars parked at the bus stop. This is just a small example of a much larger systematic problem.
In my ISP, I will examine the gap between Argentina’s accessibility laws and their implementation, specifically within Buenos Aires. Using a human rights framework to shape my research, I will investigate the barriers related to accessibility that people with physical disabilities in Buenos Aires face. To narrow my focus a bit more, I will be applying the skills I learned in SIT’s Field Study Seminar to conduct participatory observations in San Telmo and Palermo, two of the city’s neighborhoods with very different levels of accessibility.
For me, my Independent Study Project is far more than a program requirement or a project I’m doing for a grade that will transfer back to my major—it’s the culmination of years of travel, my personal goals, and my academic interests coming together into one.