I try to live my life without much expectation.  I do this to avoid disappointment. Most of the time, it works. I came to Paris not expecting too much from it. I’m not disappointed at all right now – far from it actually. I feel like I’m getting a lot out of this experience internally. Most of this experience has been a real push-and-pull for me, but in a good way. I feel myself struggling to pick what my role is and struggling to answer all of my questions daily, but I don’t think this is so unusual for someone in their early twenties. I have to remember to keep my expectations reasonable for myself.

My internship has already taught me a lot: first, a sense of duality is super important for human confidence and well-being. Second, more policies need to be put in place for those with disabilities to allow them to maintain their sense of duality.

Maintaining comfort within dualism is the key takeaway I’ve had so far. I have essentially learned that we don’t need to reduce ourselves (or others) to one thing, and that we are all capable of being thousands of things at the same time. On a normal day, I can have 20 or more identities and emotions. I can be happy. I can be frustrated. I can surprise myself. You can surprise me. You can surprise yourself.

I’ve started to find the mundane processes of work to be pretty sacred, which is weird to admit. I try to stay as realistic as I possibly can, and lately what I’ve realized is that sometimes you have to make the sludge of work fun to be productive. Sometimes passions burn out, and even our highest interests involve some really monotonous background work. I think this background work is the most important part, however. But this work is, overall, pretty important – which is why I’m saying this. For important things to happen, one must be willing to work through the unfavorable processes.

I’ve been working on comparing rates of access to technical and vocational education for those with disabilities all around the world. Within a normal day writing and researching for this brief, I can feel extremely upset, disheartened, hopeful, optimistic, cynical, and bored all at the same time. Comparing numbers is the boring part. Finding the outcome is one of the fun parts. Hearing the stories, reading the laws, talking to those affected – that’s the rest.

Duality takes its shape in my work. I can see the barriers that societies and their institutions throw at us more clearly now, and a lot of the inequities come from being reduced to one thing that is based off of faulty generalizations and not being allowed, by society, to be two or more things simultaneously, in my opinion.

For those with disabilities, they are reduced to their disabilities when they shouldn’t be. This keeps societies from actually seeing past it, and it strips them of their ability to be so many identities at once. I have started to notice this type of behavior everywhere, and it’s just not cool to me. But I started to think that maybe it’s like work. Maybe this behavior can be reversed in societies by people who are willing and dedicated enough to figure out how to transform the sludge. Maybe that could be me.

I think people tend to forget that just because they aren’t experiencing something does not mean that it isn’t valid when someone else is experiencing it. I’ve watched and read so much about people with disabilities who are not able to find employment, even in countries that the West considers to be “developed”, like the UK, Germany, and the US. I’ve seen many debates from policymakers and reformers who express that things are “good” or “suitable”. I often wonder if it is because they have never felt that sort of otherness or if it is because they are reducing someone to being just one thing. I think the only way to reduce stigma around disability would be to give someone with a disability the job that creates policy about disability rights. It is one of my dreams to see this happen.

I think that if more people with disabilities were employed, we would start seeing disability as less of a personal problem and more of a societal one. People with disabilities aren’t the ones who “aren’t normal”. Everyone else are the ones who are keeping them from feeling communal and forcing them to feel like an other within their societies, where they should be feeling at home. Working at UNESCO has helped me to better understand disabilities and how societies can enable someone to feel empowered and cared for…or feel the exact opposite. No matter what someone has going on, I think everyone is capable of doing epic things. I think everyone should have the right to be two things at once, even if they challenge how a traditional society would understand their identities. I think everyone should have the access that they need to allow themselves to keep growing and forming new identities.

You wanna be a logician and a poet? Throw your heart from your axiom sleeve.

You are in a wheelchair and you wanna go up a mountain? I know mountains with cable cars. Go and find that cable car. Go make yourself the best version of a human Ibex you’ve ever seen.

You need a day of rest? Stop feeling guilty – have some sweet dreams.

You want to be a formal politician and a bassist in a metal band? Keep some corpse paint in your desk drawer, senator.

Stop limiting others, and you won’t limit yourself either.

That is what I’ve learned so far. I’ve learned that society should start allowing people the ability to become more than one thing. Someone can be disabled and empowered at the same time. Someone can be disabled and capable of anything, if society gave them the right means, the right capital, the right opportunities, and the right attitude for it. Maybe my brief won’t do this. Well, not maybe. My brief definitely won’t do this.

But it is a start.

-Iva