Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Acting Civil

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Acting Civil

Article excerpt

Deidre Davis, deputy assistant secretary of state for equal employment opportunity and civil rights, visits the Rehabilitation Center in Ho Chi Min City, Vietnam. Deidre Davis attributes her current success to her parents, Bernice and Hilton, and her unique experience in growing up as a child with a disability. "My parents gave me confidence, and the ability to get to know different people. They instilled in me their appreciation for differences. They also gave me the knowledge that I could set any goal I wanted and that I would have their support. Because of them, I never had any sense of fear or failure," Davis confides.

Davis is the deputy assistant secretary of state for equal employment opportunity and civil rights for the U.S. Department of State. Davis who has T-3 paraplegia (a thoracic-level spinal cord injury), was appointed to her current position by President Clinton in November 1994. Davis has served as the senior advisor to Secretaries of State Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright. She enforces employment discrimination laws on behalf of State Department employees, both domestic and worldwide. Discrimination may include the lack of accessibility. Davis gleams, "Being able to travel and see the world representing the United States is astounding. Sitting there with the people who are making a difference in the world, I sometimes have to pinch myself!. I may be in a room with people who are contributing to policies that are affecting people globally, and that's incredibly exciting."

Davis says her job has taken her to many countries that are at the very beginnings of developing accessibility, and that the problem seems to be an infrastructure that is so beaten up that accessibility is a problem for everyone. However, Davis emphasizes she has also been pleasantly impressed by such places as Paris, France, Capetown, South Africa, and Namibia, Africa.

A graduate of Howard University Law School, Davis decided to be a lawyer because of her passion for economic and civil rights issues. However, when her spine started collapsing in her second year of law school, and she had to get a wheelchair, she began to explore other options. "When I got my wheelchair, I realized that the places where I had been studying and socializing were no longer accessible," confesses Davis. "I began to think that maybe all of the multitude of experiences I had in growing up as a child with a disability were unique enough to help me advocate for others with disabilities." For Davis, it was one "unique experience" in particular.

Growing up

When Davis was six-years old, she woke up one morning and found she could not walk. Davis says of the event, "I remember thinking, `Hmm, maybe I'm still asleep. Let me try that again."' Only Davis was not asleep; a tumor on her spinal cord had temporarily paralyzed her. The tumor was removed, but doctors emphasized she would not walk again.

However, after nine months of intensive rehabilitation, Davis was able to walk with braces. Mrs. Davis remembers, "Deidre never seemed to be afraid, she never cried, and I think we took our strength from her. When she was very young, I remember she said, `This is my life, and I'm going to make the best of it.' I think she really has."

During Davis's rehabilitation, she had been homeschooled. Davis remembers, "When I was ready to go back to school, my parents decided that it was not conductive for me to go back to the neighborhood school because it was four stories high, with many steps." In other words, accessibility would be a problem. Davis' parents approached the school board and petitioned them to reassign their daughter to a different school. Davis remembers, they told my parents that they `shipped all of their handicapped kids' to another city. It didn't matter what your disability was, or your academic prowess, that was where they went." Davis' parents were against this educational homogenization and instead, set out to find an accessible full-inclusion school. …

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