Disabled Women Make History: Johileny Meran

Posted by Stephanie Woodward in Life After Paralysis on August 02, 2021 # Lifestyle, Disabled Women Make History

To celebrate the achievements of women with disabilities, the Disabled Women Make History blog series is based on interviews with passionate, determined, and talented women with paralysis. Join us monthly as we celebrate these women and acknowledge the complexities, struggles, and accomplishments of women with disabilities.

“I can never repay all the support I have received over the years to be where I am today so the best thing I can do is pay it forward.”

Johileny Meran on international travel, growing as a leader and giving back.

“I know from experience what it is like to live in an under-resourced community and not have access to proper equipment or support,” says Johileny Meran, a young Afro-Latina woman living in the Lower East Side of New York City, overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge. “I believe that by having better access now, it is my responsibility to work towards doing better for others as well.”Johileny Meran

Johileny is a Dominican immigrant who moved to New York City when she was 8 years old. She’s a world traveler who has explored more than six countries – not including the U.S. and the Dominican Republic. Her love for travel led her to become a Program Coordinator at Mobility International USA (MIUSA), a nonprofit dedicated to advancing the rights of people with disabilities through international development and exchange. Johileny specifically works on the National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange, an ongoing project to increase the participation of people with disabilities in international exchange sponsored by the U.S. State Department on Cultural and Educational Affairs and implemented by MIUSA. The Clearinghouse provides information to support students with disabilities interested in participating in purposeful travel (study, research, volunteering, interning, working) between the U.S. and other countries.

“From day one in my role, I learned from my coworkers the importance and impact of having a person with a disability in this role,” Johileny explained. “Many of my coworkers have disabilities, and in sharing information about participating in an exchange, I am not just relaying valuable information but also sharing my experience.”

Johileny studied abroad when she was a student at NYU's College of Arts and Science. At the time, she did not know about MIUSA, and she spent years researching different countries to decide where to study abroad as a woman in a wheelchair.

“Since I immigrated to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic, I was fully aware that disability access differed from country to country. I wanted to be sure that I would study abroad somewhere that I would not just be going from my dorm to the academic center but would also be able to explore independently.” Because of this, Johileny settled on London, England, for her study abroad experience.

Johileny Meran graduation

When she returned home, she attended a presentation by MIUSA and was blown away by the resources and information. “I remember my first thought sitting in the presentation was ‘Wow, I wish I knew about this when I was preparing to go abroad.’” After the presentation, she connected with MIUSA and was invited to share her experience as a part of an international education conference. Later, when she learned that MIUSA was hiring, Johileny was excited to apply for the position so that she could help more people with disabilities participate in international exchange opportunities.

Johileny doesn’t just give back by encouraging and supporting more people with disabilities to study abroad. She also volunteers her time to support youth with disabilities in the Dominican Republic. Johileny partnered with her friend and mentored Mariela Regalado, and a nonprofit organization, Latinas & Lideres to start United Promoting Leadership and Innovation of the Disabled (UPLIFT’D). This project aims to uplift youth with disabilities in under-resourced communities in the Dominican Republic by providing funding for disability-related accommodations while promoting leadership and innovation in the lives of disabled youth, in an effort to nurture a balance of interdependence. UPLIFT’D and Latinas & Líderes seek to provide these resources to uplift disabled youth to blaze their own trails to leadership and self-sufficiency.

The project’s first initiative is to Uplift Darvin, a teenager living in a small town in the Dominican Republic. The goal is to help Darvin get a lightweight power wheelchair and install a ramp in his home so that he can move more independently, and to connect him to disability resources in his community.

By connecting Darvin to disability resources in the community, Johileny’s efforts will provide Darvin with disabled mentors, which Johileny did not have until she was older. In fact, Johileny did not interact with any disabled people that she can remember until she moved to the US, and even then, she only interacted with disabled people her own age.

Johileny Meran scuba diving

“The first time I can recall having a formal mentor who was also a woman with a disability was when I participated in a scuba diving program called Stay-Focused. Before then, I looked up to young girls with disabilities that I was meeting at camp or through sports. I admired their disability pride, confidence, and joy,” Johileny shared. “As I got older, I wanted a mentor because I felt that there was no one I could really talk to or ask questions about growing up as a young woman with a disability. It is hard not to have that when there are so many misconceptions and stereotypes about people with disabilities.”

Because she did not have any mentors with disabilities until she was older, Johileny’s path to becoming a young leader was difficult – but she’s found incredible things along the way. “Many times, I have felt stuck, unable to find what I am looking for, wanting not just to do better but be better. I have started on journeys where I feel alone and along the way, I have met others who are doing amazing things too.”

Now that she’s on her leadership journey, Johileny has some advice for other girls and women with disabilities: “Your worth is not measured by your productivity. You have the right to just have fun, and to embrace joy in all things possible. Being a leader is not a destination but something that you constantly find new ways to do.” Johileny paused before concluding with, “These thoughts are just reminders. I am still learning what it means to be a leader.”

Stephanie Woodward is an attorney and Executive Director of Disability EmpowHer Network, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering girls and women with disabilities. Stephanie is passionate about seeking justice for marginalized communities - and has an arrest record to show for it. As a proud disabled woman and civil rights activist, Stephanie is committed to bringing more women and girls with disabilities to the forefront through mentoring and activism.

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