A BIGGER MOVEMENT

Niko in front of the White House

Niko in front of the White House

(Originally published by Disability Rights Oregon)

Sixteen-year old Niko Boskovic won first place in a prestigious essay contest, and was selected as a delegate to an annual educational program. 

But, the program sponsor, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, withdrew his prize after learning Niko experiences autism and uses a letter board to communicate.

Our attorneys worked with Niko and his family to protest his treatment. In the end, the national board reversed its decision and allowed Niko to participate in the trip.

By: Niko Boskovic

We flew out of Portland on a very early flight, which got us into Philadelphia late Saturday evening. That evening, we started to experience that East coast heat I had heard about, and it never let up until we got back to Portland.

Young People from Across the World

The trip was a bit of a whirlwind! It started off as a group of Oregon and Washington delegates, and eventually grew to over 150 youth from all over the world. There were people from Norway, Finland, Sweden, Canada, and the U.S.

It was interesting to see so many young people in one place with one purpose: to represent the values of the Odd Fellows on a national scale. Over the course of 11 days, we did so many things, from visiting historic sites to touring the United Nations’ main chambers.

As we learned about the history of the U.N.’s policies and actions throughout the world, I was struck by how many of its policies will affect the futures of so many countries.

Now I know that means I need to speak publicly about our struggles and our gifts; about our hopes and dreams for the future; about our intrinsic right to dignity and an independent future.

Speech Contest

My fellow delegates and I also participated in a speech contest.  We spent hours working on our speeches. Then, we presented them before a panel of judges.

I really liked the speech of the young woman from Washington who spoke so passionately about science. All of the finalists were remarkable because of their desire to make a difference in the world.

Niko in front of a U.N. banner about including people with disabilities in UN development goals.

Niko in front of a U.N. banner.

Historical Landmarks

The fact that we got to see so many landmarks was a bonus. Awesome sites like the view from the observation deck of the Empire State Building, or the New York City skyline as you approach it by bus.

I’ll always remember the way I felt when I was standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial with all those people, and yet that moment felt so private.

I remember the way the water from the World War II fountain felt so good on my feet on that hot, muggy afternoon, and how the chatter from the girls I was hanging out with tickled my ears. The entire trip was a sensory feast, and I couldn’t get enough.

After spending so much time with this group of young people, I walked away feeling like I was part of a bigger movement, one that will make a difference in the world.

A Bigger Movement

After spending so much time with this group of young people, I walked away feeling like I was part of a bigger movement, one that will make a difference in the world.

The thing is, I already knew I wanted to fight for the rights of people with disabilities. I just couldn’t picture what that would look like.

Now I know that means I need to speak publicly about our struggles and our gifts; about our hopes and dreams for the future; about our intrinsic right to dignity and an independent future.

I am so incredibly thankful to the Odd Fellows Lodge that selected me for this opportunity and to Disability Rights Oregon for its help.

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TRIP ENDING

THE TRIP IS COMING TO A CLOSE. IT HAS BEEN A WHIRLWIND THAT HAS BEEN A MIX OF EMOTIONS: EXCITEMENT, ANTICIPATION, AND MAKING NEW FRIENDS. I AM ESPECIALLY GRATEFUL FOR THE PEOPLE WHO REACHED OUT AND TRIED TO TALK WITH ME. I KNOW IT TAKES TIME, AND KIDS MY AGE OPERATE AT WARP SPEED.

FOR THE TEENS WHO HAVE A DISABILITY, I WOULD STRONGLY ADVISE YOU TO APPLY FOR NEXT YEAR’S CONTEST. IT’S INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT FOR YOU TO BE HERE AND SHOW OTHERS THAT WE EXIST. DIFFERENT EXISTS IN EVERY ASPECT OF SOCIETY, AND WHEN ORGANIZATIONS SANITIZE WHO IS SHOWN, IT DOES NO ONE ANY FAVORS. I AM THANKFUL FOR THE TRIP AND EVERYTHING I’VE SEEN ALONG THE WAY.20121474_745117658993777_1972592196991605971_o

GOOD NEWS!

HEY EVERYONE,

I WANTED TO LET YOU KNOW THAT I AM DEFINITELY GOING ON THE UN TRIP NEXT MONTH! THERE WERE PEOPLE TALKING TO PEOPLE FOR A WHILE, AND IT FINALLY GOT WORKED OUT. I COULDN’T BE MORE EXCITED TO GET ON A PLANE!

I WANT TO THANK EVERYONE WHO SPOKE OUT FOR ONE AUTISTIC KID WHO HEARD THE WORD “NO” AND SAID, “WHY NOT?” ALSO TO GORDON AT DRO FOR BEING MY VOICE. TO MY PARENTS I AM ESPECIALLY GRATEFUL, AND UNDERSTAND THAT THIS IS MY DESTINY. YOU HAVE TAUGHT ME WELL.

News Articles about UN Pilgrimage for Youth invitation retraction

Disability Scoop: Following Uproar, Teen With Autism Will Make Trip To UN, June 20, 2017

KPTV: Portland teen with autism will make trip to United Nations, June 19, 2017

KPAM Talk Radio: First Edition with Tim and Terry, Loreta Boscovick – Niko’s Mom -Niko will go on UN trip after all, June 19, 2017

KATU News: Special needs teen wins battle over trip to New York, June 19, 2017

KATU News: Autistic boy who won essay contest will visit NY after organization rescinds trip, June 18, 2017

Koin 6: Teen with autism will go on UN trip after all, June 18, 2017

The Oregonian: Portland teen with autism will make trip to United Nations after all, June 18, 2017

Watch Well: Niko Boskovic and the Order of Exclusion, June 9, 2017

The Oregonian: Odd Fellows leaders need to do right by autistic teen: Editorial, May 10, 2017

Ability magazine: Teen is Stripped of Visit to UN for Having Autism — Ruderman Family Foundation Calls for Action, May 7, 2017

The Oregonian: Discriminatory decision will hurt organization: Letter to the editor, May 5, 2017

The Oregonian: Tom Hallman: A trip denied to a 15-year-old boy angers readers, May 5, 2017

#StandWithNiko    #LetNikoGo

Winston-Salem Journal: Our view: Rejection of autistic boy is dead-wrong, May 2, 2017

The Mighty: Niko Boskovic Denied Prize Trip Because He Is on the Autism Spectrum, Family Says, May 2, 2017

Disability Scoop: Teen With Autism Disqualified From Trip, May 2, 2017

Winston-Salem Journal: Winston-Salem-based Odd Fellows faces criticism after rejecting teen with autism, May 1, 2017

United Nations Program Denies Teen With Autism’s Essay Contest Prize Due To His Disability, May 1, 2017

KOIN 6 News: Teen with autism denied trip he won to UN, May 1, 2017

KOIN 6 News: Niko Boskovic application to UNEPY, May 1, 2017

The Lars Larson Show, May 1, 2017

Daily Kos: Autistic Teen Disqualified Contest Trip to U.N., April 30, 2017

Autistic Hoya: Ableist bullshit targets nonspeaking autistics/autistics of color. Also, the sky is blue. April 29, 2017

Daily Mail: Teen who won essay contest had prize pulled ‘because he’s autistic”, April 28, 2017

KATU 2: Organization rescinds trip to NY for autistic boy who won essay contest, April 28, 2017

KGW-TV: teen with autism claims discrimination, April 28, 2017

Family: Portland teenager denied national trip because he has autism, April 28, 2017

KPAM Talk Radio: First Edition with Tim and Terry, April 28, 2017

Tom Hallman: A Portland boy who won a prestigious trip told he can’t go, April 28, 2017

 

 

Letter to Obama Foundation

DEAR PRESIDENT OBAMA,

I AM WRITING YOU TO SEE IF IT WOULD BE POSSIBLE TO VISIT WITH YOU THIS SUMMER. I WAS SUPPOSED TO TAKE PART IN THE UN YOUTH PILGRIMAGE THROUGH THE ODD FELLOWS LODGE, BUT THEY DECIDED THAT BECAUSE I AM AUTISTIC AND RELY ON A LETTERBOARD TO COMMUNICATE, THEY DECIDED I SHOULD NOT TAKE PART. THIS WAS INCREDIBLY DISAPPOINTING TO ME, BECAUSE I WON MY SPOT FAIR AND SQUARE. I DON’T SEE WHY SOMEONE LIKE ME SHOULD NOT BE ABLE TO TAKE PART JUST BECAUSE I COMMUNICATE DIFFERENTLY.

THE PURPOSE OF MY TRIP WAS TO VISIT THE UN IN NEW YORK CITY, SEE MONTREAL, AND VISIT OUR COUNTRY’S CAPITAL AND LEARN ABOUT HISTORY. POSSIBLY, WE WOULD HAVE STAYED A LITTLE LONGER TO SEE MY UNCLE’S FAMILY. LET’S JUST SAY THAT THE DENIAL OF MY PARTICIPATION REALLY MESSED UP THOSE PLANS.

THE VERY FACT OF MY PARTICIPATION WAS A BIG STEP IN MY EXCITING JOURNEY AS A SELF-ADVOCATE. IT WAS ONLY THREE YEARS AGO THAT I LEARNED HOW TO USE A LETTERBOARD. SINCE THAT TIME, I STARTED HIGH SCHOOL, AND A WHOLE WORLD OPENED UP TO ME. I AM LEARNING SO MANY NEW THINGS, AND REALLY, I CHANGE FOR THE BETTER EVERY CLASS I ATTEND. MY PLAN IS TO STUDY SCIENCE IN COLLEGE. PERHAPS THAT’S CRAZY, BUT I’M GOING TO TRY. ULTIMATELY, I WANT TO MAKE THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE FOR PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES, ESPECIALLY THOSE WHO ARE LOW-VERBAL OR RELY ON ALTERNATIVE TECHNOLOGY TO COMMUNICATE. MY LIFE IS AMAZING, AND I WOULDN’T WISH IT TO BE AN OTHER WAY THAN AUTISTIC.

REGARDING THE TRIP, MY MOM SAID SHE WOULD TAKE ME TO DC EVEN IF THE UN PEOPLE DON’T REVERSE THEIR DECISION. WITH THAT IN MIND, I WOULD APPRECIATE MEETING WITH YOU TO SHARE MY VISION OF WHAT AUTISTIC CITIZENS CAN CONTRIBUTE TO THEIR COUNTRY.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR TIME,

NIKO BOSKOVIC