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Personal Story
Chart in graduation regalia

Accessing U.S. Studies to Advance Disability Rights in Thailand

Chart traveled to the United States from Thailand to get a Master's Degree in International Public Policy and Management from the University of Southern California (USC) with the support of the Ford Foundation’s International Fellowships Program (IFP). At the time, he just wanted to get the top-notch education that the American system would open up for him. Just what he would do with that master’s degree would come later.

Having grown up as a blind man in a small town about three hours from Bangkok, Chart knew what it was like to live in a place with limited resources.

Personal Story
Hilda in middle of streets in Cameroon speaking with children with disabilities

Affecting Change on a Continental Level

Reflecting on her Mandela Washington Fellowship, the flagship program of President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Hilda Bih Muluh says it starts with public policy.

“If we can change the national policy, then it will change a lot for people with disabilities both now and even those in the future; not just one person or one part of the country, but the nation together.”

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Flowchart of Empower Partnership Model. 19 NGO in-country partners, 19 DPO in-country partners, and 19 U.S. partners formed 19 international teams which resulted in 57 organizations changing communities.

An Innovative New Partnership Model

Empower Partnerships created 19 teams, each a triad:  A U.S. organization matched with two partner organizations from another country, one disability-led and the other committed to disability inclusion.

U.S. representatives first traveled to their partners’ home countries to gain an understanding of disability access and inclusion in their communities.

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Map of Empower Partnerships for Inclusive Communities. States involved were: Arizona, California, Washington D.C., Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, New York, Oregon, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Wisconsin. Countries involved were: Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, India, Israel, Kenya, Macedonia, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nepal, Nigeria, Serbia, South Korea, Tajikistan, Ukraine, and U.S.

Empower Partnerships Program Unites Global Disability Advocates

Inclusive classrooms. Empowered self-advocates. Independent living. Media-savvy activists. Accessible health services. Adapted sports. Access to Justice. English literacy. Protection from violence. All these accomplishments -- and more -- are the results of a new model for partnership and professional international exchange, involving 57 organizations from 20 countries, including the U.S.

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Tara Wickey near green tea fields

More than Just Research in Kenya

In a village five hours outside of Nairobi, Kenya, with no electricity or running water, Tara Wickey, who has muscular dystrophy, was studying abroad for her graduate degree in Public Service Management at DePaul University. While there, Tara observed the ways in which Kenyans are responding to the HIV/AIDS epidemic at the government and non-governmental levels. “It was difficult and quite a culture shock. It made me appreciate and acknowledge all the developed world comforts I had come to take advantage of.”

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Team Serbia lined up behind a counter of food

Team Serbia: Tackling Media's Role in Disability Advocacy

Two partners from Serbia and one from the U.S. joined forces to reimagine the use of the media as a platform for disability rights advocacy. Media can be a powerful tool for empowerment. The rapidly changing media landscape gives people with disabilities the tools to tell their stories directly.

“The media have perhaps the most important role in disability advocacy,” said Jelena Jovovic of the Novi Sad School of Journalism in Novi Sad, Serbia. “We receive the majority of our information through the media and, based on this information, we form our attitudes.”

Jelena, along with Mima Ruzicic-Novkovic of Center Upright Living, a Disabled Peoples’ Organization in Novi Sad, and Beth Haller and Rhonda Greenhaw of Towson University’s Department of Mass Communication located in Maryland, USA, met in Serbia for a week to jumpstart their collaborations.

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Members of Team Mongolia with training attendees

In Mongolia, Rights Start with Inclusive Education

When asked why they had chosen to work together, the Association of Parents with Disabled Children (APDC) and All for Education! (AFE) National Civil Society Coalition made a simple but powerful prediction about their partnership: “Our voices would be louder together.” Given the challenge they faced, all their voices were needed.

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Children holding banner for Empower reading camp

Adapting Techniques for Literacy in Malaysia

Haziq sings a solo in front of his classmates at the closing ceremony of his weeklong reading camp. It’s a small crowd, and he hasn’t memorized the lyrics. Instead, Haziq is reading them from a screen at the front of the room. It may not seem like much, but to Haziq, it could be the very turning point of his life. And it took three people traveling halfway around the world and back to get him there.

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Team Dominican Republic of eight women gathered

Disabled Women's Movement on the Rise in Dominican Republic

Kimberly Tissot, Executive Director of Able South Carolina, heard the determination in the voices of her partners in the Dominican Republic: “We need to know how it is possible for you to be independent in the U.S., and how to make those changes here.”

Personal Story
People with and without disabilities flex their arms to show their strength.

Nothing Compares to "Travel with a Purpose"

When Mary Hodge, head coach of the USA Paralympic Powerlifting team, travels internationally for competition, others often approach her looking for assistance from the United States. In the past, uncertain of how to contribute beyond just money, she kept her interactions short. Now that Mary has connected with Armenians with disabilities as part of Mobility International USA (MIUSA)’s U.S. Department of State SportsUnited exchange, she has a different perspective.

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Maegan poses for a photo between two large rocks.

Speaking Out Against Injustice

Maegan, who is Deaf, lives by her principle of speaking out against injustices. Her first experience abroad opened up her eyes to international disability advocacy, a field that she’s dedicated herself to ever since.

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Screenshot of Yulia in wheelchair raising her arms outside

Video: A FLEX Student Turned Disability Rights Leader

True to its name, the Future Leaders Exchange Program (FLEX) had predicted wisely when it counted Yulia Simonova among its "future leaders" in 2001. Although over a decade has passed since Yulia spent a year in the U.S. as a high school exchange student, she claims that the experiences that shaped her there continue to serve her in her current role as a disability rights leader and founder of non-profit organization Perspektiva in Russia. Yulia, who has a physical disability and uses a wheelchair, created this video to describe how.

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Lizzie Kiama (right) and a friend wear helemts and smile for a photo

What Makes One Take Action?

How do short term international exchanges advance equal rights for people with disabilities? It starts with an individual taking action.

For Lizzie Kiama, a disabled activist from Kenya, an afternoon spent on a YMCA basketball court in Oregon, USA, gave rise to a new idea. “This was when my dream for Women & Wheels was born,” says Kiama who has a physical disability. “I had the opportunity to take part in Wheelchair Rugby, and I knew I had to play the sport again.”