Advancing disability rights and leadership globally®

If we want to have leaders in the fields of international development and humanitarian assistance, who have the knowledge and skills to systematically include people with all types of disabilities, then we need to teach university-level courses on disability rights and inclusion with a human rights lens. That is just what MIUSA has been doing at the University of Oregon for over 20 years.

MIUSA staff teach the Global Perspectives on Disability course for both undergraduate and graduate students, which is cross-listed in Global Studies and Special Education departments. The inter-disciplinary course is open to students on any career path, such as nonprofit management, psychology, women’s studies, family and human services, and global health.

The class covers a variety of topics, including gender equality, disability rights policy and legislation, inclusive international development, deinstitutionalization, and disability leadership. The course is also interactive, emphasizing group learning and problem-solving real-life scenarios. Students are challenged to find creative solutions, based on concepts learned in class, course readings, as well as their own experiences. We also learn so much from enthusiastic students who come with their own innovative ideas.

Understanding Disability in a Global Context

One highlight of the course has been bringing in expertise of leaders from around the world who join as guest speakers through Zoom. We invite international development practitioners representing organizations such as Women’s Refugee Commission, World Vision, National Democratic Institute (NDI), CBM, International Disability Alliance, and the United Nations. We also invite many accomplished women leaders with disabilities, such as MIUSA alumni from Haiti, El Salvador and Cameroon, and other countries who share their experiences and insights from their country context.

Perhaps what is most surprising, and indeed shocking, is that many students often say they are about to graduate and have never had a course that talks about the history of the U.S. disability rights movement. Very few students have heard of the 26-day sit-in staged by people with disabilities and their allies at the Health, Education and Welfare building in San Francisco in 1977. It was the longest, unarmed takeover of a federal building, which led to the passage of Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, and was the predecessor to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Students also often note they have never encountered the human rights perspective in a disability studies class. In addition, they have never learned about strategies for including people with disabilities as leaders and beneficiaries in international development.

Empowering Tomorrow’s Leaders

We believe that every university should require students to take at least one or more courses that have a disability rights and inclusion perspective before they graduate. This would enable more organizations to have innovative leaders which could stop the discrimination that so often occurs in international development and humanitarian work.

We believe the Global Perspectives on Disability class is making a positive difference for students with and without disabilities from any academic discipline. Students reflect at the end of each term on the impact the course will have on their future career aspirations:

“As a development practitioner, the academic concepts discussed and addressed in this course have empowered me with the knowledge to integrate effective, inclusive and practical insights into my future research, policy recommendations, and projects; for example, the strategies shared regarding budgeting, reasonable accommodations, collaborations, etc.…I was relatively informed before, but now I have actionable insights to turn my informed ideas into impactful realities.” – Graduate student, Global Studies

“The Global Perspectives on Disability class has impacted me in so many ways, inside and outside of school. It truly offered so many perspectives, (some that were completely new to me), about what it is like to be a person with a disability in our society globally. I was taught how to be a good ally to persons with disabilities, and to notice how our society is fit to accommodate persons with disabilities. I now have a greater understanding of the history and current issues that people with disabilities face.”  – Junior undergraduate student, Psychology major/ Global Health minor

“I enjoyed the videos and guest speakers that came in to share their personal stories. Hearing the passion and empowerment through the voices of these advocates is something that cannot be taught in textbooks. In my opinion, this class should be taught to everyone to spread awareness and inform students on issues so prevalent, especially in today’s society.” – Senior undergraduate student, Family and Human Services major

We know other universities are also offering classes that may be similar to this and we are always open to sharing our syllabus and finding ways to enhance the course content. We will continue to expand possibilities for this class and hope to create a similar online version of the class, which would be available as a certificate course for anyone via Zoom.

MIUSA would like to thank everyone who makes this class possible and to extend special gratitude to the University of Oregon’s Division of Equity and Inclusion for sponsoring this course and supporting the University of Oregon in being a leader in disability inclusion.

Advancing disability rights and leadership globally®

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