While Kimberly, who has a physical disability, appreciated the vote of confidence, she knew that it would be people with disabilities in the Dominican Republic who would lead the change in their country.
Through MIUSA's Empower Partnerships for Inclusive Communities program, Kimberly's independent living organization was matched with Circle of Women with Disability (CIMUDIS) and Research Center for Feminist Action (CIPAF), to strengthen advocacy and leadership of women with disabilities in the Caribbean nation.
The three partners focused on enforcement of the Dominican national Law for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, as a vehicle for building a grassroots disabled women’s movement.
Recognizing the similarities with U.S. history, Kimberly shared strategies from the U.S. disability rights movement on how to move a good law from paper into practice.
"I thought the disability community there was going to be different. We all face the same barriers—just at different levels."
CIMUDIS and CIPAF incorporated U.S. lessons learned and their own diverse expertise and resources to launch a two-pronged approach:
- Educating community members on rights of people with disabilities to access business, transportation, schools and healthcare, and
- Reaching out to encourage government agencies to begin to enforce the law.
"I would have never been able to assist [my partners] with our project without actually visiting their country. I needed to see and live what our partners face every day," said Kimberly, explaining why the exchange component of the Empower Partnerships program was essential.
"I also think it was very powerful for the partners to visit our organization and our community allies in South Carolina. We were able to show our partners what we have learned about working inclusively in our communities."
The impact on the partner communities went both ways. Able South Carolina’s local public transportation system, vocational rehabilitation office, Commission for the Blind, a disability attorney, an organization serving families and the University of South Carolina joined the collaboration after the Dominican Republic team’s visit.
"I can’t compare anything I have ever done to this partnership. It was amazing all around!"
The Empower Partnerships for Inclusive Communities program is administered by MIUSA and sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) of the United States Department of State.