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In the foreground graphic, a metal pole supports an orange rectangular road sign labeled “Collaboration” and below it, a green sign labeled “Portland Community College.” In the background photo, fir trees tower above a narrow road that bends through a forest.

Think Global, Act Universal

Some international education professionals share anecdotes about scrambling to find accessible housing and transportation options when a student unexpectedly showed up to the program site in a wheelchair; others recall students who took them by surprise by exhibiting signs of depression shortly after arriving in their host destination.

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In the foreground graphic, a metal pole supports a red octagonal road sign labeled “Policy” and below it, a green sign labeled “Univ Texas El Paso.” In the background photo, we get a close-up of an asphalt road with double yellow center lines as it rolls away in the distance through sparse landscape with some rocky hills and scrub.

On the Rio Grande, Dreams Matter

Cara*, a UTEP student with a mental health-related disability, could have given up on her dream of studying European art abroad on an expedition to Rome when the faculty leader expressed doubts about whether she could bring her service dog. Instead she sought advice from the university’s Center for Accommodations and Support Services (CASS).

When she did, CASS staff sprang into action.

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In the foreground graphic, a metal pole supports a yellow diamond-shaped road sign labeled “Funding” and below it, a green sign labeled “Univ Arizona, Duke University.” In the background photo, an inclining road with yellow double center lines rises towards reddish rocky hills below a hazy pink sky. Map markers show photo of a young white male student seated in a wheelchair with a dog in one and leaning against a camel in another

Funding Access to a Priceless Experience

That’s the idea behind many higher education institutions’ forward-thinking approach to ensuring that no disabled student is denied the opportunity to study abroad due to the costs of facilitating access.

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In the foreground graphic, a metal pole supports a brown road sign labeled “Advocacy” and below it, a green sign labeled “Univ Illinois Urbana-Champaign.” In the background photo, a straight road passes through shadows to bright sun as it leads to golden grass, green trees, and blue mountains beyond. A map marker shows Hugo Trevino in front of a Buddha statue

Advocating for Access

One of those students was Hugo Trevino, who developed his passion for international travel while an undergraduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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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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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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Team Macedonia of seven women gathered around laptop

Partners for Accessible Healthcare in Macedonia

How do you describe a partnership that not only achieves its goals, but transforms the entire way in which each partner works? MIUSA's Empower Partnerships program simply calls it, “Team Macedonia.” With support from the U.S. Department of State, MIUSA brought together organizations from around the world for a new style of collaborative program designed to advance disability rights.

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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.”

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Women in Kenya attend training

Kenyan Women Speaking Out Against Violence

Despite the pouring rain, women from all over Homa County in Western Kenya gathered in a classroom at the local college. The women came alone, or maybe with an aide, a guide or interpreter; some had a wheelchair, others crutches, but all came with a singular purpose — to learn about how to end gender-based violence against women and girls with disabilities.

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Wailing Wall and Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, Israel

Empowering Self-Advocates with Intellectual Disabilities

Stephanie Blum, who is a personal agent at Full Access in Eugene, Oregon, traveled to Jerusalem and Kiryat Ono, Israel as a part of MIUSA’s Empower Partnerships for Inclusive Communities program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. While there, she partnered with a nonprofit for people with disabilities along with a higher education institution to work on self-advocacy and independence for people who have intellectual disabilities.