November 30, 2020

Happy Birthday, ADA!

Thirty years ago, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law, affirming the inherent dignity of every person, regardless of disability. The ADA protects prohibits discrimination by local and state governments; provides standards for privately owned businesses and commercial facilities, and against discrimination in the workplace; and, ensures equal access to healthcare, social services, transportation, and telecommunications. This landmark civil rights law has made a difference in the lives of all Americans - those with and without disabilities, helping us all live, learn, work, play, and contribute side by side.[1] Thanks to exchange alumni, the ADA has also made a difference around the world.

Take Faizan Raza and his brother, Jawad, of Pakistan, who had an opportunity to visit the U.S. as exchange participants of the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP). Through Abey KHAO, the brothers’ successful, deaf-friendly restaurant in Pakistan, Faizan and Jawad are bridging the gap between the deaf and hearing communities.


Learn how to make Chicken Karahi with Faizan, in this video


YALI Alumnus Champions Disability Rights in Mozambique

Returning home to Mozambique from the Mandela Washington Fellowship at Duquesne University’s Leadership in Civic Engagement Institute in 2016, João Vembane knew he was destined to help those with disabilities. Becoming a disability rights advocate, Vembane now leads initiatives that build capacity among local disabled organizations (DPO), supports skills-building programs for persons with disabilities, and draws on evidence-based research to improve disability inclusion programs.

She's Creating an Inclusive World, One Chess Game at a Time

Exchange alumna Keenese Katisenge set out to give a voice to those with disabilities by encouraging creativity and disability through chess. Envisioning a world where those with disabilities are treated equally, Katisenge drew on her 2019 Mandela Washington Fellowship experience to found Limitless Minds, a chess academy in Botswana that empowers and educates youth with special needs.


Tech CEO Partners with Embassy Accra to Educate and Engage Deaf Youth

Florence Toffa, a 2016 exchange alumna of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders program, has leveraged technology to equip underprivileged deaf youth and adults with the tools they need to pursue their professional goals and succeed in the workforce. Through a two-day event called Embassy Accra for Tech Camp Bolga, Toffa and her team trained participants in photography and in social media to enhance their communication skills and to strengthen their civic participation with society.

Congratulations to the 2019 Alumni Impact Award Winners!

Maria Monchari Omare is a disability inclusion advocate, social entrepreneur, and educator committed to inspiring change and hope in under-served communities. She is also the Founder and Executive Director of The Action Foundation, an organization working to improve the education, health, social, and economic outcomes of young children and girls with disabilities living in poverty. Maria has grown The Action Foundation from focusing on a small group of schools, parents, and learners with disabilities, to building a grassroots movement transforming disability-inclusive development in Kenya. In October 2017, she led the creation of Somesha, a program that is reaching hundreds of teachers through immersion workshops and virtual peer learning.

Through the Professional Fellows Program, Maria had the chance to do her fellowship with the Institute for Community Inclusion, at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. She says her experience in Boston helped her to see the possibilities for improving service in her community and identify huge gaps in early intervention services offered at home. Maria’s fellowship inspired her to build a support network of caregivers for young children with disabilities in Nairobi. She has also been actively involved in engaging local communities in the development and implementation of the national education policy for educators of students with disabilities. In 2019, she won aProfessional Fellows Alumni Impact Award (AIA) for her commitment to making a difference in her local communities.

America’s Songbird Lifts Voices and Diverse Communities in Africa, Europe, and the U.S.

Myrna Clayton set out to make a difference in the lives of disabled citizens by harnessing the power of music and culture. Having lived in Namibia throughout the Arts Envoy Program in 2019, Myrna’s main goal was to connect with local communities while sharing American culture through music. Myrna drew on her experience as she stepped into the role of Executive and Artist Director of Abel 2, a nonprofit organization focused on meeting the needs of people with disabilities and marginalized communities through music and art.

YSEALI Alumna Empowers Disabled Community

Nguyen Minh Chau is a powerhouse for disability rights advocacy. Having studied non-governmental organization development during her YSEALI Professional Fellows Program in Vietnam in 2016, she applied her interest in disability rights by training others on how to run effective communications campaigns and messaging. With an aim to raise awareness of the challenges people with disabilities face everyday, Chau has reached thousands in her country – and globally – as she seeks to empower those with disabilities to carve out meaningful and successful lives.




Armenian Alumni Support Youth with Disabilities through Dance and Film

A team of Armenian alumni have showcased their support for disabled youth by collaborating with professional dancers in a public performance. 80 dancers of all abilities gathered on the steps of Cafesjian Center for the Arts in Yerevan in 2016, waltzing in a flash mob to the tune of “Waltz of the Flowers” by Peter Tchaikovsky. The flash mob is part of a winning 2019 Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund (AEIF) project titled “Unlimited Movement” led by a team of five Armenian exchange alumni to promote inclusivity and highlight the talent of those with disabilities.

Raising Disability Awareness in Venezuela | International Exchange Alumni

Fueled by his exchange experience during the International Visitor Leadership Program, Juan Angel returned to his home country in Venezuela determined to make a difference in the lives of those with disabilities. To do this, Angel implemented a series of events across Venezuela to commemorate International Deaf Week, and, with creativity and hard work, generated multiple partnerships with public and private institutions, as well as government municipalities, to generate greater awareness of the Deaf community.


FLEX City Representative Strengthens Alumni Community

For Azat Toroev, equipping disabled youth with the skills they need to become successful in their communities was inevitable. After his exchange experience in Fort Collins, Colorado with the Future Leaders Exchange Program piqued his interest in community service, Toroev drew on what he learned to empower disabled youth in his hometown of Tokmok, Kyrgyzstan. He made certain that girls and persons with disabilities are not hindered by institutional and societal barriers, and introduced initiatives to equip youth with leadership skills. Eventually, stepping into the role as FLEX City Representative in the town, Toroev is responsible for strengthening the alumni community and supporting their own community service endeavours.

IVLP Alumnus Champions Disability Rights in India | International Exchange Alumni

Guided by his 2014 experience in the International Visitors Leadership Program, Arman Ali advocates for sustained change in the laws governing disability rights in India. Following his exchange experience, he collaborated with government officials, NGOs, and advocacy organizations to develop a new draft law of the Persons with Disabilities Act, which promotes equality and fair treatment for all citizens across seven states in north-eastern India. Arman garnered national recognition for his efforts, and in 1998 was awarded the “Public Recognition for Outstanding Performance” award by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment in India.

Helping Children Live Without Limits in Uzbekistan | International Exchange Alumni

Tatyana Chabrova was deeply touched by her 2006 exchange experience with the International Visitors Leadership Program, and she brought what she learned to empower youth with special needs in her home country of Uzbekistan. Focusing on gender and women’s issues during her exchange program, Chabrova applied her knowledge to equip children with the practical skills to succeed beyond the classroom. As she works tirelessly to make the lives of children with disabilities more meaningful, Chabrova has in turn strengthened the surrounding community and helped her hometown to become more inclusive toward those with disabilities.

Creating Affordable 3D Prosthetics in Argentina | International Exchange Alumni

During his 2013 National Youth Science Camp (NYSC) exchange, Gino Tubaro was inspired by a seminar on the innumerable possibilities of 3D printing, and drew on his exchange experience to support children with disabilities through the creation of 3D printed prosthetics. Embracing the overlap between technology and youth rights advocacy in Argentina, Tubaro co-founded Darwin Research, a non-profit that explores using modern technologies, such as 3D printing, to find innovative solutions for pressing challenges facing society.

Fall 2015 Alumni Impact Award Winners Selected for the Professional Fellows Congress

Andrey Tikhonov is a long-time activist for disability rights. Crediting his 2013 exchange experience with American Councils for International Education, Andrey was inspired by his time working with Chicago Lighthouse, a non-profit that serves the blind, visually impaired, disabled, and Veteran communities, to continue serving the disabled. Since his return to Russia, Andrew has worked to empower persons with disabilities through various forms of rehabilitation and to teach them how to live and succeed in their communities. His fellowship continues to inspire him as he advocates tirelessly for disability rights, and, working together with his wife, he hopes to empower young citizens with disabilities to find adequate mechanisms to protect their rights. They have set up a training course which teaches young people with disabilities to be active and to develop their own critical thinking skills through discussions on human and disability rights, as well as democracy and freedom. Andrey continues to maintain ties with his former host organization and to create linkages with fellow alumni through co-projects.

Exchange Alumni Partner with Kuwait Oil Company to Support Opportunities for Disabled Individuals

Exchange alumni Nora Al-Othman and Abdul Aziz Al-Mutairi turned toward the private sector to support citizens who have disabilities in Kuwait. Partnering with Training Gate International (TGI), a leading organization in assessing the needs of the disabled community in Kuwait, the alumni sought to educate and equip disabled citizens with the skills to succeed in the educational system, workforce, and society. Al-Othman attributes much of their success, including the rapid and sustained growth of TGI, to what she learned during her IVLP exchange experience.

Disability is Diversity: Dr. Christie L. Gilson Shares her Story

Dr. Gilson knows first-hand the challenges a disability can pose, as she herself grew up with a visual impairment. Choosing not to let her disability hinder her curiosity and zeal for adventure, Dr. Gilson embarked on a Fulbright exchange program in China, where, traveling alone at times, she learned the value of courage and independence. Now an Assistant Professor of Education at Moravian College, Dr. Gilson is also the first disabled person to have been appointed by U.S. President Barack Obama to the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board. Dr. Gilson attributes her professional success to critical lessons learned throughout her exchange experience, including resilience, a resolution to never give up, and a bit of stubbornness.

Exchange alumni across the world are leading the effort in championing the rights of those with disabilities. To recognize the groundbreaking legislation of ADA, ECA launched the ​Access for All campaign to highlight the State Department’s commitment to promoting equal opportunities for persons with disabilities, and this program showcases ECA’s effort to provide inclusive opportunities for those seeking to harness international exchange. The collective work of alumni supporting the rights of disabled citizens and making a tangible difference in the lives of those with disabilities can be found on the Americans with Disabilities Act 30th Anniversary Facebook Page.

[1] ADA 30th Anniversary

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