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PFP Program Spotlighted at AUCD Conference 2023, Shaping Emerging Leaders in East African Disability Rights

Published: Nov 29, 2023

Country: United States

This blog highlights the PFP program being featured twice at this year’s annual national conference of the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD), held from November 5–8, 2023, in Washington, DC. This event provided a valuable opportunity to spotlight the achievements of the PFP program and its participants. The following blog post was contributed by PFP staff.

AUCD is a membership organization that supports a nationwide network of university-based interdisciplinary programs. These programs are strategically positioned at universities or medical centers in every US state and territory and serve as a crucial bridge between academia and communities. By combining the resources of both sectors, AUCD network members bring about positive change for people with disabilities and their families.

Themed “Emerging Leaders: Shaping the Future," this year’s conference brought together clinicians, service providers, trainers, researchers, advocates, family members, and others for four days of sharing and exchanging knowledge, research, and best practices across diverse areas affecting people with disabilities and their families.

The emerging leaders themes aligns with PFP's mission to empower the next generation of disability rights leaders from Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Ethiopia globally. PFP serves as a bridge, connecting East African leaders with US organizations specializing in disability inclusion to foster collaboration, mentorship, and inclusive civic engagement.

In two poster presentations, conference attendees were able to learn about various facets of the PFP program.

PFP Program Director Dr. Heike Boeltzig-Brown and Program Coordinator Christa Preston presented the first poster, titled “Promoting Disability Inclusion in East Africa through Professional International Exchange: Impact and Opportunities for the AUCD Network” (Figure 1). The poster presentation introduced the program, highlighted key features, shared Fellow and host achievements, touched on outbound exchanges, and presented opportunities for AUCD network members to get engaged. View the full the poster.

Christa Preston remarked, "This was an exciting opportunity to raise awareness about the successes of the PFP program, demonstrating how cultural exchange and shared experiences develop emerging and established leaders."

A group of four women and two men posing in front of a poster mounted to a poster board in a conference room, smiling into the camera.

Figure 1 (left to right): Dr. Evan Dean, University of Kansas, Christa Preston, ICI-UMass Boston, Dr. Fiorella Guerrero, University of Florida, Dr. Heike Boeltzig-Brown, ICI-UMass Boston, Kelley Hartlieb, University of Alaska-Anchorage, and Dr. Evan Borisinkoff, Minot State University, posing in front of the Professional Fellows Program poster at the AUCD 2023 Conference.

Four Fall 2022 US Outbound Fellows prepared the second poster, titled "Mentoring East African Disability Advocates: Our Experiences in Uganda, Tanzania, and Ethiopia,” which offered more specific insights. The Fellows included Dr. Evan Borisinkoff, Associate Professor at Minot State University; Dr. Megan Roberts, Clinical Associate Professor at University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center; Dr. Wendy Parent-Johnson, Director of the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center (RRTC) and Professor in the Department of Counselling and Special Education at Virginia Commonwealth University; and Dr. Jerry Alliston, Associate Director of the University of Southern Mississippi Institute for Disability Studies. Presenters Drs. Borisinkoff and Roberts shared valuable insights into mentoring East African Fellows, their outbound experiences, and the impact of their work abroad (Figure 2). View the full poster.

Following the presentation, Dr. Roberts noted, “It was great to share about our international exchange experiences and the meaningful work we have done through the PFP. Members of the AUCD network were interested to hear how the exchange program impacted our programs and trainees locally as well as abroad.”

Reflecting on the conversations with AUCD network members during the poster presentation, Dr. Borisinkoff noted, “It was great to see that so many AUCD network members were interested in my outbound project and the products developed that could inform their work. I hope we inspired others to initiate civic engagement projects to help people with disabilities as well.”

A white woman (left) and a white man (right) posing in front of a poster mounted on a poster board and a table with materials, both smiling into the camera.

Figure 2: Dr. Megan Roberts (left), University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, and Dr. Evan Borisinkoff (right), Minot State University, in front of their poster at the AUCD conference.

Several past PFP hosts attended both poster presentations, actively engaging with the audience and contributing to conversations, thereby promoting PFP and attracting potential new host sites. These discussions continued informally over a dinner with Fall 2022 and Spring 2023 hosts and friends of the program, a tradition we hope will continue at future AUCD conferences.

While at the conference, Dr. Boeltzig-Brown, who has been involved in PFP program implementation since 2016, reconnected with Dr. Fiorella Guerrero from Peru, a participant in the Fall 2017 ADA International Fellowship program, and her host mentor, Angela Martin, from Wayne State University Michigan Developmental Disabilities Institute. The ADA International Fellowship Program was implemented by AUCD in partnership with ICI.

Dr. Guerrero, having recently earned her doctorate in rehabilitation science with a Fulbright Fellowship at the University of Florida, reflected on her ADA Fellowship experience: “I was excited to reconnect with the people and the place that made my non-profit, Warmakuna Hope, in Peru start in my heart. I’m so happy to hear that Wayne State University and the PFP program continue to do great work. “

An additional opportunity to showcase PFP emerged at the inaugural launch of the international special interest group at the AUCD conference, where network members interested and involved in international work convened to discuss ideas for structures and avenues to better coordinate international efforts, both ongoing and new.

Overall, the conference was both enjoyable and productive, with many AUCD network members expressing interest and submitting applications to become host sites. Dr. Boeltzig-Brown concluded, "I envision the PFP and its emerging East African leaders not only as a catalyst but also as a bridge, connecting US colleagues with their East African counterparts and the broader disability community. Together, we aim to strengthen our collective efforts for a more inclusive society and world."