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A New Horizon: Exploring Disability Inclusion Practices in America

Published: Jun 19, 2024

Country: Tanzania

Clara Peter Maliwa is a 2024 Fellow in the Professional Fellows Program on Inclusive Civic Engagement. This program is sponsored by the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and is administered by the Institute for Community Inclusion (ICI) at the University of Massachusetts Boston in partnership with Humanity and Inclusion (HI). The following blog post was written by guest author Clara.

The wait is finally over! I am thrilled to share my experience of exploring the best practices for disability inclusion in America. Writing from Sacramento, California, USA—a place I had dreamt of visiting for years—I owe this incredible opportunity to the Professional Fellows Program (PFP), which turned my dream into reality.

My journey began with a long but exhilarating flight with Air France via Paris to Logan Airport in Boston. Upon arrival, I was warmly welcomed by the passionate PFP staff, Heike Boeltzig-Brown and Christa Preston, who drove me to the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel. The excitement of connecting with other Fellows from Kenya and Uganda was indescribable. A particularly inspiring moment was discovering the braille room numbers for the visually impaired, a testament to the PFP team's unwavering support and assistance as I navigated my arrival in America.

Alt Text: A light skinned woman with red hair, wearing black glasses, black pants, and a black shirt that reads “My Story, My Life,” stands in front of an office desk.
Figure 1: Me standing in front of the Institute for Community Inclusion’s reception desk.

Listening to presentations from my peers made me realize how far East Africa still has to go in terms of inclusive civic engagement. This realization underscored the importance of our mission in America: to learn and bring back the best practices to our homeland. The power of storytelling became evident through the inspiring narratives of Mary Mahon McCauley, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Office on Disability, and Steven Higgins, Executive Director of Independence Associates, Inc. Their stories reinforced the belief that the sky is the limit, and that disability is not inability. So, give us a chance and we will show you the magic.

While Boston provided a brief yet enriching experience, including a visit to the historic Harvard University, my learning destination was Sacramento, California. There, I was greeted by my wonderful host Vanessa Ochoa at the airport, holding a beautiful flower. Despite my initial nervousness and fear of getting lost due to my low vision, the PFP Program ensured my safety and comfort, assisting with self-check-in and introducing me to helpful applications for visually impaired individuals.

A light-skinned woman, with red hair and black glasses weaing a black and white polka dot shirt and black pants, stands with her arms outstretched under a sign that reads “Harvard Law School.”
Figure 2: Clara standing in front of Harvard University’s Law School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

My Fellowship placement commenced at Disability Rights California (DRC) with a delightful breakfast meeting with my hosts, Vanessa, Erin D. Perez, and Tho Vinh Banh, along with their colleagues Eric and Jane. This was followed by a sightseeing tour of Sacramento with Tho Vinh.

A tan woman with long, dark hearing, wearing a red shirt, a light-skinned woman with red hair and dark glasses, and a white, tall man with grey hair and black glasses stand together smiling at the camera.
Figure 3: A selfie of (left to right) Vanessa Ochoa, Clara, and Andy Imparato from DRC.

Nearly a week into my stay in Sacramento, I can confidently say that Americans with disabilities experience a highly inclusive life. While there may still be some systemic challenges, the level of inclusivity here is what many Tanzanians with disabilities can only dream of. The roads, buildings, streets, and various infrastructures have inclusive designs, features, and signs.

As I look forward to more site visits and community volunteer activities in the coming three weeks, I will always cherish my visit to the Society for the Blind in California. It was not only for the learning experience, but they also provided an opportunity for eye exam as a low vision person, and yes—I got new glasses and other assistive devices.

A light-skinned woman with medium-length brown hair is standing holding a medium-sized dog with blond hair. Also holding the dog is a light-skinned woman, with red hair and dark glasses.
Figure 4: Society for the Blind independent living instructor, a guide dog, and me.

This journey will be transformative, and at the end of this program, I am eager to bring the lessons learned back to Tanzania through my follow-on project My Story My Life and by fostering greater inclusivity and accessibility for all.