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My Unforgettable White House Visit: A Learning Experience on Disability Inclusion Worth Replicating Back Home in Uganda

Published: Jun 26, 2024

Country: Uganda

Moses Serwadda 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 Moses.

I was placed for my Fellowship at the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), a national cross-disability civil rights organization dedicated to increasing the economic and political power of the more than 60 million people with disabilities across the United States. I was privileged to visit the White House on May 23, 2024, and be in the same space as U.S. President Joe Biden and other dignitaries. This rare opportunity profoundly impacted me, and I will live to brag about it for the generations to come. I also saw the beauty of the White House, a parade, and marching bands.

As a hard of hearing person, I witnessed the highest degree of reasonable accommodation for different categories of persons with disabilities during the event. I received captioning links in the invitation emails to ensure that I could access speeches using the Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) on my phone, enabling me to easily access information. Such good practices are something we will continually advocate for back in Uganda to create an inclusive society that caters for the needs of people with disabilities.

I observed the high level of accessible technology that includes persons with disabilities, such as technology for managing transactions and communications. These accessible technologies ease the lives of persons with disabilities and empower them to live independently, participating fully in day-to-day life, including public affairs.

I was particularly fascinated by AAPD’s focus on political empowerment for persons with disabilities through various engagement strategies, particularly the Register, Educate, Vote, and Use your Power (REV UP) campaign initiative. This campaign helps prepare persons with disabilities to effectively participate in electoral processes and engage with relevant stakeholders.

A white woman with long braided blond hair sits behind a laptop next to an African man where a button shirt and tie.
Figure 1: Spring 2024 Fellow Moses Serwadda meets with Host Co-Montor Alexia Kemerling, REV UP Coalitions Coordinator

The campaign resonates with my Fellowship project focus, which is “Civic4All.” My objective is to address the knowledge and capacity gaps among youth with disabilities to meaningfully participate in electoral processes and enhance their engagement skills with elected leaders and representatives at various units in Uganda. During my stay, I had the opportunity to meet and interact with mentors, experts, and professional networks associated with AAPD who have vast knowledge about disability inclusion in elections. I had the chance to learn, relearn, and unlearn from seminars and Professional Fellows Congress activities that foster connections and collaborations with likeminded Fellows.

The practicality of the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) and inclusive programming sets an exemplary pace, showing the necessity for a disability accessibility audit before organizing events. This experience of being in such a diplomatic place will forever linger in my memory, but it also challenges me to engage more proactively in disability-inclusive programming. For meaningful participation of persons with disabilities in electoral processes, stakeholders must create a barrier-free environment where everyone can access information, retrieve and navigate websites, and address structural discrepancies. This aligns with my project objectives.

Alt text: From left to right, an African man wearing a black suit and holding a black flag, a tall African man wearing a blue suit, and an African American woman wearing a floral printed top and pink pants pose with the White House in the background.
Figure 2: Spring 2024 Fellows Moses Serwadda (middle) and Erick Mukiza (left) visit the White House with Host Mentor Jasmin Bailey (right), Operations Director at the American Association of People with Disabilities in Washington, DC.

I observed technological advancements everywhere; everything is electronically managed, including transactions, transport systems, and navigation. Initially, it was challenging, but later it became simple and interesting. Knowledge on effective leadership dynamics and Asset-Based Community Development concepts changed my mind set to leverage society’s productive potential.

I have since acquired meaningful relationships and connections with those I met in my area of project research, expanding my social capital base to support the effective implementation of my proposed follow-on project. My stay for five weeks in America demystified theories about American culture, and I have appreciated it more.