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My Journey To the U.S.A. to Learn Best Practices on Inclusive Alternative Dispute Resolution

Updated: Jul 3

The Professional Fellows Program on Inclusive Civic Engagement, funded by the US Department of State, aims to connect and empower emerging leaders in Africa by sharing and implementing best practices for inclusive civic engagement. As a spring 2024 fellow, I had the incredible opportunity to journey to the U.S. and immerse myself in this transformative experience. Below is a blog of my experiences, insights, and the inspiring people I met along the way.

My experience in the U.S. has ignited a journey of discovery about inclusive civic engagement. This experience began with a warm welcome at Boston Logan Airport by Dr. Heike and Christa from the Professional Fellowship Program.

Exciting Beginnings in Boston

The orientation event the next day was a fantastic start. I pitched my follow-on project to American disability rights leaders, which was exciting and informative. A highlight of my time in Boston was visiting Harvard Law School on May 10, 2024. There, I met with Professor Hezzy Smith, the Director of Advocacy Initiatives at the Harvard Law School Project on Disability. We discussed making Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) accessible for Tanzania’s Deaf community. The insights I gained were valuable and set a strong foundation for my project.

On the left is Professor Hezzy Smit and on the right, Erick discussing at Havard law school

Discovering Washington, D.C.

On May 12, 2024, I flew into Washington D.C., and was welcomed by my mentor, Jasmin Bailey, who is blind, along with her staff member, Alexia Kemerling. Jasmin, who is a white cane user, was able to navigate our group while traveling in the DC area easily. She is a powerful illustration of how disability doesn't equate to inability. I was introduced to screen reading software that translates text to audio output on phone and laptop devices.

Starting work at the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) on May 13, 2024, was another significant milestone. Jasmin introduced me to the supportive and enthusiastic AAPD team. On May 14, I had an enlightening meeting with Christine Liao, Senior Programs Director at AAPD. Christine, who is deaf, taught me the importance of using appropriate terminology within the disabilities community, preferring terms like "deaf" or "person with hard of hearing" over "hearing impairment." The smooth communication with her, facilitated by Computer-Aided Real-Time Translation (CART), was a remarkable experience.

Erick (left), Jasmin (center), and Alexia (right) at the Airport

Learning at Gallaudet University

On May 15, 2024, visiting Gallaudet University with my mentor, Jasmin, was another memorable highlight. Mr. Carrizales, a deaf student ambassador, guided us around the university. This visit taught me that sign language is not the only method of communication for the deaf. Technologies such as captioning, typing functions, and Computer-Aided Real-Time Translation (CART) offer diverse communication tools. Additionally, Gallaudet's architectural design enhances accessibility: wide spaces, wide sidewalks, and a "C"-shaped setup for classrooms allow all participants, deaf and hearing alike, to see each other, fostering better communication and inclusion.

Mr. Carrizales (right), guiding us at Gallaudet University

Visiting the UN Headquarters

On May 17, 2024, I visited the UN Headquarters in New York and met with Anord Kayanda to discuss my project, which aligns with UN Sustainable Development Goal 16.3. The UN expressed significant interest in my project and pledged support to reach more people with disabilities in Tanzania. They recognize the benefits of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) and the importance of disability etiquette outlined in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Erick (left) and Anord Kayanda (right) seated in the UN studio after the interview

Insights from Legal Experts

On May 20, 2024, I met Mr. Howard Rosenblum, a deaf leader with over 30 years of experience in the US legal practice and the Director of Deaf Equality in the USA. His insights into empowering people with disabilities through mediation were inspiring. He expressed willingness to support our efforts in Tanzania and highlighted the importance of proper accommodations for deaf students pursuing law.

Mr. Howard Rosenblum (right), Erick (center), and a sign language interpreter (left)

The White House

On May 23, 2024, I was honored to be invited to the White House as a government guest for the welcoming ceremony of President Dr. William Samoei Ruto of Kenya. The event underscored the importance of inclusion, with accommodations made for people with disabilities. The officials were very supportive, providing sighted assistance for Jasmin, offering a link to live captioning, and giving us a section closer to the stage of the ceremony. It was a fantastic experience for both of us.

Erick (right) shaking hands with White House Security Officer (left)

Reflections and Future Applications

My first two weeks in America have been an extraordinary learning journey about inclusive civic engagement. Before coming to the U.S., I only knew sign language as the primary accommodation for the deaf and knew little about the needs of other people with disabilities. Now, I have learned about various accessibility options, including captions, visual descriptions, speaking slower, and a range of tools and technologies that will be invaluable back home.

I have discovered that modern technology bridges communication gaps for people with disabilities. The lessons on appropriate terminology, diverse communication methods, and the potential of ADR apply directly to my work in Tanzania. I will bring back these insights to improve accessibility and advocacy for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. By integrating these practices, I aim to foster a more inclusive environment and empower individuals with disabilities to access justice and civic participation effectively.

Photo gallery of my experience during the 2024 spring PFP fellowship

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