Empowering disability inclusion activists across Sub-Saharan Africa
Within Sub-Saharan Africa, Uganda and Rwanda are at the forefront of disability inclusion and rights: significant activism has been present in both countries since the 1970s, and both passed key disability legislation as recently as 2020.
Still, challenges in disability inclusion persist. 2021 Fellowship Alumnae Gorretti Byomire of Uganda, Nkechinyere Melva Uguru of Nigeria, and Shilla Ndegeya of Rwanda aimed to address these challenges when they were selected for one of the Fellowship’s Leveraging Innovations in New Communities (LINC) Grants, which provide support for Alumni collaboration across Sub-Saharan Africa.
Coming together to drive real change
After meeting in 2021 during Brave New Voices, an initiative Nkechinyere founded to commemorate the United Nations’ 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, Gorretti, Nkechinyere, and Shilla collaborated virtually and in-person to promote inclusion through disability rights advocacy. During their month-long LINC Grant collaboration, they organized a virtual Disability Inclusion Convention that reached over 280 disability rights activists from 27 countries across Africa, South Asia, and North America. Its goal was to gather African university students and their counterparts to boost morale, offer support, share experiences, and find solutions to common challenges.
The student participants in Uganda remarked at how similar these challenges and problems are like for the rest of the African countries and suggested the need to come together and work to solve these challenges.”Gorretti Byomire, 2021 Fellowship Alumnus, Uganda
Gorretti also garnered the support of Makerere University Business School (MUBS), who hosted the Online Disability Convention using their Zoom license and E-learning Production Studio.
During the convention, activists with disabilities shared challenges while interacting with administrators and educators. Additionally, participants learned from one another on successful inclusion strategies to ensure that no student with a disability is left behind.
Participant Chidiebere Racheal emphasized how empowering the Disability Inclusion Convention was, sharing “I was told that it was useless to make Inclusion advocacy and sign language my life’s purpose thus I took a different career path, but this convention has proven this wrong and enlightened me more. I’ll seize this opportunity to […] advocate and focus on using my skill to help the deaf community.”
Additionally, educators participated in the Disability Inclusion Convention as mentors in collaboration with the student participants. Professor Nwazuike of Ebonyi State University Law in Nigeria said, “I am glad that these young people yielded themselves to drive such timely change. As a visually impaired Professor of Law, this is a great resource for interaction and networking with like-minds towards making a difference and driving real change.”
Seizing Opportunities for Continued Advocacy
Following the Disability Inclusion Convention, a working group was formed to help the participants stay connected beyond the event. Through continued engagement and support via social media tools and resources, the working group pairs students with disabilities with mentors – both educators and peers – around the world as accountability partners to foster healthy engagements, collaboration, partnerships, and exchange programs.
Goretti, Nkechinyere, and Shilla’s LINC Grant collaboration facilitated unique collaboration opportunities for disability activists across Sub-Saharan Africa, where individuals who may have never met otherwise are now actively collaborating and supporting each other. As activists maneuver various limitations in disability support, the convention provided them with the tools and resources required to empower change in their communities.
Written by Dr. Kelsea Jackson