Fulbrighters with Disabilities Launch

Fulbrighters with Disabilities (FWD), launched in April 2021, is a global, virtual chapter of the Fulbright Association dedicated to supporting students and scholars with disabilities around the world. As the first of its kind, FWD will pioneer new ways of engaging with stakeholders and advocating for students and scholars with disabilities on our own terms across physical, national, and cultural borders.

FWD’s guiding mission is to address four distinct barriers facing Fulbright scholars with disabilities so they can contribute as equals to advancing peace through education. These four barriers are as follows:

  • Difficulty navigating unfamiliar, disabling environments in host countries and institutions;
  • Difficulty identifying and accessing resources nominally allocated for persons with disabilities;
  • Difficulty leveraging unfamiliar laws and policies to secure reasonable accommodations such as accessible housing, transportation, digital content, etc.;
  • Difficulty securing employment and accessing professional opportunities due to stigma, discrimination, and lack of resources.

To this end, FWD now offers a limited range of tangible services, including the following:

  • Proofreading/providing feedback on applications for grants, fellowships, and scholarships (Fulbright, Rhodes, Chevening, etc.) for applicants with disabilities;
  • Connecting Fulbright scholars with disabilities (and family members who’re traveling with them) with resources and accommodations in their host countries and institutions;
  • Hosting educational sessions about the UN CRPD, laws governing disability rights and accessibility in various host countries, and strategies for securing reasonable accommodations under the appropriate laws;
  • Providing professional consultations to recent university graduates with disabilities who’re seeking employment.

As the chapter’s membership, budget, and capacity grows, more services will be made available. Examples might include, but need not be limited to, the following:

  • Establishing strategic partnerships with local Fulbright Commissions and providing virtual orientation sessions to incoming Fulbright scholars with disabilities in every country where the Fulbright operates;
  • Creating accessible online test-prep courses for the TOEFL, GMAT, and GRE;
  • Hiring English-language instructors to support students and scholars with disabilities who’ve had limited access to immersive English-language instruction;
  • Establishing a fund to provide reasonable accommodations (laptops with accessible software, wheelchairs, sign language interpretation, etc.) to students and scholars with disabilities where those accommodations can’t be secured through other means;
  • Providing consultations to Fulbright advisors to help them better support students and scholars with disabilities;
  • Building informal networks of individuals with disabilities who can support new Fulbright scholars with disabilities, share insights drawn from their personal experiences, and help them secure reasonable accommodations in every country where the Fulbright operates.

In addition to these services, FWD has also begun to organize and host events. On June 25, 2022, the chapter hosted its first webinar. The current board members introduced themselves and their roles, invited constituents to participate in developing the chapter’s charter, and proposed the convention of panels to carry out the chapter’s work.

In July, founder, former present, and current chapter representative Itto Outini received the Fulbright in the Classroom Grant to host three virtual sessions targeting current and aspiring students and scholars with disabilities. In these sessions, Itto will discuss the challenges she overcame as a Fulbright scholar with a disability, encourage other students and scholars with disabilities to apply for Fulbright grants, and offer guidance to those who are facing similar challenges. These sessions will take place at different times on different days of the week in August, October, and December of 2022 to better accommodate participants in different time zones. If you’re interested in attending a session, please follow the link to sign up via Google form.

FWD’s members continue to discuss events that the chapter may organize this year and next. To know more about upcoming events, or if you’re interested in joining the chapter, requesting our services, or offering new ones, please send an introductory email to fwd@fulbright.org detailing how you’d like to be involved with the chapter.

By Mekiya Walters

Communications Specialist with Fulbrighters with Disabilities | MFA in Fiction from the University of Arkansas

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