In more ways than I can count, the Fulbright made me who I am today.
Before becoming a Fulbright scholar, I spent six years homeless in my country of origin, Morocco. Since becoming a Fulbright scholar, I’ve been recruited to work for the UN and courted by industry-leading companies, including my current employer, AudioEye.
Before becoming a Fulbright scholar, my blindness reduced me to, at best, a charity case, and at worst a contemptible burden. Since becoming a Fulbright scholar, my work ethic, education, fluency in seven languages and many modes of Braille, and years of experience and passion for journalism, debate, and storytelling have all taken on new significance.
Before becoming a Fulbright scholar, I was accustomed to being slurred as an orphan, a bastard, and worse because my family had abandoned me. Since becoming a Fulbright scholar, my story of resilience, survival, and unlikely thriving has taken on a power of its own.
The Fulbright recognized my worth before any other organization, invested in my dream of pursuing an MA in journalism, and connected me with influential, talented people the world over. Most important of all, they never required that I compromise on any essential element of who I am. Instead, they’ve enabled me to become the Itto I’ve always aspired to be.
Recently, thanks in large part to the Fulbright, I’ve joined another organization that treats me in much the same way. AudioEye is a well-respected digital accessibility company whose mission is to eradicate every barrier to digital access for people with disabilities like myself—and they recruited me. As their new Accessibility Outreach Manager, I’ve enjoyed respect from my colleagues, a flexible work schedule, and trust that I’ll fulfill my duties if given the time and tools I need. Since I work from home, I don’t rely on others to get me to and from the office or waste my time and energy navigating fickle transportation services. I just wake up every morning, have my coffee, and get straight to work without delay.
Since October is Disability Employment Awareness Month, I’ll pause here to point out that these are more than privileges for me and many other people with disabilities. For those of us with blindness and chronic pain—or, for that matter, dyslexia, depression, para- or quadriplegia, anxiety, Deafness, ADHD, chronic illness, or any other disability you can name—remote work, flexible schedules, and faith in our commitment and abilities can mean the difference between success and failure, retention and dismissal, opportunity and dependency. In the absence of family and community support, the stakes are even higher: life and death.
That’s why I’m using my platform to urge more companies to not just hire people with disabilities, but also take the necessary steps to empower us to succeed, embracing remote work and flexible scheduling, promoting positive workplace cultures, and readily providing accommodations. This will benefit employers, too, unlocking the full range of employees’ insights and expertise in service of the company’s mission.
At the same time, I hope the Fulbright will continue to invest in students and scholars with disabilities and expand its outreach efforts to vulnerable communities whose members, no matter
how talented, may never have imagined that such opportunities lie within their reach. Making its commitment to students and scholars with disabilities more explicit and vocal will help the Fulbright pave the way for others like myself.
Like all gifts, those that these organizations have granted me—trust, flexibility, respect, and connections—come with responsibilities. I now find myself in a position to give back to the communities that have empowered me while chipping away at the barriers to access that prevent so many passionate, creative, hardworking, and talented people from advancing on their journeys. I do not take this opportunity lightly. Neither should you.
If you’re reading this, you likely have connections with the Fulbright and hence enjoy a higher-than-average degree of influence within your community. This means you’re well positioned to make these changes happen, too. I ask for your collaboration in service of my life’s work, and AudioEye’s mission, of removing barriers, expanding opportunities, dismantling stigma, and making the world a more accessible place for all.
Fulbright Alumna | Accessibility Outreach Manager at AudioEye | Founder & Representative of Fulbrighters with Disabilities | MA in Journalism & Strategic Media from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville