Ugandan Parliamentarians Meet with Disability Advocates in the U.S.

The International Republican Institute (IRI) hosted a delegation of Ugandan parliamentarians active in disability-rights issues for a legislative study tour, June 2-16.  The study tour brought together representatives of the three major Ugandan political parties to learn new methods to address challenges faced by the disabled.

The delegation, some of themselves disabled, included Honorable Rhoda Acen; Honorable Florence Nayiga, a polio survivor who has difficulty walking; Honorable Alex Ndeezi, who is deaf; Honorable William Nokrach, also a polio survivor who has difficulty walking; and Honorable John Okello Okello.  

The delegates spent one week in Washington, DC meeting with members of congress who also work on disabilities issues and with disability-oriented organizations to study U.S federal and civic responses to issues that concern the disabled.  

The group met with Congressman Jim Ramstad to discuss his role on the Bipartisan Disabilities Caucus.  They also visited the offices of the American Association of People with Disabilities, and other organizations, to learn about strategies for fostering greater inclusion of persons with disabilities in the community, such as the establishment of Disability Mentoring Day.  

At the end of their week in Washington, IRI hosted a Dialogue on Disabilities at which the delegation discussed new ways to empower the disabled in Uganda.  According to one of the delegates, “[the] participation of parents, communities, and politicians in fighting for the rights of persons with disabilities” is key to solving the challenges they continue to face.

During their second week in the U.S., the delegation traveled to the Minneapolis/St. Paul area to meet with state and local representatives and community organizations regarding the implementation of disabilities-related legislation and advocacy at the grassroots level.  

The delegates had an opportunity to meet with other disabled people who serve as community leaders, such as Joan Willshire, Executive Director of the Minnesota State Council on Disability.  Willshire has multiple sclerosis and works to expand opportunities, increase the quality of life and empower persons with disabilities in Minnesota.  

The group also visited several community facilities, such as the Courage Center, Parent Advocacy Coalition for Educational Rights Center, Access-Ability and the Arc of the Greater Twin Cities.  The delegates described these community institutions as “inspiring,” and stated that they are “a wealth not only to Americans, but the entire world” in their service to the disabled and the community as a whole.

IRI is working in Uganda to increase communication and understanding between the disabled and their local representatives.  While Uganda has laws that protect the rights of persons with disabilities, the laws are often not fully implemented.  IRI is sponsoring workshops for disabled-advocacy groups in Uganda to formulate strategies to push district-level political leaders to better represent their interests.  

The kickoff event for this program brought together major stakeholders on disability issues in Uganda, including members of parliament; the Chairperson of the Ugandan National Council on Disability; the Chairperson and Executive Director of the Ugandan National Union of Disabled Persons; and district-level disability rights activists.  

Participants conducted an evaluation and planning process to identify major challenges facing the disabled at the district level and develop advocacy strategies in response.  Potential strategies that were identified included the passing of ordinances at the local level to improve education, health and employment services for Ugandans with disabilities.    

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