In this month’s PFP-IDE alumni blog, U.S. Outbound Fellow Dr. Margo Izzo talks about her partnership with Fall 2018 Professional Fellow Gwaliwa Mashaka at The Ohio State University Nisonger Center and promoting inclusive employment in Tanzania.
Hosting a Professional Fellow (PFP-IDE)
I was excited to have the opportunity to host Gwaliwa Mashaka, a Fall 2018 Professional Fellow from Tanzania who is a computer engineer. Gwaliwa spent four weeks living with me in my home and going to work with me at The Ohio State University Nisonger Center in Columbus, Ohio. For the first week of her Fellowship in October 2018, Gwaliwa job-shadowed me as I visited high schools to support implementation of EnvisionIT, the Nisonger Center’s own curriculum developed to teach information technology (IT) skills and financial literacy to students with intellectual disabilities. EnvisionIT also teaches English skills and college and readiness strategies, and supports students with intellectual disabilities while they develop self-directed transition plans.
Gwaliwa also met with my Transition Services colleagues who coordinate the Transition Options in Postsecondary Settings (TOPS) program, our center’s inclusive college program for students with intellectual disabilities. Once Gwaliwa had an overview of the Nisonger Center and specifically, the Transition Services Program, we customized her remaining three weeks in Ohio to develop a project that would apply evidence-based practices from our center to broaden inclusive employment opportunities for young Tanzanians with disabilities.
During the Fellowship Program, our friendship grew and we became more than professional colleagues. We became friends. Gwaliwa told me in depth about her family and we used FaceTime to talk with her son and husband. She also met my family, including my grandchildren, at several family gatherings, including Halloween. Gwaliwa found dressing up in costumes and passing out candy to be an interesting cultural experience.
Outbound Program in Tanzania
Gwaliwa and I developed a project that would pilot an education-for-employment internship program for students with disabilities through her social enterprise business, Employable Africa. I visited Tanzania to provide technical assistance in March 2019.
The project had three objectives:
- Prepare a culturally appropriate version of the EnvisionIT curriculum to pilot with high school and college students;
- Empower students with disabilities;
- Collaborate with businesses, non-government organizations (NGOs) and social enterprise agencies to encourage them to offer internships to students with disabilities and place ten (10) students into internships.
Gwaliwa’s long-term vision is to implement the above components in Tanzania with the hope of scaling-up to Kenya and Uganda in partnership with other PFP-IDE Fellows. During my visit to Tanzania, Gwaliwa and I met with many stakeholders, including local employers, Disabled People’s Organizations (DPOs), UNICEF, and officials at the U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam. We presented information about Employable Africa and the need to increase employment skills of all Tanzanian students, but especially students with disabilities. We explained that our goal is to create a culturally appropriate version of EnvisionIT that targets students with disabilities in Tanzania and opens access to inclusive professional skills development.
Empowering individuals with disabilities requires that employers expand internship opportunities. Without internship experiences, persons with disabilities will rarely be considered the most qualified applicant. In Tanzania, every employer with 20 employees or more is required to hire employees with disabilities so that their workforce includes 3% of workers with disabilities, but this is rarely enforced and the policy has not motivated employers to develop internships that target students with disabilities. An employee at UNICEF recommended an approach where we work with employers to change the culture of the workplace so people with disabilities are viewed as valued members of the workforce. However, without an internship program, many persons with disabilities will not have the skills to be the most qualified applicant in the first place. In fact, the HR Director at UNICEF shared with me that she has never received an application from a person with a disability.
While I was in Tanzania, I shared evidence-based practices and predictors of increased disability employment not just with leaders but also with students with disabilities themselves. I visited a secondary school in Dar es Salaam where Gwaliwa and I met students with disabilities who were eager to gain the skills needed to participate more fully in education and employment activities. However, they had limited opportunities to gain community-based instruction through authentic internships. The majority of these students had physical disabilities that did not prevent them from learning at the same rate and the same content as their peer students without disabilities yet a non-inclusive educational system exists that prevent many students with disabilities from gaining a quality education that is focused on the skills needed to transition to college and careers.
Internships for students with disabilities are strong evidence-based practices and reliable predictors of increased employment outcomes that can be adapted and implemented in different contexts. Creating authentic community-based work experiences for these students saves significant vital resources, including time, money, and most importantly, human capital. AUCD, HI and other organizations in the U.S. and more developed countries must continue to support leaders in developing countries as they implement evidence-based practices and predictors. When developing countries implement evidence-based practices that improve academic and employment outcomes, students with disabilities will have more opportunities to gain the skills they need to contribute to their countries’ economic growth and achieve individual success.
Dr. Margo Izzo is Program Director for Special Education and Transition Services at The Ohio State University Nisonger Center in Columbus, Ohio.