My life as a Fellow at the Nisonger Center at The Ohio State University has been an incredible eye-opener. It is inspiring to see how diversity is embraced at every level. From early childhood, measures are set to provide the best accommodations and services to ensure every individual’s success.
I have learned about many initiatives that encourage inclusive employment practices by creating partnerships between large conglomerates and local centers, which allows for diversification in available employment roles. Furthermore, quarterly evaluations that involve individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) reflecting on their experience and self-advocating according to their needs, genuinely reflects on the resounding motto “Nothing about us, without us!” Each of these experiences enriches my Fellowship project and encourages me to design an inclusive employment program that puts individuals with IDD at the forefront of their employment decisions.
I have become familiar with Nisonger Center initiatives like EnvisionIT, which is a free digital curriculum that helps students in middle and high school build important literacy and career skills that will help them when they transition to employment in the future. This provides a ready platform for evidence-based job exploration practices and ideas that I can convert to a locally appropriate curriculum in Tanzania. It will be challenging, but it will play a great role in fostering self-determination and raising expectations for individuals with IDD in Tanzania.
I have also participated in Transition Options in the Post-Secondary Settings (TOPS) program activities. TOPS is a model demonstration program at the Nisonger Center that allows individuals with IDD who are 18 and older to take inclusive academic classes at Ohio State University and have meaningful work experiences. TOPS also helps students build independent living skills and enables them to take part in campus and community organizations with peers. The program is funded by the U.S. government to encourage inclusive higher education and improve employment for persons with IDD.
Observing TOPS transition clinics and taking part in job coach trainings has provided me with practical tools and ideas that could further enrich my project and strengthen sustainability prospects. It has been incredible to observe how interdisciplinary professionals participate in every stage of transition in order to ensure successful employment goals and promote well-being and a sense of shared community. This experience inspires me to follow suit in my project by involving related services and creating a long-term support plan to ensure that the inclusive employment goals are met along with individual well-being goals too.
Beyond a rich professional experience, the exchange program has brought to light amazing cultural experiences. Visiting a middle-school play of Mary Poppins and watching the Bands of America helped me learn about the importance of Theatrical Arts and its role in education! It gave me great ideas on incorporating drama-based activities as a form of self-expression and fun in my classroom activities! Also, visiting the Ohio State University campus has highlighted the importance of universal design to increase equal access within the Tanzanian infrastructure (especially accessible ramps and accessible crosswalk systems). Living with my host family has encouraged great conversations exploring our varied cultures and learning about how differences in political system and self-advocacy may support towards an “All means All” attitude.
A big THANK YOU to the State Department, AUCD, ICI-UMass Boston and Humanity & Inclusion for offering such an enriching experience!
Bijal Lal is from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. She is a special education needs teacher at the Alumntazir Special Education Needs School and is spending her PFP-IDE Fellowship at the Nisonger Center in Columbus, Ohio.