PFP-IDE Fellow Fredrick Odinga in U.S. Virgin Islands

I spent my PFP-IDE Fellowship at the Virgin Islands University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (VI UCEDD). I began my Fellowship with orientation in Washington D.C. before traveling to St. Croix, one of the three Caribbean islands that make up the U.S. Virgin Islands. My mentor, Dr. Kimberly Mills, Executive Director of the Virgin Islands University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disability (VI UCEDD), was kind enough to patiently wait for my arrival.

My first day at VI UCEDD office was great. The staff welcomed me into their place of work warmly and gave me a spacious office with a desk, chair and a laptop to facilitate my Fellowship work. I marvelled at the kindness and support shown by mentor, who met with me to discuss the Fellowship and my plans, and what the UCEDD does for the Virgin Islands and local individuals with disabilities.


Fredrick speaks to VI UCEDD staff about disability rights in Kenya.

I had many intriguing discussions with Dr. Mills, her team and local stakeholders (persons with disabilities, support providers, self-advocates, small business leaders, etc.) who had great interest in what I intended to do and quite useful suggestions about how to improve my project. I learned many best practices for advancing inclusive disability employment, but faced the challenge of determining how to adapt the models from the VI UCEDD to my context in Kenya and how to ensure my project would be sustainable. The VI UCEDD team helped me design my project in a sustainable manner by sharing strategies that will let me build capacity for my organisation, partners, and the stakeholders who will continue our work. I learned important lessons about how to integrate fundraising initiatives, and how develop and administer trainings on customized employment, group organisation and self-advocacy skills to my NGO partners, DPOs, and persons with disabilities in Kenya.

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Fredrick attends the 15th Voices that Count policy forum in the Virgin Islands.

During my Fellowship in the Virgin Islands, I also participated in several forums and meetings that broadened my knowledge about disability inclusion and policy in the United States. Surprisingly, the U.S. is not a party to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD), but disability rights is guided fundamentally by its model, the Americans with Disabilities Act. I was struck by the strength of efforts towards actual implementation of regulations and monitoring the framework of disability laws, which has led to actual provision of key supports, such as accessible transportation and buildings and school transition programs. Even though the Virgin Islands are a U.S. territory rather than a state, there is an ADA coordinator who works with disability supports providers and policymakers to advise the governor and implement the ADA successfully. I met the coordinator, Julian Hensley, and we discussed how the government has established tax incentives to encourage individuals to build accessible infrastructure. In the Virgin Islands, there is a 20% tax relief period for ten years given to individuals who make their houses accessible, and the territory has committed to providing 7-10% of employment to persons with disabilities. However, monitoring progress is challenging due to inaccessible data.

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Fredrick and Dr. Mills with Julian Hensley, ADA Coordinator for the U.S. Virgin Islands.

This exchange program has exposed me to possible interventions and challenged my internal thoughts and worldview about what is possible for inclusive disability employment. I stand re-born today in my journey of learning about inclusive disability employment and am quite eager to grow and move on in the right direction. There are many practices that were tried but never worked well like sheltered workshop, Kenya in its disability transformational journey do not need to repeat the same mistake. We can do it right based on the experiences from our friends who have tried and tested it.

I am indebted and thankful to the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs, AUCD, ICI, and HI for facilitating my Fellowship, and I thank my mentor, Dr. Kimberly Mills and her entire staffs at VI UCEDD for the support and warmth accorded to me during my fellow exchange program. Forever you shall remain in my heart.