Exchange Matters / June 30, 2023

Building Capacity for Accessible Exchange 


Compiled by Theo Goodchild-Michelman, Communications Intern, Global Ties U.S. 

Face-to-face exchange programs like the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) are an opportunity for U.S. and international individuals to connect, learn, and engage with another. This month, the Global Ties Network brought accessibility and inclusion to the forefront of IVLP discussions. In the snapshots below, Global Minnesota reflects on how a diverse group of world citizens can work together to further disability rights, and WorldBoston shares highlights from IVLP programs that emphasize equal access for all. From testing disability-accessible fitness equipment, to meeting with the executives of disability rights organizations, both Community-Based Members share how exchanges like the IVLP can contribute to a more accessible and inclusive world.  

Global Minnesota 

IVLP: Disability Rights – Equal Access for All
NPA: World Learning                                                                                     

By Karen Baumgaertner, Professional Exchange Manager 

IVLP guests pose in front of the Mississippi River at St. Cloud State University. All images provided by Global Minnesota

 On a beautiful May morning, steps away from the Mississippi River, 14 visitors from North Africa and the Near East descended from their coach bus onto the St. Cloud State University campus. Very few of the guests had heard of Minnesota, let alone St. Cloud, before they arrived in the United States, but the school and its people left a lasting impression on the visitors when they boarded back to Minneapolis that evening.  

The Center for International Disability Advocacy and Diplomacy (CIDAD) at St. Cloud State University  is a leading innovation hub focused on inclusive and accessible scholarship, training, advocacy, and cultural diplomacy. It was the perfect setting for a day-long summit of IVLP international disability rights activists.  

The visitors, carefully situated within the sight lines of two sign language interpreters – one American and one Tunisian – as well as two screens with Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) in Arabic and English, plus simultaneous Arabic language interpreters streaming into the visitors’ headsets, began their day.    

Group of half-dozen poses for selfie outdoors.

Selfie and sign language at St. Cloud University.

 Programming opened with an inspiring start:, ARC Minnesota reported on recent legislative wins for Minnesotans with intellectual and developmental disabilities. In the afternoon, the visitors entered into lively discussions with CIDAD, the Harkin Institute, Zero Project, the International Disability Alliance, the Minnesota Vocational Rehabilitation Services, and more community leaders. CIDAD assembled an amazing cadre of meetings and put all of their slides on USB sticks for visitor with low vision. The group exchanged dozens of business cards, gifts, and hugs, finally signing “good-bye” and “thank you” before leaving.  

Seated audience listens to powerpoint presentation

Low vision font in Arabic and English is provided via CART in addition to Tunisian and American sign language interpretation.  

While their visit to St. Cloud was the final stop in Minnesota, the group  arrived several days earlier, with plenty of time to get comfortable in their hotel and rest from their travel. Their Minnesota visit started with a leisurely bus tour of the Twin Cities, followed by local home hospitality – always a highlight. One of the local families had a daughter who also uses a wheelchair, much to the delight of the visitors, and another family spoke Arabic.   

 An Egyptian-American family from Minnesota hosted international visitors including an Egyptian visitor who reads lips. The common language and accent of the host’s Arabic reduced barriers in understanding, as did the delicious food and hospitality. 

The next day’s meetings included a stop at ThinkSelf, an adult education program for Deaf, DeafBlind, DeafDisabled and hard of hearing, many of whom are immigrants new to the United States. The nonprofit also provides advocacy services for people experiencing the effects of relationship abuse and crime. After a tasty halal lunch, the group visited the offices of Ramsey County Attorney John Choi, an advocate for victims of human trafficking and domestic violence. The group had a frank conversation about how people with disabilities are often more vulnerable to abuse and the importance of activism.   

While most of the group returned to their hotel for the night, Global Minnesota was able to arrange an exclusive tour of the Minneapolis Airport for international visitor Mr. Fahad Hashan Alnatifi, the Special Care Supervisor for Saudi Airlines, and a wheelchair user. Escorted by Assistant Director of Customer Experience Phil Burke from the Metropolitan Airports Commission, Alnatifi found even the frustration of airport security fascinating. However the highlight was visiting the Navigating MSP exhibit, which allows people to “practice” getting on an airplane. First intended for autistic people with sensory disorders, the airplane model allows people and assistants to test bringing wheelchairs onto flights, car seats, and even service animals.   

One man in wheelchair and one man standing pose in front of aircraft fuselage.

Fahad Hashan Alnatifi (left) of Saudi Airlines outside a repurposed Delta airline fuselage used to help passengers and their assistants practice navigating inside an airplane.

Hosting this group of disability rights activists was a dream come true for Global Minnesota. Not only were we able to connect these amazing international visitors with local resources, but we also identified comfortable and accommodating hotels, appropriate wheelchair rentals and ground transport, halal restaurants, accessible communication services and more. It was a real opportunity to flex our logistical muscles!  It is always our goal to reduce the barriers to full participation for all of our international visitors. In our small way, Global Minnesota was able to support the visitors in the fight for equal access for all! 


IVLPs: Everyone Counts! Building Capacity in the People with Disabilities (PWD) Community; Disability Rights – Equal Access for All
NPAs: Cultural Vistas and World Learning

By Mytreyi Sureshkumar, Program Associate for Citizen Diplomacy and Global Engagement

In the past several months, WorldBoston has had the opportunity to make the accessibility component of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) a point of focus in the programming of several recent International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) delegations themed around disability rights and equal access. 

In March 2023, WorldBoston partnered with Cultural Vistas to welcome six delegates from India on a project titled, “Everyone Counts! Building Capacity in the People with Disabilities (PWD) Community.” While in Boston, the visitors engaged in some hands-on exchange by testing accessible fitness equipment, such as an accessible treadmill, with AccesSport America and Waypoint Adventure. According to a visitor, the meeting at Waypoint was “the best meeting he has ever had.” 

Working with this delegation emphasized the importance of incorporating accessibility into all programming. For example, several visitors cited the difficulty of navigating narrow and uneven cobblestone sidewalks in certain areas. WorldBoston incorporated the feedback from this project to help better coordinate accessibility accommodations for another project in June. In partnership with World Learning, WorldBoston welcomed 14 visitors from the Middle East and North Africa on a project titled “Disability Rights – Equal Access for All.” 

Twenty people attending presentation in business boardroom.

Participants from the IVLP project “Disability Rights – Equal Access for All” during their meeting with Opeoluwa Sotonwa, Ph.D., Massachusetts Commissioner for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. Pictured is some of the technology used to interpret into Arabic, American Sign Language, and Tunisian Sign Language, as well as technology used for CART services.

This delegation had a packed schedule of meetings, including the Institute for Human Centered Design, the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, and the Massachusetts Office on Disability, among others. All of these meetings included interpretation into Arabic, American Sign Language, and Tunisian Sign Language. 

Group dressed professionally posing for picture in front of white board.

Participants from the IVLP project “Disability Rights – Equal Access for All” during their meeting with Mary Mahon McCauley, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Office on Disability.

Additionally, there was an online system for CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation) services for some of the participants, which allowed for them to see live captioning from their personal devices. 

Programming for both of these projects was an invaluable experience for the participants, our community members, and WorldBoston. While we surely know that exchange matters, these delegations showcase why inclusive exchange matters.