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For seven weeks this summer, Arizona State University sophomores Courtney Langerud and Elliot Wasbotten traveled throughout East Africa, working with deaf organizations and schools to advocate for inclusive education for deaf and disabled children.
A significant portion of their advocacy work, done through the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership, involved working to change the mindset of how deaf and disabled children were viewed in Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya.
"It really stemmed from a lack of education — people don't understand what a disability actually is," said Langerud. She encountered this particularly in Uganda, where a disability is often attributed to a curse or witchcraft.
Langerud and Wasbotten emphasized that it was important that they went to the communities as advocates and with an open mind.
"We wanted to learn the culture and customs so that we can see what they were doing, and then offer insight," Wasbotten said.
It wasn't just about working specifically with deaf or disabled children:
"It was really a community effort," Wasbotten said. "We were in one classroom and I started signing just to let people know that, 'Hey, I can listen but I can also take the effort to communicate with someone who's deaf.' A big part of it was not only having that conversation, but giving that conversation the open space that it needed to reach these children and the community they live in."