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Ensuring equal access to Fulbright scholarships discussed

Image: Taking part in the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board (FFSB) panel discussion at Gallaudet on February 12 were (from left): Cerise Roth-Vinson, chief operating officer, Mobility International; Dr. Steven D. Collins, Gallaudet's Fulbright coordinator and an assistant professor in the Department of Interpretation; and Marcelo de Franca Moreira, a Humphrey Fellow from Brazil who attends American University School of Law. (Not pictured is Dr. Christie Gilson, FFSB's first blind member and Fulbright alumna, who served as panel moderator.)

Taking part in the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board (FFSB) panel discussion at Gallaudet on February 12 were (from left): Cerise Roth-Vinson, chief operating officer, Mobility International; Dr. Steven D. Collins, Gallaudet's Fulbright coordinator and an assistant professor in the Department of Interpretation; and Marcelo de Franca Moreira, a Humphrey Fellow from Brazil who attends American University School of Law. (Not pictured is Dr. Christie Gilson, FFSB's first blind member and Fulbright alumna, who served as panel moderator.)

A J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board (FFSB) panel discussion was held at Gallaudet on February 12, 2013 to stress the importance of making more opportunities available for deaf and disabled people to experience the personal and professional benefits that a Fulbright scholarship provides.

Gallaudet President T. Alan Hurwitz, who welcomed the panelists, remarked that the University has a strong history of participation in the Fulbright program. He said that since 1998, 26 students and faculty have participated in the program in Italy, Ireland, Germany, Croatia, Brazil, Zimbabwe, Argentina, Israel, and China. In 2010-11, Gallaudet University was designated a top producing institution of Fulbright scholars. Dr. Hurwitz received a letter of congratulations from Dr. Allan Goodman, president and CEO of the Institute of International Education, calling the distinction of being named a top producer of Fulbrights "an exceptional achievement."

"We must ensure that more people with disabilities become Fulbright scholars," said Hurwitz. "Gallaudet's Fulbright scholars are proof that dreams can be achieved through hard work, dedication, and support.

The Fulbright Program, a flagship international educational exchange program, sponsored by Congress, offers scholarships for study abroad up to one year. The program was created in 1946 by the late Sen. J. William Fulbright (D-Ark.) to "increase mutual understanding between the people of the U.S. and the people of other countries" through studying, researching, and teaching. The 12-member FFSB, appointed by the U.S. president, supervises the Fulbright Program and selects students, researchers, scholars, and others from the U.S. and abroad to become Fulbright participants in more than 155 countries. The program provides approximately 8,000 competitive, merit-based grants annually in most academic disciplines and fields of study.

"For more than six decades, the Fulbright Scholarship has allowed young Americans to meet people and study cultures from around the globe," said Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), former assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, who attended the event. Duckworth, a U.S. Army Blackhawk helicopter pilot who lost both legs in the Iraq War, spoke about the importance of international education as part of public diplomacy.

"We are going to fight as hard as we can," said Duckworth. "Diversity is critical. We can show the world what normal is. Everyone can contribute something. It is with this spirit that we must strive to make sure that disabled Americans have the same opportunities to participate in programs like Fulbright Scholarship. By striving to make international education programs like the Fulbright Scholarship welcome to the disabled, we will once again be showing that America is a leader in human rights."

Representing Gallaudet on the panel was Dr. Steven D. Collins, coordinator of the University's Fulbright Program and an assistant professor in the Department of Interpretation. The other panelists were Cerise Roth-Vinson, chief operating officer of Mobility International USA; Dr. Christie Gilson, FFSB's first blind member and Fulbright alumna, who served as panel moderator; and Marcelo de Franca Moreira, a citizen of Brazil and the recipient of a Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship, a program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, which provides 10 months of non-degree academic study and related professional experiences in the United States for young and mid-career professionals.

Collins said he became a Fulbright scholar in 2000 at the encouragement of Dr. Ceil Lucas, a professor in the Department of Linguistics and former coordinator of the Gallaudet Fulbright Program. Collins, who in 1992 became the first deaf person to graduate from Gallaudet with a master's degree in interpreting, spent five months in Italy advocating for increased accessibility for the deaf-blind community. "I wanted to be a Fulbright scholar so I can help deaf Italians with interpreting and help the deaf-blind community in Italy, leading and training them to become certified deaf interpreters (CDI) for the deaf-blind," said Collins, himself a CDI. He learned Italian Sign Language prior to departing for Italy.

When Collins arrived, he was introduced to deaf-blind child who, at age seven, had grown up in isolation and had no social communication access. He taught the child Italian Sign Language. "It was over 10 years ago, and I'm still in touch with that family," said Collins. They are still working with [him and he] has much more access."

Collins noted that Italy does not have a law ensuring equal access to all citizens like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Collins credited the ADA for bringing about a heightened awareness in American society about disability issues and accessibility needs, and he commended the Fulbright Program for providing interpreters for his own communication needs both in Italy and the U.S.

Gallaudet students and alumni interested in applying to the Fulbright program may contact Collins at steven.collins@gallaudet.edu. For more information about the program at Gallaudet, go to the link.

--By Megan Clancy

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