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Towson, U.S. Department of State partner to bolster disability rights in Serbia

Towson University’s Department of Mass Communication and Communication Studies and the university’s Hussman Center for Adults with Autism will play host to representatives from the Serbian disability organization Centre Living Upright and the Novi Sad Journalism School in Serbia Oct. 19-29.

Milica Mima Ruzicic-Novkovic, president of Centre Living Upright, and Jelena Jovovic from the Novi Sad Journalism School will work alongside their Towson counterparts to gain first-hand experience on how disability rights issues are addressed in the United States.

Serbia

Greenhaw, center, and Jovovic, to her right, talk to the parents of children on the autism spectrum in Serbia.

Their visit is part of the U.S. Department of State sponsored Professional Fellows EMPOWER Program, which is administered by Mobility International USA.

Rhonda Greenhaw, director of the Hussman Center, traveled to Serbia in August to as part of a preliminary exchange visit to build the foundation for this collaborative media advocacy project.

“Getting an opportunity to travel to Serbia to work with the disability community there has definitely been a tremendous learning experience for me,” Greenhaw says.

“The Serbians are doing some very innovative programs, and we were able to share some exciting work that has been happening in the media self-advocacy arena in the U.S. autism community, so all of our organizations are getting a wonderful benefit from the EMPOWER Program.”

The two-way exchange program aims to expand the capacity of organizations in the United States and abroad to promote inclusive communities and advance disability rights around the world. Towson will work on a long-term project with Serbians to create and disseminate effective media messages surrounding disability rights. The program emphasizes the use of social media to advocate for the inclusion of people with disabilities in all sectors of society.

Beth Haller, Department of Mass Communication and Communication Studies, finds it rewarding to work with the Serbian advocates, who she says can use her 20+ years of research into media and disability to serve people with disabilities there.

“Our planned project with them will empower disability advocates in Serbia to tell their own stories about disability rights that they can post on social media or use to educate the news media,” Haller adds.

She says the project includes both students and faculty members from the Novi Sad Journalism School. The students will get a well-rounded education in the rights and access issues that face people with disabilities in Serbia, as well as learn how to report effectively on disability topics.

While in Maryland, Ruzicic-Novkovic and Jovovic will meet with disability rights advocates and journalists from key organizations, as well as audit journalism courses and develop a long-term project to help illuminate disability rights in Serbia. The project will train people with disabilities in Serbia in media advocacy and self-advocacy. The journalism students will learn how to report on disability issues, create a television show by and for people with disabilities in Serbia and develop a media-monitoring scheme.

At the conclusion of the program, all overseas participants and their U.S. hosts will gather in Washington, D.C., from Oct. 31-Nov. 2 for a MIUSA-facilitated conference. There they will network with other leaders in their field and share plans for long-term projects that will be implemented upon their return home.

Towson is one of 20-U.S.-based organizations and institutions competitively selected to host overseas professionals from 40 organizations in 320 different countries. Learn more about and view the 20 teams here.

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