Embracing Diversity: Fulbrighters with Disabilities’ Unwavering Commitment

by Geghie Davis-Tillie

copy-edited by Itto Outini


Fulbrighters with Disabilities
Logo by: FWD

What enters the average person’s mind in response to the phrase “diversity and inclusion”? For some, these words may conjure up images of corporate boardrooms ticking off checkboxes. For others, they may call to mind well-intentioned policymakers striving to create more welcoming professional atmospheres. In reality, however, these words ought to evoke more than corporate policies. They are ideals whose realization demands consideration of the vast and vivid tapestry of human experiences, abilities, and perspectives that occur throughout the world.

Consideration of this tapestry – and with it, the commitment to diversity and inclusion that it inspires – animates Fulbrighters with Disabilities (FWD), a global, virtual chapter of the Fulbright Association.

FWD is the first chapter of the Fulbright Association to focus on supporting students and scholars with disabilities. To this end, we’ve embraced a virtual model to increase our global reach and foster national, cultural, geographical, linguistic, and ethnic diversity without requiring that people with limited mobility travel long distances, live away from their families, or forsake their local support systems. This, we believe, is an essential strategy for building a more diverse and inclusive future. Since our launch in 2021, we’ve made significant progress toward building a diverse, international community, advancing advocacy efforts, and collaborating with other chapters and partner organizations.

Our board consists of four members: President Geghie Davis-Tillie, Vice President Keegan Julius, Treasurer Istou Diallo, and Secretary Frank Mondelli. We all identify as people with disabilities. Our efforts are supported by the contributions of many wonderful volunteers. As a Neurodivergent woman with multiple invisible, physical disabilities, I consider it a privilege and honor to lead such an extraordinary team toward fulfilling our potential to contribute to the Fulbright community and better the world.

Advocacy Day at Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., from left to right: Leland Lazarus, Geghie Davis-Tillie, President of FWD, Catherine Harbour, and Keegan Julius, Vice President of FWD; photo: Leland Lazarus.
Advocacy Day at Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., from left to right: Leland Lazarus, Geghie Davis-Tillie, President of FWD, Catherine Harbour, and Keegan Julius, Vice President of FWD; photo: Leland Lazarus.

Our chapter’s founder, Itto Outini, worked long and hard to get FWD off the ground. A totally blind Fulbright alumna, journalist, writer, Steinbeck Fellow, and international public speaker, Itto has since gone on to launch her own international media platform, The DateKeepers, in partnership with her husband. Both projects reflect Itto’s commitment to elevating diversity and inclusion beyond the banal verbiage of the boardroom and bringing together individuals with diverse perspectives and abilities, from all walks of life and every corner of the globe, to strive together toward a common cause. Without Itto’s unwavering vigilance and dedication, neither our chapter nor The DateKeepers would be here today.

Itto Outini (left) and Mekiya Outini (right), founders of the DateKeepers; photo: Julia Walters
Itto Outini (left) and Mekiya Outini (right), founders of the DateKeepers; photo: Julia Walters

In 2022, a year after founding the chapter, Itto passed on the presidency of FWD to me. At the time, I’d just returned from my Fulbright in England and had connected with Itto via LinkedIn, where she was seeking scholars with disabilities to interview and profile. This encouraged me to share with her my stories from my time in England, including how the Fulbright Association and my university had helped me acquire official ADHD and dyslexia diagnoses and access therapy, which I wouldn’t otherwise have been able to afford. Spurred by the revelation that I’m Neurodivergent, and that there’s a vast community of Neurodivergent individuals all over the world, I ended up writing my thesis on sensory processing differences (SPD) and how implementing more accessible and inclusive design practices can help those of us with such conditions more easily navigate public spaces. Back in the U.S., I wanted to do more, deepening my engagement with the international Neurodivergent community while also giving back to the Fulbright Association. Sensing my passion, Itto encouraged me to take a leading role in FWD. 

This year, we attended Fulbright Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., where we engaged with policymakers to secure Fulbright funding. In July, I had the honor of flying to London to attend the first Fulbrighter and Community Engagement Workshop, where over 30 Fulbright alumni and friends from all around the world gathered to brainstorm strategies for improving social connectivity. Possibly our proudest achievement has been our successful implementation of the first-ever sensory room at the Fulbright Association Conference in Denver – though speaking at the Youth Summit and participating in the table-top event are close runners-up.

Fulbrighters with Disabilities is more than a chapter. We are a movement united by the common vision of seeing diversity celebrated and inclusivity becoming the norm. Our commitment to pushing boundaries through advocacy, education, and innovation knows no bounds. As we advance toward the horizon, I hope FWD can serve our community as a guiding light illuminating paths toward a world where every thread of our diverse tapestry is recognized and celebrated and where no one is left behind.

For more information about Fulbrighters with Disabilities or the DateKeepers, please reach out by emailing the chapter at fwd@fulbright.org 

Author Info

Headshot: photo by Geghie Davis-Tillie
Headshot: photo by Geghie Davis-Tillie

Geghie Davis-Tillie is a human-centered designer with a focus in UX/UI East Tennessee in the U.S. She currently serves as President of the Fulbrighters with Disabilities chapter within the Fulbright Association. With a deep connection to her Appalachian heritage and her personal experience as someone with multiple invisible disabilities including Neurodivergence, Geghie brings a distinctive and multifaceted perspective to her storytelling, making it truly unique.

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