A Fulbright Scholar travels to Sri Lanka to help women in need 

Carmen Britton stands in front of a pillar

Carmen Britton ’07 and ‘08 has a knack for analyzing behaviors of people with disabilities. She has worked with children as close as Birmingham, Ala. and as far away as the Philippines.

However, Britton is currently out of the country again after winning a grant from the Fulbright Scholarship in 2016 to conduct qualitative research on the experience of women with disabilities in community-based rehabilitation in Sri Lanka.

When she joined the Peace Corps at 24, she got her first job outside of Alabama, all the way in the Philippines for two years working with disabled children in a residential center. “They were essentially orphaned, they were left on the street because their parents couldn’t take care of them, so the government placed them in this compound,” Britton said. “They would eat, go to school and go to sleep. I worked with staff there and learned professional development skills.”

After returning to America, she enrolled in the Ph.D. program at University of Connecticut and is currently in her third year of Human Development and Family Studies.

“Really, the main reason why I got into the Ph.D. program was because of working with the Peace Corps; same with getting the Fulbright scholarship.” Britton added that the program likes accepting members who are return volunteers of the Peace Corps.

“I want to understand the pros and cons of how we treat people with disabilities,” she said. “My background is children with disabilities, but now I’m transitioning to women with disabilities.”

Comparing and contrasting the United States to how foreign countries treat people with disabilities is the primary focus of Britton’s research interest.

Coincidentally, one of the scholars who spoke with Britton about Sri Lanka actually used to teach at Auburn. Dr. Thulitha Wickrama taught Human Development and Family Studies at the university for about eight years. He is in Sri Lanka now, working with widows affected by civil war and tsunami.Out of the good nature of the Auburn family, Britton said Dr. Wickrama has made it his mission to help her find a research assistant.

She is currently staying at a friend’s apartment in Colombo, Sri Lanka. However, at the end of the month, she will be moving to Rajagiriya, a suburb bordering Colombo.

“I’m currently amassing a list of people to contact to participate in my research,” said Britton. “This past Tuesday I did visit a potential site. I’m also in the process of trying to hire a female research assistant. I also need a translator for my interviews.”

Britton has been getting around the city on her own, though. The Fulbright program provided a four-week language course, but she says google translate is also a big help.

Britton’s plan is to go out to rural cities to visit and observe the day-to-day operations of the community-based rehabilitation programs. “The bulk of my data will come from semi-structured in-depth interviews and will focus on the words of women with disabilities themselves about their experiences in the community-based rehabilitation program.”

It’s proving difficult to try to find a research assistant who will travel outside of Colombo. A lot of times, if you are an unmarried woman, you’re supposed to travel with family.”

This being said, Britton has learned the college graduates she’s been reaching out to cannot get permission from their families to work with her. She added women are quite limited to going outside their family circle. “Even when I’m riding the bus at 8 p.m. I’m the only woman.”

Britton says people with disabilities in Sri Lanka face discrimination in various settings. She will be working with people that have wide ranges of disabilities. But she mainly wants to understand how the culture treats people with disabilities.

“Overall, the direct and lived experiences of individuals with disabilities are not often valued and represented in the available rehabilitation literature,” said Britton. “Hopefully collecting and analyzing their experiences will help to address gaps within rehabilitation and development literature.”

Britton will be back in Connecticut in August with her data and begin working on her dissertation. The core idea is how the experiences of these women living and working conditions are affected by their disabilities.

Britton knows her goal is to get her Ph.D, but is still not entirely sure what will come next. “Ideally I would like to serve a consultant, educator or liaison between marginalized communities, greater communities or people with disabilities to help connect the dots and help connect people.”