News Coming Full Circle: Aisha Nakazibwe

Once a consumer, Aisha Nakazibwe is now a VR counselor.
  • Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission

Media Contact for Coming Full Circle: Aisha Nakazibwe

Colleen G. Casey, Director of Communication

black woman in leopard print dress

Aisha Nakazibwe remembers her first day in America like it was yesterday. She stepped outside Logan Airport on a mid-November day in 1999 to have the raw New England breeze engulf her, a surreal experience for someone from Uganda, where the average temperature is 84 degrees. Living with polio, Aisha, who uses crutches to walk, is particularly impacted by the cold weather and is susceptible to joint aches.

As with most things in her life, however, the frigid temperature wasn’t going to stop her. While the weather may be colder than she was use to, there was something exciting about what opportunities came with the climate.

Her family is no stranger to hard work. Aisha said her mother who was a Certified Nurses Assistant (CNA) and later became a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN), took her and her two brothers, who both have intellectual disabilities to America to “find a better life for her children.”

“My mother is the epitome of what a mother should be,” she said. “If there has ever been a person that has been tested and has overcome so much, it is her. She always has such a positive mentality, is a hard worker, and does everything for her kids. Having one child with a disability is a lot, but can you imagine having three?”

Aisha and her family settled in Nashua, NH. It there she was first introduced to vocational rehabilitation. “I did not want to go to high school and I did not have my GED yet,” she said. “My mother was at school for an Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting for my brother and mentioned she had a daughter with a disability at home. The school staff member gave her the contact information for New Hampshire’s vocational rehabilitation program.”

Aisha’s mother called New Hampshire’s VR program and scheduled a meeting for her daughter to speak with a counselor. “When I met with my counselor, I told her ‘I didn’t want to go to high school,’ and she sent me to the Nashua Adult Learning Center. New Hampshire VR is how I got my start.”

Beginning her VR Journey

It was there Aisha learned how to use a computer, learn about budgeting, and even earn her GED. Following that, her counselor worked with her on a roadmap to explore potential career opportunities. She also helped Aisha with a life-long dream: driving.

“I told her I want to drive,” Aisha said. “At the time I did not know about and had never seen automatic cars. My counselor saw my left leg was disabled, not my right. She said to me, ‘your hands work, you can drive.’ It was so foreign to me I thought she was making it up”

Soon after earning her GED and license Aisha and her family moved to Lawrence, MA. She was worried about losing VR services, however her counselor referred her to the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC). Aisha remembers working with counselor Jen Cornette, who she said “really guided her.”

Over the next few years Aisha focused on her education and earned a associate’s degree in Liberal Arts from Middlesex Community College, a bachelor’s degree in Community Health from the University of Massachusetts Lowell, and a master’s degree in School Counseling from Rivier University.

“Throughout my college life I would always ask my counselors about what they did. I thought to myself, I like people, children, things that make me laugh, and new things.”

Upon graduation from Rivier, Aisha became a Skills Trainer at Northeastern Independent Living Center. It was there she realized she wanted to pursue working in vocational rehabilitation. “By that time I had used every type of VR service as a consumer and was familiar with everything,” she said.

Cornette encouraged her to apply for a VR position in New Hampshire which Nakazibwe ended up getting.

“I came to acceptance of my abilities, I suffered a lot with doubts,” said Aisha. “I come from a culture where there were limits with what I could achieve. It took me years to reprogram my brain. “There is a level of compassion that I have. It doesn’t mean I will understand everything, but it means I have a foundational understanding myself. I love meeting people in person so they are able to see I have a disability too.”

Working at MRC

Throughout her four years as a counselor in NH, Aisha kept in touch with her counselors at MRC. In 2017, her journey came full circle when she was hired as a vocational rehabilitation counselor in MRC’s Lawrence Office.

“They knew I wanted to work at MRC. The position came up, I applied and I got it,” she said. “I love telling people about services. VR is the reason I am where I am. I love telling people about services and how we can help them get a job. For an individual with a disability. Its ok if you don’t know you are qualified, just reach out, these services are in every state.

Aisha added, “Through my personal experience I want to show people how we can be the foundation and that we can achieve and be a force in this world. Disability is not inability. We do big things.”

Media Contact for Coming Full Circle: Aisha Nakazibwe

Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission 

The Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC) helps individuals with disabilities to live and work independently. MRC is responsible for Vocational Rehabilitation, Community Living, and Disability Determination for federal benefit programs.