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Naval Pant gazes at a table in a Wyoming Institute for Disabilities (WIND) lab and intermittently picks up various objects that are new to him -- or grazes his fingers over familiar learning tools.
“We have those,” he says of a stack of educational flip cards used to help children with learning disabilities. “Big-print books, some places have them, yes. But, they are not common in all schools (in India).”
“We have never seen this before,” Pant says of a book, titled “The Sensational Alphabet,” which can be used by children with disabilities to see words and pictures; smell scented patches; feel Braille and tactile elements; and hear recorded letters and words.
Pant, chief functionary of three educational centers including the PYSSUM (Paramahansa Yogananda Society for Special Unfolding and Moulding) Child Development Centre in Lucknow, India; and Raghavendra Yadav, an information technology professional with SAP Labs and an educational volunteer from India, visited the University of Wyoming Jan. 24-26. They were on campus to learn more about how WIND faculty and staff members in UW’s College of Health Sciences have taken a model called ECHO -- that is traditionally used to build capacity for health care in rural communities -- and translated its use for education for assistive technology.
ECHO is a model that was first developed at the University of New Mexico by Dr. Sanjeev Arora for health care. UW’s WIND was the first to translate this model for use in educational settings with assistive technology, says Canyon Hardesty, WIND’s coordinator of continuing education.
Through ECHO, an interdisciplinary team of individuals working in education connects weekly, via teleconference, to learn more about how to implement and integrate assistive technology strategies and devices into their schools and classrooms with students with disabilities.
Pant and Yadav had the opportunity to sit in on an ECHO teleconference, where WIND officials and educators from various Wyoming school districts discussed “accommodations, assistive technology and the state assessments”; and learned from educators about the application of recommendations of assistive technology.
Pant says his schools, which also include the PYSSUM Research and Training Center, and the PYSSUM Vocation and Training Center, have used teleconferencing, but they have not yet used it for assistive technologies.
“They are studying the ECHO model (for use) in India to learn how to help those (students) with disabilities, specifically students with developmental disabilities and autism,” says Sara DiRienzo, WIND’s information specialist.
Pant and Yadav started their U.S. trip at the University of New Mexico’s Center for Developmental Disability, where they visited that institution’s ECHO program. Pant says he has been working with that university since 2007.
During that relationship with the University of New Mexico, the two learned of UW’s WIND ECHO program and assistive technology lab. As a result, Pant and Yadav reached out to UW and decided to make a visit to learn more about how WIND uses ECHO in education and for assistive technology.
“There is a severe lack of inclusiveness” of children with disabilities, especially in the northern half of the continent, Pant says of India’s culture. “That is due to a lack of awareness. Different groups are working to bring that awareness.”
Autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and other learning disabilities are those seen in students at the PYSSUM Child Development Centre, Pant says.
Yadav, who is helping Pant locate various funding sources for educational assistive technology in India, says it is important to get parents of children with disabilities more involved and acknowledge their child needs assistance.
“Culturally, a lot of parents are in denial,” Yadav says. “We also would like to see how we could connect pediatricians (in India) with ECHO. That would give us a greater possibility of diagnosing students earlier.”
“I think it’s an exciting opportunity to partner with international collaborators, and learn from them as well as they learn from us,” Hardesty says.
“That educators from across the world are looking to WIND for our expertise in ECHO in education is notable,” DiRienzo says.
“Visiting Wyoming was an amazing experience,” Pant says. “We learned a great deal and, of course, need to implement them in our situations.”
WIND assists individuals with developmental and other disabilities, and their families, by promoting and supporting full community inclusion, community membership, independence, productivity and social participation. To learn more about the UW ECHO in Assistive Technology project, visit https://www.uwyo.edu/wind/echo/ or call WIND at (307) 766-2761.