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concern for children with disabilities prompts international collaboration

Summer 2006
By Patricia Bill

Vacation trips often result in travelers becoming more interested in the area visited. Usually as time goes on, however, the attention wanes.

Not so for a couple of PACER staff. What began as personal trips for Paula F. Goldberg and Sue Folger to destinations across the world have resulted in collaboration to help children with disabilities and their families.

Paula Golbdberg, Sudha Murty, and Sudha Gopalakrishnan

Paula Goldberg (left) met in India with Sudha Murty, chairperson and trustee of the Infosys Foundation, and Sudha Gopalakrishnan, trustee of the foundation

“Children with disabilities and their needs draw my attention wherever I am,” said Goldberg, executive director and a founder of PACER Center.

“When I vacationed in India in 2005 with two friends, I noticed the critical needs of children with disabilities and their families there. We also saw cutting-edge resources that could make a difference for them. Based on my experience in the United States and at PACER Center, I thought there must be a way to match the two.”

A few appointments paved the way. Before she and her friends left India, they had visited with Indian government officials, toured many programs, and laid the groundwork for future collaboration. Now, plans are under way for a December assistive technology conference in Bangalore, India, and creating a center like PACER’s Simon Technology, also in Bangalore, with help from Indian and American companies. (See PACESETTER Fall 2005.)

There are many reasons to be interested in India, said Goldberg. India has millions of children and adults who will benefit from assistive technology. India is a leader in technology and partners with major American IT companies. India’s education system is open to research and demonstration. India is the largest democracy in the world and an ally of the United States. Finally, proposals for assistive technology collaboration are receiving encouragement and support.

Sue Folger, co-director of the Technical Assistance ALLIANCE for Parent Centers (the national center is at PACER) also experienced international involvement with children with disabilities. She visited Malaysia with friends in April. Their host had asked if she would talk to a few parents of children with disabilities while she was in Malaysia. Folger consented, believing it would be a simple encounter with a handful of people.

“Imagine my surprise when I was led to a room with about 80 people waiting to hear about the work of parent centers in the United States,” said Folger.

The scenario was repeated several times during her trip. Folger also visited homes, local centers, and an institution for children with disabilities.

At the institution, resources were unused because of the lack of trained staff.

Sue Folger posing with families of children with disabilities in Malaysia

Sue Folger, third from left in rear, met with families of children with disabilities and professionals on a recent trip with friends to Malaysia.

“Things are very different for people with disabilities in Malaysia than they are in America, but the families there want change. Parents and the people working with children with disabilities were amazed to hear about what many of our children and young adults with disabilities have accomplished with the appropriate support and accommodations,” said Folger. “The people there are hungry for materials and were thrilled to learn about PACER’s Web site,” she said.

The examples of Goldberg and Folger illustrate the possibilities of international collaboration to improve the lives of children with disabilities and their families. However, PACER has had informal global connections for many years. For example, its Count Me In program is in England, Japan, and Australia (see page 10); PACESETTER goes to a number of countries upon request; and the Web site (www.pacer.org) has many visits from across the world. In addition, professionals from other parts of the world contact PACER for tours when they visit the United States.

As nearly anyone would agree, the world is becoming smaller. PACER’s experiences merely echo the fact.

Visit PACER's other sites: Teens Against Bullying | Kids Against Bullying

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