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Intern, technology, link PACER to parents in India

By Patricia Bill

Viveca BraganzaFour years ago, Viveca Braganza focused on honing her skills for teaching children with disabilities. Little did she realize that she would become part of a cutting-edge international collaboration to teach their parents, as well.

Braganza came to the University of Minnesota from Mumbai (Bombay), India, to earn her doctorate in educational psychology-special education. Classes and an internship at PACER Center introduced her to parent advocacy.

“When I first came to the U, they were talking about laws in my classes. My thought was ‘just teach me how to teach.’ It took me a year to understand the importance of laws and how laws can help families and children with disabilities,” she said.

Braganza’s experiences at PACER in the summers of 2005 and 2006 reinforced her awareness of the connection among laws, parent advocacy, and teaching students with disabilities.

“I saw advocacy in action at PACER,” she said. “I value PACER’s philosophy of parents of children with disabilities as advocates. The positive attitude toward families who come here and how [PACER staff] help parents learn skills to work with the schools is something I want to take back to India.”

But, that’s a bit down the road. Braganza has a more current goal: building a PACER Web site (developed with the Indian government’s National Trust) to help families in India and other nations become informed, effective advocates for their children with disabilities. PACER plans to launch it this fall.

While the first phase of the site involves India and the United States, a number of other countries will be participating in the near future.

The site is part of a four-prong PACER effort to help children with disabilities across the globe. Other projects include a ground-breaking international assistive technology conference in December and a state-of-the art assistive technology center like PACER’s Simon Technology Center, both in Bangalore, India, and international parent exchanges.

Content for the new international Web site includes information about disabilities family involvement and advocacy laws affecting children with disabilities assistive technology services and resources for families how parents in other nations can help their children with disabilities

The site has adapted PACER materials, including information on how parents can approach the school, how they can talk to doctors, and what is new in assistive technology.

Braganza said parents in India need the information. There are nongovernment organizations (NGOs) working in various parts of India that provide information and support to parents, but she said she is not aware of any center like PACER that is working for education rights of individuals with disabilities.

Much is in place to help parents advocate for their children with disabilities. India has laws, government ministries, and existing resources that can affect children with disabilities. However, parents often are uninformed about them, Braganza said.

“Many families of children with disabilities do not know about [the laws], so they don’t use them,” said Braganza. “Many parents do not have the notion that the laws provide rights for their children and that parents should exercise their right to an appropriate education for their child,” she said.

As a result, parents do not know where and how to obtain educational services for their children, said Braganza. Some parents who can afford it take on the responsibility of educating their child through private tutoring after school. Thus, schools are not held accountable for student achievement, she said.

She is hoping that her contribution to the Web site and her future work in India will help change that, said Braganza. She is interested in starting parent centers in India, she added.

Meanwhile, she appreciates the opportunity to work with PACER, Braganza said.

“PACER is a really good resource for parents,” she said.

She looks forward to sharing what she has learned at PACER, “so parents in India can see how advocacy can bring positive outcomes for their children.”

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