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San Diego State University,
National Training and Development Institute,
Ireland & Central Remedial Clinic, Ireland
Increased emphasis on interdisciplinary approaches permeates twenty-first century strategies for collaboration. The field of assistive technology, given its nature of drawing expertise from a wide range of disciplines, offers many examples of interdisciplinary collaboration. The literature indicates that collaboration among professionals from different disciplines requires at least the following components: identifying a common purpose/goal, recruiting committed partners, developing relationships and interdependence among partners, building capacity from within the system or organization, and identifying necessary resources required for collaboration to proceed (Lipnack & Stamps, 1993). Collaborating across disciplines presents many challenges; however, adding the dimensions of working across geographical and cultural distinctions offers complex, yet rewarding results. The following examples demonstrate the cumulative effect of crossing the boundaries of organizations in the US and Ireland.
The partners described in this article represent a university-based program in the US (SDSU), a national employment and training organization in Ireland (NTDI), and an assistive technology provider in Ireland (CRC/CTS). The common vision that brought these partners together included a belief in high expectations for individuals with disabilities. Individuals with disabilities, like everyone else, are interested in pursuing a quality life that may include meaningful employment, lifelong learning, social opportunities, and comfortable living options. The use of assistive technology often serves as a conduit to these activities. The initial dialogue began between two partners at a time, comparing notes, sharing history, and discovering that this basic non-negotiable value was held in common.
The first activity that solidified the partnership was a training event held in Dublin, Ireland. This seminar was an EPR (European Platform for Rehabilitation) initiative hosted by The National Training and Development Institute (NTDI, Ireland's largest provider of specialist training and education services for people with disabilities and people who are experiencing marginalization). The objective of the seminar was to set a foundation from which information sharing, shared expertise and pooled resources could develop into an infrastructure that would support interdisciplinary collaboration in social, training and educational needs for persons seeking to develop and maximize their day-to-day and long-term life experience. A US university faculty member (San Diego State University) facilitated the seminar with staff from the Central Remedial Clinic in Dublin and NTDI. The twenty-eight delegates from five European countries had the opportunity to gain an overview of the discipline in the following contexts: person centered approach to assistive technology access through assessment and case studies; contextualization of the model in terms of the current Irish situation; discussion of issues around resources and funding; and a kaleidoscope event featuring a range of AT applications from local providers. The outcomes from this seminar included the development of a network of communicating professionals with a common interest in access; an email distribution list of shared information; and a professionally edited version of the seminar on videotape that is available for use in AT training.
Based on the success of this activity, other events have followed, including the presentation of a paper at the European Conference for the Advancement of Assistive Technology in Europe (AAATE, 2003). Increased collaboration within Ireland and with the US has resulted in the initiation of the following efforts.
Access in Postsecondary Institutions
In order to maximize individual potential in training and education at the postsecondary level in Ireland, NTDI is proposing to develop a module for college staff inservice training to build capacity within the Vocational Educational Colleges. Based partially on lessons learned from visits in San Diego and in collaboration with CRC, NTDI staff will address the following areas: diversity and disability awareness; empowerment and training of staff to integrate effective instructional strategies; enhancement of student opportunities to maximize learning potential through accessible curricula; and implement accessibility-related practices into overall policy.
Similarly, services have been implemented at The Dyscovery Centre, Wales (a center of expertise in specific learning difficulties) based at ITB (Institute of Technology, Blanchardstown). The National BUA Centre will be primarily supporting adolescents and adults who may have existing learning difficulties and also help to identify those who may not have recognized the reasons for their difficulties, and will aim to work with them to help them to achieve their full potential. The National BUA Centre initially aims to provide the following services: screening of individuals to identify learning preferences and learning difficulties; a comprehensive assessment service to gain a greater understanding of specific needs and how to support the individual in the college setting and the wider community; student support services- including study skills support, independent living skills, communication skills, organizational and planning skills; college tutor advisory service based at ITB to begin with, but will extend this service to other areas; and inservice training as required for colleges, schools, and employers.
Collaboration in Professional Education
The Central Remedial Clinic (CRC) in partnership with University College Dublin (UCD) have developed and provide two specific educational curricula dedicated to the area of AT. The undergraduate Certificate and Diploma courses in Assistive Technology evolved as a result of a collaborative partnership between the CRC, UCD and the Centre for Disability at California State University Northridge. The model adopted for the delivery of these programs has been a practical Interdisciplinary approach, drawing upon and fostering skill sharing of personnel from a wide range of disciplines and areas of interest.
One of the evolving benefits from the delivery of such educational curricula has been the increase in the range of personnel committed to participation in a collaborative process in the delivery of assistive technology solutions for people with disabilities. With an awareness of the core knowledge and skills required, it has been easier for people to find their own particular roles within the service delivery process. In the development of courseware for the above named programs, it was important to develop materials that extended beyond the traditional "toolcentric" content and practically addressed the skills necessary to work within an interdisciplinary model (Stern & Trefler, 1997).
The partnership that began in this activity has generated more interest in working together, accessing more resources, and ultimately resulting in better services and supports for individuals with disabilities. Using dialogue both "to strengthen personal relationships and to solve problems" (Yankelovich, 1999, p. 12) has been an essential tool. Through meaningful dialogue, strategic alliances have been formed that are bringing new results for professionals and for consumers of services in the disability and assistive technology arenas.
Lipnack, J., & Stamps, J. (1993). The TeamNet factor: Bringing the power of boundary crossing into the heart of your business. Vermont: Oliver Wight Publications.
Stern, P., & Trefler, E. (1997). An interdisciplinary problem-based learning project for assistive technology education. Assistive Technology 9.2: 152 - 157.
Yankelovich, D. (1999). The magic of dialogue: Transforming conflict into cooperation. New York: Simon & Schuster.
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