October 2023
ICI's Renáta Tichá (fourth from left) working with counseling staff at KL University in Andhra Pradesh, India.

ICI's Renáta Tichá (fourth from left) working with counseling staff at KL University in Andhra Pradesh, India.

The Institute’s Global Resource Center for Inclusive Education (GRC) is helping to establish an assistive technology center at KL University in Andhra Pradesh, India and will collaborate on future inclusive education initiatives with KL, a leader in engineering studies.

Under a memorandum of understanding between the organizations, ICI and KL researchers will explore new assistive technologies and inclusion strategies that address critical needs in the disability community.

“This partnership has opened up new opportunities for ICI, including potential projects with national technology funding sources,” said Renáta Tichá, co-director of the GRC. “Equally important, it allows us to connect the social aspect of inclusion with their technological innovations in ways they hadn’t done before.”

The partnership will encourage faculty members to embark on socially-beneficial research, said Jayaprakash Jala, deputy director of international relations and associate dean of academics at KL.

“We recognize that one of the major problems to solve for our future is our preparedness levels for dealing with disability and old age,” he said. “To take on this challenge, we wanted to join hands with a university experienced in these issues, and we are excited about this combination. A lot of equipment used for helping people with disabilities comes from China and other countries, and we think there is great potential in India to develop future technologies.”

It was actually another collaboration that sparked the new work. In 2017, ICI and the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, along with Arizona State University and several non-U.S. universities, conducted a six-week fellowship for 28 global scholars as part of a U.S. State Department’s recognition of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. Fellows came to Minnesota and Arizona from India, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Armenia.

Pavan Kumar Bada, a person with disabilities who now works at KL, was one of those scholars. He teaches courses on universal human values and also provides individual counseling and mental health support to KL’s 18,000 students as part of a 15-person team of psychologists. Recently, Bada submitted a proposal to launch the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technologies department at KL.

Bada arranged for Tichá to visit KL this summer, where she gave a presentation to 500 students and 20 faculty on ways to use technology innovations to improve inclusion in communities, along with establishing the assistive technology center. She also spoke with KL psychologists who work with students with learning and mental health needs about inclusive education initiatives around the world.

“After my fellowship, I approached a number of organizations about starting a center for inclusion for people with disabilities, but things didn’t work out and I was discouraged,” Bada said. “When I started working at KL, my hope started to return because, as a technological institution, KL has design and innovation courses. These students go out into the community to assess needs and solve real problems. I knew this was the opportunity to use what I learned. It has given me a chance to advocate for putting inclusion ahead of everything else. The technology is important, but it has to be led by inclusion.”