Brian Abery and Renata Ticha with international scholars in ICI's new home at the Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain in Minneapolis.

Several scholars from Europe, Australia, and central Asia are visiting the Institute on Community Integration as part of a broad-based exchange aimed at increasing the inclusion of people with disabilities around the globe. 

The visitors, on campus for varying lengths of stay, are from the Czech Republic, Spain, Kazakhstan, and Australia, and are working with ICI’s Global Disability Rights and Inclusion program area, led by Brian Abery and Renáta Tichá (pictured at left).  

Roger Stancliffe (not pictured), professor emeritus at University of Sydney, joins ICI as a senior research associate. He is working with an ICI team that is studying the transition to retirement process and served as an editor for the Institute’s most recent Impact issue focused on aging and retirement. 

Jan Šiška (third from right), a Fulbright-Masaryk scholar from Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic, is building relationships with U.S. disability organizations and gathering information about programs that assist students with disabilities in their transitions to community life after high school. He’s also building a framework for assessing the quality of social services across Europe. 

“The work also involves studying [ICI’s] research and project management methods and learning broadly about the American disability culture,” Šiška said. He will collaborate with Tichá and Abery on specific post-secondary education and independent community living objectives as part of grants their respective institutions have received from the U.S. and Czech governments. 

“We are trying to assess to what extent transition programs and education for young adults help them to become active citizens – working in the community and voting, for example – and how we can work together to build a framework for teachers to enhance their expertise,” Šiška said. 

Cristina Cardona Moltó (second from right), a professor at the University of Alicante in Alicante, Spain, is developing an index that will be used to assess the quality of inclusive special education instruction.  

“I’m very grateful to Renáta and Brian for opening the doors of ICI for this work,” she said. “We have different traditions in our respective countries, so having the opportunity to be here and observe the work you do will help us be successful in creating instruments for measuring the effectiveness of how we are preparing teachers for inclusive education.” 

In turn, Tichá and Abery said the international visitors bring fresh ideas and different perspectives to their work in improving the lives of people with disabilities. 

“We all come from countries with quite different disability policies and practices, but it has actually been smoother than we thought to find areas where we could collaborate,” Tichá said.  

Abery said the work is certainly easier when colleagues are sitting across a table instead of communicating virtually, but it goes deeper than proximity and language translation.

“It’s working through concepts that are slightly different in each country but knowing that the ultimate goal is the same, which is to enrich the possibilities for people with disabilities,” he said. 

One example is the time the group spent in discussing the different perspectives of active citizenship and what that means to and for people with disabilities. 

“My goal in being here is to understand the methods and evidence-based practices in research within inclusive special education because this is new for my country,” said Dinara Yertargynkyzy (extreme right), a senior lecturer at Al-Farabi Kazakh University in Kazakhstan. “Our education systems have been segregated in the past, so I’m grateful for this opportunity to observe.” 

Šárka Káňová (third from left), a researcher and senior lecturer in disability studies and inclusive education at University of West Bohemia in Pilsen, Czech Republic, leads a research team focusing on the availability and quality of community-based services for people with intellectual disability and autism in the Czech Republic. 

“My time at ICI has provided excellent opportunities to observe ongoing research projects and relate them to other work I’ve studied throughout the European Union with the Erasmus program,” she said. Erasmus is the EU’s program supporting education, training, youth, and sport, with an emphasis on social inclusion, environmental and digital advocacy movements, and promoting young people’s participation in democratic life. 

Stancliffe, who has worked extensively with ICI since the 1990s, said international exchanges have made a substantial difference in the disability research infrastructure. 

“There was nothing like ICI in Australia when I first began visiting here in the ‘90s,” he said. “Now, disability research centers exist in Australia and some are very strong, a direct result of university-affiliated programs in the United States and the learning that came from them. The scale and rigor of national U.S. research and the self-determination instruments that have been developed and shared are important. Also, what really impressed me in the ‘90s was that people in the United States with disabilities were working alongside fellow researchers, and today that is much more common in Australia, which is an important change as well.” 

Innovation created from spending time with other cultures is something that is still being repeated today, Abery said. 

“In the United States we often focus on resources and money,” he said. “Working with international colleagues, we see how innovation doesn’t always have to be based on that. Looking at things from a different perspective stimulates everyone’s thinking.”