CRS Secretary Asst. Prof. Arlene Chiong-Maya, CRS academic staff and Simbahayan Community Development Office Assistant Director Asst. Prof. Christian Rey Rimando, and Faculty of Engineering academic staff Engr. Wally Enrico Ingco, joined the 3-day EMPOWER 2023 Conference and 4-day Study Visit in India about Assistive Technologies.
EMPOWER 2023 is an annual scientific meeting that brings multiple stakeholders together for the development, innovation and utilization of assistive technologies. The conference was held in October in IIT Madras Research Park, Taramani, Chennai, India.
After the conference, a study visit was done on various centers that showcase a wide spectrum of assistive technologies both in Chennai and Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum), India.
Participants got to explore the Museum of Possibilities, an establishment under the Department of Welfare of Differently Abled Persons of the Government of Tamil Nadu that showcases adaptive devices and model accessible home modifications for persons with disabilities (PWDs) where technologies followed the principle of universal design. PWDs themselves were given the opportunity to provide service at the Museum Cafe.
In addition to the museum visit, two institutions were also visited namely, Vidya Sagar Institute (formerly the Spastics Society of India) and Madras Industrial Training Institute (ITI). Both institutions showed how the PWDs were educated, trained and integrated to be independent and to engage in individually-designed and adapted occupations. Vidya Sagar offers various services to more than 3800 PWDs each year that includes early intervention, education, community empowerment, therapy, vocational training and advocacy for disability rights. In ITI, PWD youths were involved in vocational activities as an exposure training for future job placements.
A study visit at the National Institute of Speech and Hearing (NISH) in Thiruvananthapuram was also made. NISH is an institute that offers innovative approaches allowing multidisciplinary team approach for the development, testing, utilization and implementation of assistive technologies for the benefit of PWDs. The International Centre for Free and Open Source Software (ICFOSS) was visited to observe how advanced technologies are being applied for assistive technology. It also allows linking of communities, developers and institutions to collaborate in promoting research-based development of softwares, instruments and machines.
Participants were also given an exposure at Kanthari which provided an opportunity to learn from PWDs who were involved in a 12-month immersive, hands-on, multi-national and intensive training program. Kanthari aims to equip change makers with all tools and skills required to start their own impact-making organizations or projects.
The conference and study visits provided learnings as the university aims to develop its own assistive technology center that will provide interprofessional research-based collaborative opportunities to provide services for PWDs.