Friday, February 9, 2018

AT center director from India visits UATP

photo of the men in action
Dr. Satheesh Kumar and Clay Christensen work on
equipment at the AT Lab in Logan.
Even before he came to visit the Utah Assistive Technology Program this week,  Professor KG Satheesh Kumar said he and others from his center in India had gone through the UATP website and were inspired by what they saw.

They studied it and created their own strategy around it.

Kumar directs the Centre for Assistive Technology and Innovation in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India. This week, he visited the AT Lab in Logan, learning more about its demonstration and loan program and the computer center.

While CATI's focus is early intervention, it has many of the same interests as UATP. Demonstrations and loans are important in India, he said; a healthy demo and loan program helps people make sure that the AT they buy is really the best option for them, and the best use of their money. People with disabilities in India typically have little money to use in buying AT.

"Awareness and training of people with disabilities and caregivers is our first priority," he said. "Our challenges are number one, creating awareness, and number two is selecting the right product."

Kumar also hopes to see the assistive technology industry grow in India. It will take technology development, turning that technology into products, manufacturing, sales and distribution, and after-sales support. "All of these are important, and in India, these are all missing," he said. The economy in India has not encouraged the development of AT on its own; people with disabilities typically do not have the dollars to spend on AT, so manufacturers don't find the sector attractive.

In the United States, the Tech Act is in place to promote the use of assistive technology. India does not have an equivalent, Dr. Kumar said, though laws in the last two years have placed greater emphasis on accessibility and accommodation for people with disabilities.

Kumar's visit to the Logan AT Lab and the CReATE program in Salt Lake City were part of a multi-stop tour to gain more information on how assistive technology is addressed in the US. He toured AT programs in several states and attended the Assistive Technology Industry Association conference that took place at the end of January in Orlando, Florida.

The Centre for Assistive Technology and Innovation in India started two years ago, at a time when the country is placing greater emphasis on providing accommodations for people with disabilities. It is located in the National Institute of Speech and Hearing, which has operated since 1997.

"NISH is being converted into a national central university," Kumar said. This progress comes amid encouraging changes in Indian society. "The previous practice was to hide disability within the family," he said. "That is changing. ... Now they are being cared for and educated."

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