OSU Nisonger Center and AUCD Professional Fellows Alum Launch Virtual Training Partnership Between U.S. & Tanzania

December 14, 2020

L: AUCD Professional Fellows alumna Bijal Lal & Dr. Margo Izzo. R: Teachers at an AMSEN-OSU ECHO Tanzania virtual training led by the Ohio UCEDD & LEND.
L: AUCD Professional Fellows alumna Bijal Lal & Dr. Margo Izzo. R: Teachers at an AMSEN-OSU ECHO Tanzania virtual training led by the Ohio UCEDD & LEND.

In troubling times, international partnerships that use online learning to build professional capacity and expertise in disability inclusion are more important than ever. AMSEN-OSU ECHO Tanzania, a new initiative created by AUCD Professional Fellows alum Bijal Lal and the Ohio State University Nisonger Center, offers many lessons on how to share knowledge globally and deliver supports locally at a distance.

AMSEN-OSU ECHO Tanzania is a new virtual training partnership that connects faculty and trainees at the Ohio State University Nisonger Center (Ohio UCEDD and LEND) with teachers at the Al Muntazir Special Education Needs School (AMSEN), which serves 80 students with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. It enables AMSEN special education teachers and Nisonger Center LEND trainees to learn from and alongside one another in webinars led by Ohio UCEDD and LEND faculty, who share best practices, review case studies, and provide advice on how the teachers can address students' individualized needs. Webinars occur monthly via Zoom, and engage a multidisciplinary team of experts on special education, speech language pathology, psychology, transition services, and other subjects related to inclusive education and inclusive employment. Together, AMSEN and the Nisonger Center have created a rich, sustainable partnership despite the COVID-19 pandemic, to which the U.S. and Tanzania have reacted very differently. Tanzania lifted its COVID-related restrictions in June 2020, but its disability community and professionals who support them still face many complex challenges. AMSEN-OSU ECHO Tanzania is helping address these virtually.

AUCD Professional Fellows alumna Bijal Lal created the AMSEN-OSU ECHO Tanzania program with Ohio UCEDD faculty after she spent a five-week Fellowship at the center under the mentorship of its Transition Services Director, Dr. Margo Izzo. Bijal's Fellowship in Ohio occurred via AUCD's Professional Fellows Program on Inclusive Disability Employment (PFP-IDE), an international exchange that enables African disability rights advocates to learn best practices at UCEDD and LEND. AUCD implements the program with ICI-UMass Boston and Humanity & Inclusion, and it is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Dr. Izzo hosted Bijal at the Ohio UCEDD in October-November 2019, where she interacted with many of the Nisonger Center's programs, partners, and the disability community. Bijal wanted her colleagues in Tanzania to share her connections to the center's experts as well as its resources, and Dr. Izzo agreed. Dr. Izzo, who had hosted another Tanzanian Professional Fellow previously and visited the country to deliver technical assistance to an inclusive employment project earlier in 2019, had observed that UCEDD and LEND such as the Nisonger Center could benefit locally from increasing their international engagement with disability champions such as Bijal and her peers. Creating more international training partnerships would also expand the impact of UCEDD and LEND, elevate their faculty, and strengthen their own trainees' understanding of how evidence-based practices can be applied in different countries. She and Bijal knew it was possible to do this virtually too.

Bijal and Dr. Izzo worked closely with Dr. Paula Rabidoux, Director of the Ohio LEND Program, to develop a virtual online training partnership between AMSEN in Dar es Salaam and Nisonger Center faculty and staff. They drew upon the ECHO Model for virtual professional training (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes), which enables service providers to access remote expertise, case studies, and mentorship via videoconference. In every AMSEN-OSU ECHO Tanzania webinar, Bijal brings her peer special education teachers at AMSEN and an occupational therapist to consult over Zoom with a multidisciplinary team of Nisonger Center experts recruited by Dr. Izzo and Dr. Rabidoux. They arrange the webinars together, as Bijal identifies her colleagues' specialized interests and shares them in advance with Dr. Izzo and Dr. Rabidoux, who select colleagues with matching expertise and resources to deliver interactive trainings via Zoom every month. Together, these form a curriculum for long-term professional development and virtual exchange between their institutions.

Left: Teachers in Tanzania participate in the Ohio UCEDD/LEND's international virtual training initiative (AMSEN-OSU ECHO Tanzania).

Right: Ohio LEND Training Director Dr. Andrea Witwer shows Tanzanian teachers how to use communication aids for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).

The students with intellectual and developmental disabilities at AMSEN in Dar es Salaam are the direct primary focus of the sessions. In each webinar, the AMSEN teachers, the local OT, and the Nisonger team review student case studies, share resources, and exchange experiences with designing interventions, helping students in the classroom, and advising families. The current curriculum spans many subjects requested by teachers, including speech and communication, literacy supports, transition, and trauma-informed care. The Nisonger Center's team of experts engaged by Dr. Izzo and Dr. Rabidoux offer multiple perspectives on these issues and complementary strategies for interventions. Afterward, AMSEN teachers adapt and implement the U.S. evidence-based practices they share to support students and families.

The AMSEN-OSU ECHO Tanzania partnership has given great insight to not only the teachers and OT in Dar es Salaam, but also to the Nisonger Center team, who learn about challenges to disability inclusion in a very different context by engaging with teachers in Tanzania. The webinars are especially rich learning opportunities for LEND trainees who observe and participate in the sessions. They witness how professional virtual exchanges like these not only spread knowledge but also enable disability champions from different countries to work together and identify new ways to implement best practices for inclusion. AMSEN-OSU ECHO Tanzania has been immensely beneficial for both institutions, which are keen for it to continue.

AMSEN-OSU ECHO Tanzania's current series of webinars will continue into the spring of 2021, and Bijal, Dr. Izzo, and Dr. Rabidoux plan to extend the partnership in different ways. It offers a promising example of how to create sustainable partnerships and improve supports for individuals with disabilities at a time when commitment to inclusion is needed more than ever.