Rehab counseling research goes global

May 16, 2011

New institute to explore technology for individuals with intellectual disabilities

FROM VIDEO GAMES, to smartphone apps, to geo-tagging on Facebook, technology plays an ever-increasing role in just about everyone’s life. At Michigan State University, researchers in the ?eld of rehabilitation counseling want to know how technology can make a difference for those with intellectual disabilities.

Last fall, MSU co-hosted an international conference on the topic in Ireland and announced that it would join an interdisciplinary research team to study the issue.

The newly formed Interdisciplinary Research Institute on Intellectual Disability (IRIID) at the Daughters of Charity Service in Ireland aims to help inform policy and practice while also improving service, care and outcomes for individuals served by the charity.

The IRIID partnership includes the Of?ce of Rehabilitation and Disability Studies in the MSU College of Education and ?ve Irish universities: Dublin City University, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin and University of Limerick in Ireland.

IRIID hopes to address the role of assistive technology in the daily lives of those with the most severe and signi?cant intellectual disabilities, such as mental retardation and some forms of autism. Up until now, the research within this population has been limited at best.

“I am very con?dent that our interdisciplinary institute will lead to an increased amount of attention from researchers, product designers and practitioners on the technology needs of those with intellectual disabilities,” said Professor Michael Leahy, director of the Of?ce of Rehabilitation and Disability Studies at MSU.

Leahy, who also traveled to Ireland for the of?cial IRIID opening this April, said the institute will study technology issues along with a broad scope of research focused on the livelihoods of people with intellectual disabilities.
Started with Study Abroad

The research institute is the result of an ongoing relationship built over a ?ve-year period between the rehabilitation counseling programs at MSU and the Daughters of Charity, which provides services in the Dublin and Limerick regions.

In 2007, MSU launched an innovative study abroad program in Ireland called Disability in a Diverse Society to expand study abroad opportunities for students with disabilities and to examine issues related to their experiences.

Leahy has focused on combining coursework and service-learning during the trip to create a high-quality, transformative experience for students. Ireland models an innovative “universal design” policy that frames disability as a natural aspect of life.

“We saw early on that this connection in Ireland could lead to fruitful research opportunities,” said Leahy. “The applied research that we intend to pursue through the institute offers real value to people.”

Jeffrey Riedinger, dean of International Studies and Programs at MSU, says that the formation of the IRIID is an excellent example of aligning educational programming and research abroad.

“Our vision is to give all of our students, faculty and staff the opportunity to help solve some of the world’s most pressing problems,” he said. “One way we achieve this is through our study abroad of?ce, which works to ensure a broad offering of programs and increased accessibility for our students.”

About 20 graduate students and faculty members from MSU were able to attend the international conference, called DOCTRID (Daughters of Charity, Technology and Research Into Disability) in Dublin last fall. Leahy foresees many opportunities for rehabilitation counseling students and graduates to participate in future research ventures of the IRIID.

>>?Stephanie Motschenbacher