In remote rural towns, parents and school districts often are at a disadvantage in obtaining expert consultations for their children with special needs, because most centers for childhood disabilities are in major cities, many miles away.
Moreover, the federal 1997 Individuals with Disabilities Educational Act (IDEA) requires public schools to play a larger role in providing services to special-needs children, yet many rural areas lack the expertise to develop such services.
A three-year grant from the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services of the U.S. Department of Education will help several rural districts overcome these obstacles. The project, “Telepartners in Early Diagnosis and Intervention for Children with Disabilities,” will use interactive videoconferencing to connect rural educators and health professionals with special education experts, child psychologists and UW clinicians.
The professionals at both locations can see and talk with each other over a telecommunications link that combines computers, two-way video and a phone line capable of carrying high-quality images, sound and other data.
The principal investigators for the Telepartners Project are Dr. Stephen Sulzbacher, associate professor of pediatrics and of psychiatry and behavioral sciences in the School of Medicine and an adjunct associate professor in the College of Education, and Dr. Thomas E. Norris, professor of family medicine, medical executive of UW Physicians and associate dean of the School of Medicine.
The project will use teleconferencing links the UW medical school already has established for physicians in towns like Thermopolis, Wyo.; Driggs, Idaho; Petersburg, Alaska; Ronan, Mont.; and Colville and Pomeroy, Wash. This system has enabled doctors in these communities to consult with UW experts on complex medical cases. The consultations for special-needs children will be available on a regular schedule, following the example of UW telemedicine clinics that hold office hours for link-ups with distant sites.
The project will assist educators and health-care providers in formulating and implementing appropriate, individual education plans for special-needs children, and will foster closer collaboration between school districts and their local health professionals.
The UW maintains a list of health sciences faculty available to consult or teach seminars via the interactive video link-up. The Telepartners Project will add faculty from the UW College of Education to that list. Dr. Allen D. Glenn, professor and dean of the UW College of Education and an authority on telecommunications technology in education, was instrumental in this effort.
Because medical and educational consultation through videoconferencing is still a new approach, the project team will evaluate this method’s effectiveness and gauge its acceptance by participants.
The Telepartners Project is the latest addition to the UW’s Telehealth Services, which include the WWAMI Rural Telemedicine Network and Bench to Bedside and Beyond, a study of the Internet’s potential in patient care. WWAMI is an abbreviation for Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho, the five states joined with the UW School of Medicine in its education, service and research efforts.