by Anya Weber
ICI director William E. Kiernan recently returned from a 10-day trip to Poland, on which he was one of five travelers. Four were UMass Boston staff members, and one the CEO of a professional association on intellectual disabilities. The trip had three purposes:
- To build research collaborations around disability
- To create professional exchange programs around disability and other excluded populations
- To start up student and faculty exchange programs between Polish institutions of higher education and UMass Boston, focusing on disability policy and rights
The five UMass Boston staff members are Kiernan, Felicia Wilczenski and Laura Vanderberg of the College of Education and Human Development, Stanley Wanucha from the College of Advancing and Professional Studies, and Elzbieta Kijowska from the Office of International and Transnational Affairs. Margaret Nygren, the executive director of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, was also part of the trip.
“We were looking to make affiliations with the schools there,” said Kiernan, who is the inaugural dean of the School for Global Inclusion and Social Development. Kiernan mentioned the possibility of summer exchange programs and collaboration on semester-long projects between UMass Boston and Polish universities.
The group had the chance to learn about Polish disability policy, and compare it to U.S. policy. “They have a lot of the right values,” said Kiernan. “They’re making sure persons with disabilities are dealt with as people, who have rights and should have opportunities.”
Laura Vanderberg, the assistant dean for assessment and planning at the College of Education and Human Development, said that the trip provided a fascinating window into Polish history, culture, and disability policy.
“Poland is a very old country with a very deep history,” Vanderberg explained. “But as a nation, with its current identity, it’s very young…In 1989, they were able to extract themselves from Communist rule and become independent. So their policy is very new.”
Vanderberg said that Poland is changing and developing rapidly, in terms of technology as well as social policy. “In 1993, the country started to build its first Internet and fiber optic infrastructure. That had happened ten years before in the U.S. But Poland was able to avoid the mistakes that we had made.”
In some ways, said Vanderberg, as a result of Poland’s late entry to the technology world, the country has wound up more advanced than the U.S. “In terms of software creation for courses, augmented reality, 3-D distance learning—they’re way ahead of us,” Vanderberg noted.
Due to the intensive planning and generosity of their Polish hosts, the UMass Boston team was able to visit many programs and centers focused on disability, including a daytime training program primarily for people with intellectual disabilities. Two of the people in the program gave a presentation to the American visitors, and talked with them afterwards (through a translator) about how they might take greater control of their program and increase their self-advocacy.
“We not only achieved our goals for the trip, but also learned an enormous amount about a fascinating, rapidly changing country,” said Vanderberg. Kiernan agreed: “We’re in the first stages of building a relationship with Poland, as we hope to do with many other countries. Our opportunities for collaboration are rich and exciting.”
(L-R) William Kiernan (School for Global Inclusion and Social Development/Institute for Community Inclusion), Elzbieta Kijowska (Office of International and Transnational Affairs), Ewa Kaminska (Deputy Mayor for Social Policy in the City of Gdansk)