RIDBC Teleschool(TM): A Hub of Expertise
McCarthy, Melissa, The Volta Review
The Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children (RIDBC) is Australia's largest independent special education provider and one of Australia's oldest charities. Founded in 1860 in Sydney, Australia, RIDBC seeks to provide high quality, innovative education and therapy to children who are deaf and hard of hearing and their families. RIDBC strives to implement innovation in all aspects of service delivery by regularly undertaking program evaluation, conducting external review and assessment, and seeking feedback from families (RIDBC, 2012). RIDBC currently provides specialized hearing and/or vision services to more than 1,000 children and families across Australia.
Historically, families living in rural and remote areas of Australia received limited, if any, support for their child's hearing loss. Support was generally provided through correspondence courses, infrequent outreach visits by specialists, or by families undertaking long journeys to major cities. By the late 1990s, advances in telecommunications technologies provided the means to connect families with professionals using real-time, two-way audio and video transmission. RIDBC initially developed a telepractice pilot program that relied on existing Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) connections to link families in the country with professionals in the city. These ISDN connections were often found in hospitals and community health centers (McCarthy, 2011). In 2004, the Australian Federal Government recognized the success of the RIDBC pilot project and provided funding to expand the program nationwide. The national program became known as RIDBC Teleschool(TM) and focused on the use of in-home technology to provide consistent service to rural children who were deaf and hard of hearing. A team of highly qualified and experienced teachers of the deaf and speech-language pathologists were chosen to develop a hub of expertise, which included dedicating significant amounts of time to acquiring advanced technical skills and creating a shared pedagogy for telepractice.
As early adopters of telepractice, RIDBC Teleschool has been developing and refining a model for best practice over the last 10 years. RIDBC Teleschool has received national and international recognition for its innovation, and professionals from around the world have sought advice and training from its expert team, including those from the United States, India, China, Bangladesh, Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand.
Over 400 children have received RIDBC Teleschool services since its inception. The use of telepractice expanded steadily during the first 5 years, increasing tenfold from four families initially to 40 families by 2007. In the last 5 years, families have embraced the idea of using telepractice to access a hub of expertise, and enrollments have increased exponentially, reaching 171 families in 2011 (RIDBC, 2011). RIDBC Teleschool also uses telepractice to support families in international locations, such as Samoa, Fiji, India, Dubai, and Singapore.
As technology evolved, RIDBC moved from the use of ISDN lines to more advanced technologies, including Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) and cellular (McCarthy, 2011). The shift to ADSL and cellular allowed RIDBC to move from studio-based telepractice sessions to sessions conducted in the family home. This required the installation of dedicated videoconferencing equipment, such as Polycom, as well as a dedicated Internet connection in each home, at no charge to the family. Although many programs use families' home computers and personal Internet connections coupled with freely available software (such as Skype), RIDBC Teleschool has found the use of dedicated videoconferencing equipment connected to a private network to be far superior. Technical parameters within a private network, such as an Internet Protocol Wide Area Network (IPWAN), can be set to prioritize data flow and limit contention, producing a more reliable connection for telepractice. …