Understanding the Influence of Assistive Biotechnology and Disability Education on Childhood Development in Southern India

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by Rachael Lewis, 20C Biology

Childhood development is a complex and multi-faceted topic with many connections to biology and global health. Using the support from the Halle Institute, I decided to investigate the intersection between technology, disability, and childhood development in an underserved and vulnerable population. I partnered with a prominent NGO in India and visited four local schools with various approaches to disability education. Initially, I intended to propose a new curriculum framework to incorporate the technology into the daily classroom activities. However, shortly after I arrived on site, I realized the impossibility of such a task. Before I could propose any new ideas, I had to fully immerse myself in the environment and culture of the disability community in India. The aim of my research project evolved from a sole focus on academics to a deep appreciation of the lived experiences of disabled children. My research enabled me to paint a picture of childhood development in India using my new knowledge of disability, poverty, education, and technology. Upon my return to the USA, I hope to continue my research and compare disability education in the USA with that of India.

I applied to become a Global Research Fellow to exercise complete autonomy in the creation of my own research project. Combining my academic and personal interests, I pushed myself to discover what global health research actually entails. The experience of studying disability in a marginalized population has led me to apply for graduate programs in global health and international development. I will continue to research childhood development in my professional career and am thankful for the pivotal role that the Halle Institute has played in my Emory experience.

Rachael Lewis is a senior majoring in Biology with a minor in Global Health, Cultures, and Society. Her senior capstone project focuses on early childhood development in low to middle income countries. In the summer of 2019, she conducted an ethnography to understand the relationship between biotechnology and disability education in Southern India. She partnered with an electrical engineering NGO to analyze the impact of assistive devices on the development of children with autism, cerebral palsy, visual impairments, and other related disabilities. She hopes to use her understanding of universal education and healthcare disparities to fuel her graduate studies in the future.

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