I have had the privilege with Dr. Chandler and my wife, Oksana, to have been hosted in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia by the Prince Salman Center on Disability. We have been invited as the ambassadors for Beacon College and American higher education in general. Now, on the long journey back from this extraordinary experience, I cannot but reflect on the breadth of what I learned and the importance globally of the work that is part of Beacon’s daily life.
Riyadh is seventeen hours by air. The desert landscape is profoundly different from that which we know in Central Florida. Language and customs made this trip rather exotic for the Western eye. But it is here that any difference that might be perceived between us, the international audience of attendees, and our Saudi hosts melted away. We were warmly welcomed and treated with every courtesy imaginable. We shared a common focus on advancing education and services for students whose location on a global map was irrelevant. The commitment of Saudi professionals, parents, and the Kingdom’s government to make rapid advances on behalf of students with special needs, especially those who learn differently, both impresses and inspires. In this regard, there was an enormous interest in Beacon College, the way our community serves our students and the outcomes that we have achieved.
Each of our sessions, Dr. Chandler’s on Beacon College model and mine on special education policy, drew interested audiences, whose questions continued well beyond the end of our formal sessions. Internationally, it is clear that, even for the work yet to be done, we in America are at the forefront of understanding and preparing students with learning disabilities and ADHD. The same might be said in other areas of special needs education. What was clear from the 1,400 participants in the Conference is the unmistakable (almost unquenchable) thirst for knowledge about best practices in diagnosis, instruction, and service. At times, we were literally inundated by professionals, parents, and policymakers from quite disparate countries. Professionally, it was one of the most moving and inspiring moments of my long career.
What I believe is most important from the invitation that we received to participate in the 4Th International Conference on Disability and Rehabilitation is its capacity to extend the reach of Beacon College and to set us in a deservedly respected position on the international stage. There is no doubt that what we do on our campus should never be taken for granted. We are special and influential both in mission and practice, and there are many new friends around the globe who seek our help and collaboration.
~Dr. George J. Hagerty