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Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology. Richard L. Goldberg Dept. of Biomedical Engineering University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University. Outline. What is rehabilitation engineering? Influence of disability rights movement and federal legislation

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rehabilitation engineering and assistive technology

Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology

Richard L. Goldberg

Dept. of Biomedical Engineering

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

and Duke University

  • What is rehabilitation engineering?
  • Influence of disability rights movement and federal legislation
  • Overview of rehabilitation engineering research areas
  • Projects built by UNC and Duke students
  • Conclusion
what is rehabilitation engineering
What is Rehabilitation Engineering?
  • Rehabilitation engineering
    • the application of science and technology to improving the quality of life of people with disabilities.
  • Assistive technology (AT):
    • products, devices or equipment … that are used to maintain, increase or improve the functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities (1998 Tech Act)

Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America

what do rehab engineers do
What do rehab engineers do?
  • Work in
    • research lab
    • clinic
    • industry (i.e. product development lab)
  • Work with
    • Clients and their families, teachers, employers
    • Health care providers (MD, OT, PT, SLP)
  • More clinical work than other engineering fields
    • Engineers must learn how to work with people with disabilities
disability rights movement
Disability rights movement
  • In parallel with civil rights, centered at Berkeley
    • In 1962, Ed Roberts admitted to Berkeley
    • In 1971, Center for Independent Living opened in Berkeley
  • Before 1970s, people with disabilities were not visible in our society
  • Since then, people with disabilities have been able to integrate
  • This has helped to fuel the growth in rehabilitation engineering
civil rights legislation
Civil rights legislation
  • Granted civil protections to people with disabilities
  • Cannot exclude individual from school, job, etc. because of their disability
education legislation
Education Legislation
  • Guarantees the right to a “free, appropriate public education” for all children
  • Inclusion – children w/disabilities in regular classroom
  • OT, PT, SLP services must be provided in school
assistive technology legislation
Assistive Technology Legislation
  • Provided federal funds to states to develop programs for training and delivery of AT
  • i.e. NC assistive technology project, Pennsylvania Initiative on AT

Source: University of Buffalo Assistive Technology Training Online Project (ATTO)

research areas
Research areas

Augmentative communication

Computer access

research areas10
Research areas


Prosthetics and Orthotics

research areas11
Research areas



research areas12
Research areas

Seating and wheeled mobility

Sensory aids (hearing, vision)

research areas13
Research areas

Universal design

The design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.

Source: NCSU Center for Universal Design

unc and duke projects
UNC and Duke projects
  • Project ideas proposed by health care provider in the community
  • Students in Rehabilitation Engineering Design class develop custom device in one semester
  • Device is delivered to client free of charge
  • Project development
    • Assess the abilities and limitations of the client
    • Propose a device that meets their needs
    • Ongoing interaction with client, family and therapists
  • Safety is crucial
pop beads for clients at preschool
Pop beads for clients at preschool
  • Public preschool for children with a variety of disabilities
  • Teachers use pop-beads to promote better motor control, arm strength, eye-hand coordination
  • Problem: connecting pop-beads gets boring!
sensory stimulation pop beads
Sensory stimulation pop beads
  • Beads light up, vibrate, and play a song for 5-10 seconds when connected or disconnected
  • This makes the task more fun

Battery recharging stand

Inside of bead

communication device for chris
Communication device for “Chris”
  • Chris was born with a genetic condition that resulted in a variety of physical and cognitive limitations
  • Uses a walker or crawls to move around the classroom
  • Unable to speak intelligibly
  • Uses a simple communication device
  • Cannot access switches on commercial portable device
portable comm device
Portable comm. device
  • We developed a portable device, built into a denim vest
  • He could play back message by pulling on one of 4 key chains
  • Teacher or parent could re-record these messages
sensory stimulation for jenny
Sensory stimulation for “Jenny”
  • Jenny is a 3 year old girl with athetoid cerebral palsy
  • She has poor arm and trunk strength
  • Her PT requested a device that used sensory stimulation to encourage her to reach forward and up
  • Commercial devices were not appropriate
jenny s sound wall
Jenny’s “sound wall”
  • Five modular blocks
    • Motorcycle handlebar
    • Spinning flower
    • Record / play
    • Telephone
    • Blank
  • Commercial products were adapted so that she could access them
work chair for emma
Work chair for “Emma”
  • Emma is an adult with autism who works at Orange Enterprises
  • She is 3 ft. tall
  • She needs a chair that is at an appropriate height for a 30” work surface
  • She needs to get in and out of her chair safely
  • She doesn’t have strength to “de-weight” a standard office chair or “pump up” a barbershop chair
  • It must be simple to use because she gets upset when her routine is changed
retractable steps
Retractable steps
  • Uses file drawer slides, springs, and pulleys
  • When chair rotates, it changes the angle of the file drawer slides
  • Simple, safe, inconspicuous

Turn to side, and steps extend

Face forward,

and steps retract

orientation device
Orientation device
  • Preschool age children who are blind need to navigate around the home and classroom
  • Young children do not have the cognitive ability to use ultrasonic cane or other commercial devices
  • They need a simple device that helps them to navigate
aodie acoustic orientation device
AODie:Acoustic Orientation Device
  • 5 beacons placed at different “landmarks”
    • i.e. desk, bathroom, etc.
  • Child holds control box
  • Box has 5 raised buttons, each with a different shape, that correspond to 5 beacons
  • When a button is pressed:
    • The corresponding beacon “beeps”
    • The control box plays a prerecorded message, i.e. “this is your desk”
  • Simple to use!
  • Rehabilitation engineering and assistive technology can improve the quality of life for people with disabilities
  • Students have designed, built, and delivered a variety of custom assistive devices
  • Students have applied their engineering skills to address a real need for an individual
  • Response has been very positive, although there has been no formal evaluation of success
  • Students in Rehabilitation Engineering Design class at UNC and Duke
  • Teachers and therapists
  • Clients and their families who inspired the projects
  • Larry Bohs and Kevin Caves at Duke
  • Funded by NSF grant BES-9981867 and UNC Ueltschi Service Learning grant
any questions
Any questions?
  • Resources
    • UNC web site:
    • Duke web site:
    • NSF web site: