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The exciting potential of hi-tech workstations.

The Exciting Potential of Hi-Tech Workstations

It only took a split second to change his life completely. On that ordinary Sunday in 1986 Rick McDowell, 36, was returning to church to pick up his family when an 87 year-old driver on the wrong side of the road hit him head on. Rescuers thought Rick was dead, but a little life still glimmered. Rick had suffered a brain stem injury that completely paralyzed him initially. He recalls waking up in the hospital unable to move, only able to blink his eyes. One blink for yes and two blinks for no was his only way of communicating with the people around him. Since then Rick has participated in extensive rehabilitation and has regained some use of his body. Today he can use a power wheelchair controlled by "sipping" and "puffing" switches. He currently speaks with a whisper and has restricted head motion. He can move his right arm approximately 6 inches and can type using either a stick held in his hand or a head wand.

In 1987 Rick was discharged to his home from the Shepherd Spinal Center. For several months he concentrated on solving day to day problems such as locating competent attendant help, obtaining the correct equipment for surviving at home and learning to work around his wife and three small children. Initially he didn't even have adequate transportation. Through the support of friends, neighbors and their local church, money was raised to purchase a handicap accessible van.

Rick, a construction superintendent, was feeling unproductive and voiced his concern to his rehabilitation counselor. To Rick and his counselor, it became evident that the technology used to save his life could also be used to assist him in becoming independent, as well as productive. Rick was able to obtain an IBM compatible computer and a LROPE head wand that allowed him to conduct word processing. The Georgia Computer Campus, a computer technology training program for persons with a disability, located on the campus of Georgia Tech helped Rick learn to use the computer. About the same time, he was also referred to the Center for Rehabilitation Technology at Georgia Tech for the design of a workstation that would maximize his independence, as well as enhance his previously learned skills.

The engineers at Georgia Tech carefully assessed Rick's abilities and needs and designed a workstation that makes use of a book elevator (rather than a book shelf in order to access books), a file carousel (rather than a file cabinet) and specifically designed areas that allow him to utilize the few mechanical skills he has remaining while technology allows him to accentuate his capabilities (see photo 1).

After approximately one year of training and development, Rick has enrolled in the Building Construction program at Georgia Tech to prepare for a career that utilizes his extensive work experience. The Center for Rehabilitation Technology (CRT) at Georgia Institute of Technology has been a leader in developing workstations. Many disciplines work together in creating a workstation. Industrial designers design the work surfaces. Electrical engineers design the computer activated and electrical technology for carrousels and book elevators. Robotic engineers design robot arms, and computer experts develop software and hardware. Photographs included with this article offer examples. Although these examples emphasize higher technology, less expensive and less dramatic examples are also available.

CRT has designed workstations for a number of other individuals with catastrophic illness or injuries including Larry Howard, a software consultant. His workstation (see photo 2) allows him to use his workspace and computer equipment as independently as possible. Phil Payne, a high level quadriplegic, works for the Division of Rehabilitation Services in Atlanta, Georgia. He utilizes a hi-tech workstation, including robotic arm technology to perform many tasks (see photo 3).

The workstations developed by Georgia Tech are designed as modules which will allow individuals to purchase the modules which are appropriate without having to custom design every single workstation. This significantly reduces the cost and allows for mass production. Other organizations have also seen the potential of technology. In 1980 Rehabilitation Engineering Society of North America (RESNA) was formed. RESNA consists of rehabilitation engineers, occupational therapists, physical therapists, rehabilitation counselors and many other disciplines, all of whom have an interest in the use of rehabilitation technology to assist persons with disabilities. The value of rehabilitation technology can cover the broad range of very simple and inexpensive, to hi-tech robotic assisted workstations. Many people are already familiar with environmental control resources such as Prentke Romich and TASH which have made dramatic improvements in the lives of persons who are injured, have catastrophic illness, or just simply need technology to make their lives simpler. On the other hand, few professionals are aware of the dramatic improvements in the development of workstations which assist disabled people in becoming productive. Since the formation of RESNA, it has become evident that rehabilitation technology has gained more and more support. In 1986, Federal Rehabilitation Amendments included specific reference to rehabilitation engineering and technology. In 1988 federal legislation included rehabilitation engineering and technology for independent living. In addition, widely advertised hearings on enabling technology were recently conducted in Washington, D.C.

Certainly technology that assists people in returning to productive activity and, particularly, gainful employment, continues to stir up excitement. It should be noted however, that high-technology is not without its pitfalls. As we progress through the prototype stages, technology will become more reliable and precise. At the present time, although most technology works well, there are occasions where breakdowns occur. Recipients of hi-tech rehabilitation technology must remain patient and enthusiastic in order to help technology progress. Other businesses and institutions are actively pursuing the workstation designs and the promise for nationwide availability is clearly on the horizon. PRAB Command and Carnegie Mellon are just two examples.

Rehabilitation technology indeed is an exciting horizon for all of us. It promises to help people become independent as well as productive citizens.

PHOTO : Photo 1. Rick McDowell, who has a brain stem-related quadriplegia, uses a hi-tech work

PHOTO : station for studies while attending the Georgia Institute of Technology.

PHOTO : Photo 2. Larry Howard, who has quadriplegia, uses a hi-tech workstation in his work as a

PHOTO : computer programmer.

PHOTO : Photo 3. Phil Payne, who has high level quadriplegia, utilizes a robotic arm assisted

PHOTO : hi-tech workstation while working for the Division of Rehabilitation Services for the

PHOTO : state of Georgia.

ROGER WEED, Ph.D., is the graduate rehabilitation counseling coordinator and assistant professor at Georgia State University in the Department of Counseling and Psychological Services. He is a rehabilitation technology consultant to the Division of Rehabilitation Services in Georgia, and maintains a private consulting practice in catastrophic cases and rehabilitation professional training. CAROL WHITESCARVER, M.S., is the Associate Director for Administration at the Center for Rehabilitation Technology at Georgia Institute of Technology. She has worked with technology for persons with disabilities for the past five years.
COPYRIGHT 1989 National Rehabilitation Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Whitescarver, Carol
Publication:The Journal of Rehabilitation
Date:Jul 1, 1989
Previous Article:Access to housing: Cornerstone of the American dream.
Next Article:Positive assertion and acceptance among persons with disabilities.

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