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Technology and Disability communicates knowledge about the field of assistive technology devices and services, within the context of the lives of end users - persons with disabilities and their family members. While the topics are technical in nature, the articles are written for broad comprehension despite the reader's education or training.
Technology and Disability's contents cover research and development efforts, education and training programs, service and policy activities and consumer experiences.
The term Technology refers to assistive devices and services.
- The term Disability refers to both permanent and temporary functional limitations experienced by people of any age within any circumstance.
- The term and underscores the editorial commitment to seek for articles which see technology linked to disability as a means to support or compensate the person in daily functioning.
The Editor also attempts to link the themes of technology and disability through the selection of appropriate basic and applied research papers, review articles, case studies, programme descriptions, letters to the Editor and commentaries. Suggestions for thematic issues and proposed manuscripts are welcomed.
Abstract: Technology evaluation and technology transfer are both means to increase the quality and quantity of assistive devices in the marketplace. Despite a respectable level of activity in both arenas, there is little documentation on the terms used, the structure of the process employed and the roles of the participants. This paper draws from the existing literature and applies the experience of one program to provide an overview to technology evaluation and transfer.
Abstract: There has been a growing need to significantly improve the availability of effective, practical assistive technology products and techniques from research laboratory into commercial use and clinical application. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Rehabilitation Research and Development (Rehab R & D) Service has responded to this issue by establishing the Technology Transfer Section (TTS). In realizing the inherent problems associated with attracting manufacturers to invest in new rehab products, the TTS has put into action a pro-active, veterans-need, mechanism that can: (1) provide resources to accomplish manufacture of pre-commercial models; (2) conduct national clinical evaluation studies to validate the…product's success in meeting an identified need; and (3) define readiness for commercial production. Securing a manufacturer at the onset significantly improves, pending positive evaluation outcome, the product's commercial availability. The transition from research prototype to commercial product has significant barriers that stymie the process. The VA Rehab R & D's TTS ‘GATEWAY’ process offers a unique approach to breaking through the barriers facilitating new rehab technology being available to veterans – and the entire population – with disabilities.
Keywords: Assistive technology, Veterans-need, VA Rehab R and D, Technology transfer, Gateway, Product development, Commercialization
Abstract: This articles explains the background and unique capabilities of the Consumer Assistive Technology Transfer Network (CATN). CATN assists consumers, developers, researchers and/or engineers, nationally and internationally, with assistive technology resources in the US. These resources involve 56 state/territorial assistive technology programs, 16 rehabilitation engineering research centers, and over 600 research and development federal laboratories. The purpose of the CATN is for consumers to identify devices and applications regarding difficult to solve assistive technology problems as well as to develop and commercialize inventions. The CATN is also for developers, researchers and/or engineers to try out assistive technology-related research and development of…devices/applications with consumers for relevance to commercialization and manufacturing. The following areas will be discussed in this article: background and overview of the CATN resource network; internet accessibility; how to define the AT solution or application in a request; development of resource mapping to identify and filter applicable AT resources for requests from consumers to the centers/labs, and from labs/centers to consumers; disability and partnership considerations in mediating application requests with technology transfer; and implications of the CATN for SBIR programs, partnerships, product development and commercialization.
Keywords: Assistive technology transfer, Resource mapping, Federal R and D laboratories, Assistive technology programs, Rehabilitation Engineering Research Centers (RERCs)
Abstract: Since 1988 the National Science Foundation has funded the Bioengineering Research to Aid the Disabled (BRAD) program. This program supports university engineering design programs in which the students design and fabricate devices or systems to assist people with disabilities. Universities typically establish an association with a number of rehabilitation or education professionals (REPs) who have a pool of clients. The students collaborate with the REPs, the engineering faculty, and the clients in designing and fabricating assistive devices. Participants in the BRAD program identify a technology and effect its development, evaluation, and delivery to a client, but the technology transfer rarely…proceeds beyond these stages.
Keywords: Technology transfer, University programs
Abstract: For a manufacturer, technology transfer is successful when externally-initiated product ideas match a complex set of criteria. These criteria are usually manufacturer-specific. If an inventor or technology transfer facilitator fully understands the criteria of the target manufacturer, the success rate of the transfer increases. A description of technology transfer at Maddak, Inc., a manufacturer of assistive technology, is offered, including their product evaluation criteria. A case study of technology transfer is presented, and strategies for improving technology transfer are proposed, including cost estimation, market size projection, and the use of manufacturer profiles.
Keywords: Technology transfer, Manufacturing, Assistive technology, Disability, Product development
Abstract: Universal design can be defined as design of products and services so that they can be used by the largest number of people – including people with disabilities – right out of the box. Its principal claim is that for market reasons alone, companies should be sure that they include the needs of customers with disabilities, aging customers, customers who use different languages, etc., from the very beginning of their product development process. By using universal design, companies can maximize their potential market. As important as product development is to the business process, it is only one stage in a…products life cycle and one element in its success. Product design lies within a constellation of activities such as market analysis, marketing, advertising and customer support. There are implications for all of these in universal design. The most accessible product will not serve its intended customers if they have never heard of it, do not understand what it can do for them, cannot read its manuals and cannot communicate with a customer representative. This paper will review some of these business process issues in detail. It will describe what a number of companies in the information industry are doing now in these arenas. It will end with suggestions as to what work needs to be accomplished so that universal design can permeate more business practices in more companies.
Keywords: Universal design, Business practices, Product management, Benchmark, Information industry
Abstract: This paper is about my disability an how it spawned inventiveness. Looking back on the 43 years that I have had polio it is clear that my disability prepared me for my vocation as an inventor. My dependence on crutches and braces for mobility caused me to become ‘handy’ so I could maintain and repair my own equipment. My disability clearly defined my mobility needs. Lack of mobility motivated me to create solutions. The solutions were immediately put to the test. Poor solutions were frustrating, successful solutions were their own reward.
Abstract: Our experience in developing a CAD/CAM system for designing prostheses and orthoses illustrates many of the problems in transferring technology from a research laboratory into clinical use. Some key factors in the successful technology transfer were: (1) the close and continuous collaboration between clinicians and engineers during development; (2) a relatively long period of clinical testing of prototypes with subsequent improvements in design; and (3) involvement of the research staff throughout the technology transfer process, including technology evangelism, training, and technical support. Our research staff trained 53 clinicians from 37 VA hospitals to use the new CAD/CAM technology for prosthetics.…The training consisted of 1-week courses at our research facility followed by on-site training at each hospital and technical support by telephone. Our experience training clinicians demonstrated the importance of designing a system which is easy to learn so that training requirements are minimized. Additionally, we have identified ‘environmental’ factors outside of our control which affected the successful adoption of the new technology at particular sites.
Abstract: It is well recognized that a dedicated assistive device is usually very costly, partly because of the limited volume of production, but also due to the many expenses that are incurred through marketing, distribution and after sales support. In our society, assistive technology is usually funded through the government welfare allowance and/or private insurance. However, with the limited amount of financial assistance that is provided, persons with disabilities may still have financial difficulty purchasing suitable assistive devices that are available in the commercial market. As a result, many persons with disabilities are still being deprived of some basic assistance to…cope with needs such as communication, mobility and independent living. In an attempt to improve this situation locally, a pilot project was initiated to establish an industrial link, aimed at producing a number of ability switches. An issue of major concern in any product commercialization is the funding. Our strategy was to apply for ‘seed-money’ through charitable organizations, and to form a partnership with the manufacturer. In order to assure our manufacturer partner of the acceptable market size, and to identify the types of ability switch that are mostly required by the end-users, a survey was conducted at the beginning of the project. The pad, the touch and the pinch type of switches were designed based on the outcome of this market survey. Silicone rubber was chosen for use in production because of the flexibility in the associated manufacturing process, which would help reduce the cost of manufacture. This is particularly important for this project where production volume has to be matched with limited available budget. Experience learned from this pilot project is presented including the current obstacles being encountered in sales.
Abstract: It is commonly suggested that the unappealing appearance of many assistive devices discourages their adoption and use by elderly people. This study investigated users' perceptions of walking aids through 22 semi-structured interviews and three focus groups. It was found that device acceptance incorporates issues related to device appearance and stigma and enhancement of individual autonomy. Each individual held unique preferences for both aspects of image and autonomy. Additionally, device acceptance is dependent upon the context. Concern with the negative image of the device was limited to the first mobility device and was temporary.
Abstract: A comprehensive usability study was conducted to assess the suitability for older adults of the ‘Remote Gateway’ (RG), a prototype portable wireless automated integrated environmental control device. Using a full-scale simulated living room and bedroom, 153 older adults, half of whom had mobility restrictions, participated in a protocol where they were introduced to, observed and experimented with the RG. A subset of the sample (n=79) also performed eight daily living tasks (e.g. answering the telephone, turning lights and TV on/off, and answering a door) both manually (without the RG) and electronically with the RG. Data collected included behavior observations of…task times, task-associated problematic behaviors, as well as questionnaire data on several dimensions related to the RG, e.g. aesthetics, cost, advantages and disadvantages, and personal interest in adopting the RG. Results showed, overall, the RG performed well. The seniors executed the daily living tasks with relatively few associated problems, which was reflected in positive self-reports of the overall usability of the device. The mobility restricted seniors felt the RG was more difficult to use and more difficult to hold than the less disabled seniors. The older adults stated a clear preference for the RG to be connected to household items that enhance personal safety, e.g. surveillance cameras. Although the participants clearly perceived the RG to be of benefit to seniors with mobility disabilities, relatively fewer perceived the RG in terms of convenience or as a device that could potentially prevent in-home accidents. Specific design recommendations for the RG are also offered.
Keywords: Environmental control devices, Technology and independence, Older adults, Mobility restrictions
Abstract: Three primary factors account for why an unprecedented number of American inventors are focusing their talents on developing assistive technology: (1) the technology market is providing them with an ever-growing collection of new and affordable development tools; (2) there is new legislation concerning (and government money to support) both the social and technological rights of disabled people; and (3) the US population is aging, and therefore increasing the demand for assistive devices. The ultimate goal of these research and development (R and D) efforts is technology transfer, i.e. moving the devices out of the research laboratory and into the hands…of consumers. Yet devices invented in Rehabilitation Engineering Research Centers (RERCs), universities, or even small private research laboratories, rarely make it to the commercial market. This paper suggests that a basic incompatibility exists between the talents of those who invent and the skills needed to achieve technology transfer, and suggests ways of dealing with this dilemma.