The two most frequently used terms today are assistive technology and rehabilitation engineering. James Reswick (1982) in his words said that rehabilitation engineering is the application of science and technology to help the handicaps of individuals with disabilities  

The human component

To knowledgeably apply engineering principles and fabricate devices that will help people with disabling conditions, it is necessary to have a knowledge on the human component. One way to view a human being is as a

  • Receptor
  • Processor
  • Responder of information
The human component

The human user of assistive technology perceives the environment via senses and responds to or manipulates the environment via effectors.

Perception is how the human being interprets incoming sensory data.

Cognition refers to activities that require problem-solving, decision-making, and language formation.

Movement control utilizes the outcome of the processing functions described previously to form a motor pattern that is executed by the effectors (nerves, muscles, and joints).

When a sensory deficit is present in one of the three primary sensory channels (vision, hearing, and touch), assistive devices can detect important environmental information and present it via one or more of the other remaining senses. For example, sensory aids for severe visual impairments utilize tactile and/or auditory outputs to display important environmental information to the user. Examples of such sensory aids include laser canesultrasonic glasses, and robotic guide dogs. Rehabilitation engineers also have been modestly successful at replacing or augmenting some motoric (effector) disabilities, these include artificial arms and legs, wheelchairs of all types, environmental controllers, and in the future, robotic assistants.

One of the biggest impacts of chronic disability is the minority status and having a socially devalued position. Such loss of social status may result from the direct effects of disability (social isolation) and the indirect effects of disability (economic setbacks). Thus, in addition to the tremendous drop in personal income, a person who is disabled must battle three main psychological consequences of disability: the loss of self-esteemthe tendency to be too dependent on others, and passivity.

For individuals who become disabled through traumatic injuries, the adjustment to disability generally passes through five phases: 

  • Shock
  • Realization 
  • Defensive retreat or denial 
  • Acknowledgment and 
  • Adaptation or acceptance.

Principles of assistive technology assessments

Rehabilitation engineers not only need to know the physical principles that govern their designs, but they also must adhere to some key principles that govern the applications of technology for people with disabilities.

1) The user’s goals, needs, and tasks must be clearly defined, listed, and incorporated as early as possible in the intervention process. To avoid overlooking needs and goals, checklists and premade forms should be used.

2) Involvement of rehabilitation professionals with differing skills and know-how will maximize the probability of a successful outcome. Depending on the purpose and environment in which the assistive technology device will be used, several professionals should participate in the process of matching technology to a person’s needs.

3) The user’s preferences, cognitive and physical abilities, limitations, living situation, tolerance for technology, and probable changes in the future must be thoroughly assessed, analysed, and quantified. Rehabilitation engineers will find that the highly descriptive vocabulary and qualitative language used by nontechnical professionals need to be translated into attributes that can be measured and quantified.

4) Careful and thorough consideration of available technology for meeting the user’s needs must be carried out to avoid overlooking potentially useful solutions. Electronic databases (e.g., assistive technology websites and websites of major technology vendors) can often provide the rehabilitation engineer or assistive technologist with an initial overview of potentially useful devices to prescribe, modify, and deliver to the consumer.

5) The user’s preferences and choices must be considered in the selection of the assistive technology device. Surveys indicate that the main reason assistive technology is rejected or poorly utilized is inadequate consideration of the user’s needs and preferences.

6) The assistive technology device must be customized and installed in the location and setting where it primarily will be used. Often seemingly minor or innocuous situations at the usage site can spell success or failure in the application of assistive technology.

7) Not only must the user be trained to use the assistive device, but also the attendants or family members must be made aware of the device’s intended purpose, benefits, and limitations. For example, an augmentative communication device usually will require that the communication partners adopt a different mode of communication and modify their behavior so that the user of this device can communicate a wider array of thoughts and even assume a more active role in the communication paradigm, such as initiating a conversation or changing the conversational topic.

8) Follow-up, readjustment, and reassessment of the user’s usage patterns and needs are necessary at periodic intervals. During the first 6 months following the delivery of the assistive technology device, the user and others in that environment learn to accommodate the new device.

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