Academic journal article The Journal of Rehabilitation

The Exciting Potential of Hi-Tech Workstations

Academic journal article The Journal of Rehabilitation

The Exciting Potential of Hi-Tech Workstations

Article excerpt

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). …

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