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Assistive Technology Transfer Update

 

Title: Strategic goal 4: technical assistance and training
Author: Joseph P Lane
Published: 2000
Publication: Assistive Technology Transfer Update: Vol. 2 Issue 1 (Spring) Annual Report, 1998-1999

Abstract

The Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Technology Transfer (T2RERC) encompasses technical assistance and training into goal four. In order to fulfill this goal T2RERC must provide support to RERCs and all other stakeholders through conference presentations, workshops, and website resource materials. This article details ways this support is given and cites various RERCs who have benefited from this support.

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Full Text

Objective:

We strive to facilitate the technology transfer process, by providing support and assistance on technical, marketing and end-user issues, to RERCs and all other stakeholders. Project Leader - Joseph Lane.

Process:

Our conference presentations, workshops and website resource materials all present aspects of our capabilities, and implement our charge to make these capabilities available to stakeholders involved with technology transfer. At NIDRR's invitation, the T2RERC made a presentation to all RERCs on the role of technology transfer in their programs, and followed up by disseminating a summary of our program capabilities. Our dissemination efforts have paid off with a strong response from our partner RERCs. We describe specific collaborations below.

Progress:

Our project personnel track technical assistance actions, regardless of whether they are in response to telephone calls, e-mail or written requests. Through the first year, we collectively completed about one hundred and seventy technical assists, to individuals, businesses, research laboratories and institutions of higher education. These technical assists included guidance on product development, intellectual property issues and commercialization options. Other assists delivered information on existing products, background information about the field of assistive technology, and referrals to other programs inside and outside of NIDRR. The presence of websites on related topics reduced the level of effort required to provide useful information and referral on topics that fell outside our primary focus.

The majority of technical assists are one-time contacts that typically take anywhere from five minutes to one hour of staff time. However, we also identify opportunities to offer more intensive technical assistance requiring days or weeks of staff time. This intensive assistance is justified when the topic is closely related to our mission. We had originally allocated resources to conduct five intensive assists, and here are summaries of the five we completed.

  • RERC on Expressive Communication - The FLC Southeast Region had secured funding for a demonstration project on assistive technology, based on our prior work to stimulate interest in our field among the Federal Laboratories. They were then seeking a focus for their efforts. The RERC on Expressive Communication was newly funded in North Carolina, and had proposed establishing a program to monitor selected technologies within technology development laboratories. The Tech Transfer RERC identified and pursued an opportunity to link their two programs. We defined a project which accommodated their respective objectives, wrote a preliminary scope of work, and scheduled a joint presentation at the FLC Southeast Regional meeting in the Fall of 1998. By December, the collaboration was underway and it continues to the present day.
  • RERC on Universal Design - Several applicants requested our involvement in preparing grant proposals to compete for the new RERC on Universal Design. We followed our traditional practice of providing assistance, but restricting our knowledge of each proposal to what we needed to know. We recognize the need for a close, collaborative relationship with the future RERC on Universal Design, and provided the narrative input and supporting documentation requested by those applicants. The two organizations requesting our assistance, North Carolina State University and the University at Buffalo, have both received funding for the next five year cycle. We are implementing the work plan developed for each RERC.
  • RERC on Aging - We have worked to commercialize multiple devices that were developed by the RERC on Aging in response to the needs of older people with disabilities striving to maintain their independence. For example, a patent was granted in May 1999 for the "Wrist Assist" device, developed to help seniors use walkers -- although we identified multiple other applications that justified patent protection. Some devices do not get licensed because the market appears to be too small, yet the consumer's need for these devices is real. For such devices, we helped establish limited production capabilities within the Center for Assistive Technology. We expect this limited production program to demonstrate sufficient market viability to interest companies, while providing some much needed devices to the end users in the interim.
  • RERC on Children with Orthopedic Disabilities - The project directors requested our technical assistance to review a prototype device developed for the rehabilitation field. They believed their device, the Mobile Arm Support, had other applications in both niche and mainstream markets and asked us to identify these other markets. We devoted time to assessing the device's basic attributes, obtaining feedback from therapists at the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) national conference, and discussing commercialization options with the development team. We then convened product review panels to identify consumer product and industrial applications, through a process called "market broadening". We passed the results on to the RERC for their review and consideration.
  • Federal Laboratory Consortium - the FLC requested various forms of technical assistance during the year. We helped develop two issues of the FLC's national newsletter Newslink (one in Fall 1998 and another in Fall 1999), both focused on assistive technology. We participated in the FLC National Conference in Salt Lake City, to participate as a member of the FLC's Planning and Policy Committee, and to work with regional representatives to develop three new demonstration projects on assistive technology. In October 1999, we attended the FLC Northeast Conference held at the University at Buffalo, made a formal presentation on the field of assistive technology, and conducted a tour of our facilities at the Center for Assistive Technology.

Our collective efforts in the area of technical assistance have fulfilled our charge to facilitate the technology transfer process. We plan to provide more proactive services to our partner RERC's during the second year. We will also ensure that our expertise remains available to the developer, manufacturer, researcher, clinician and consumer stakeholders who approach us for assistance.

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