David F. Law,
Born: July 8, 1952 - Staunton,
Entry into the AT field:
How I got into the
I ran a metal fabrication
company in Staunton, VA, where we designed and built all types of automated
machines for plants and assembly lines. Our goal was to build machines to
enhance productivity by reducing operator fatigue, i.e. using modern industrial
technologies to design PEOPLE out of their jobs!
Important event(s) that influenced
my early decision to get into the assistive technology field
In my case, it was truly more along the lines of
PROVIDENCE! Although I did not see it at the time, it now seems that every step
in my 'hard knocks" education, not to mention, my professional talents, had
been pre-arranged, to insure that I wind up in this marvelous field! It truly
Why I chose the AT
I really didn't choose this
field! It appears that this profession (or someone) was choosing ME, because
every single door that needed to open, simply opened! I'm glad that I was in
the right place, at the right time.
My inspiration and
PERSONS ... many persons! I'll
mention some of them later on.
Why the field is important to me
and the central focus of my work
had previously used technology to essentially design people OUT of their jobs.
Well, when I discovered in this NEW field, that I could apply technology that
would work people INTO more productive jobs! WOW! That was indeed the thrill of
my lifetime, to discover that I been blessed with the privilege to truly CHANGE
LIVES! It was as though providence had taken control of my life and all of my
prior experiences neatly fit into guiding me into this new and exciting realm
of service to my fellow man!
While I was
managing the metal fabrication company, we were contracted by Helper
Industries, one of the first manufacturers of van lifts, to lower the floor in
two brand new Chevy Vans for disabled drivers being trained at the Woodrow
Wilson Rehab Center. By being the very first person to make it possible for a
driver using a wheelchair to enter a van IN his wheelchair, and then drive from
that seat, I had finally found my niche in life. My work was so well received,
I was invited to apply for a brand new job opening at Woodrow Wilson, their
Adaptive Equipment SPECIALIST! So I jumped at the chance to use my skills to
design aids for people with disabilities and the rest, as they say, is history.
As for people who have been the most influential in my career, I would have to
first give credit to the man who actually hired me. That was Dr. Steven Reger,
Colin McLaurin's colleague, who had been consulting with WWRC's OTs on a weekly
basis, to identify helpful AT, or as they called it back then, Adaptive
Equipment. When Dr. Reger saw the quality of my design work and skills on
the vans, I was advised that WWRC was in the process of hiring someone to
manage these services, and develop these custom devices. The next thing I knew,
I was the state's first (and only) Adaptive Equipment Specialist! But it was
Steve Reger who made me feel important and the very first to welcome my
involvement in this infant field of rehab engineering. As one of the very few
practitioners in the field, who did not possess a degree in an engineering
discipline, I must admit to feeling a bit out of my league at first. I remember
sitting through many RESNA presentations where I wondered just what the heck
they were talking about! But it was people like Sam McFarland, Kali Mallik,
Dave Harden, Doug Hobson, John Leslie, Dudley Childress, Jerry Weisman, and
many others, who came to recognize that MY contributions, albeit usually
simplistic and pragmatically designed, were changing the lives of the clients
for whom they were developed. I guess I was viewed more as a remarkable talent,
more like a "McGuyver" than an engineer, but my work WAS welcomed and
My memorable successes and
greatest contributions to the field
Successes? How does one go about quantifying
successes? I always felt if I could help a client achieve something, that had
previously seemed unobtainable, then my efforts WERE successful. It's not
necessarily about the size or complexity of the need. It's about the look of
gratitude in their eyes, when you see them do it for themselves!
What is "greater?" To develop a "body" for
someone who has been cut in half at the navel, or to make a foot-operated
feeding device for a man who lost both arms at the shoulders? Is a man-lift,
that allows a paralyzed farmer to return to farming, any more wonderful, than
developing a swiveling baby seat, that attached to the front of a young
paraplegic mother's wheelchair, so she could "push" her baby wherever they need
to go? I really can't put them into categories of greater value!
My most memorable
Anyone who says that they
have never failed, is either lying, or they haven't truly tried to do anything!
Naturally, I have had some devices that were abandoned by the intended user,
but that can be viewed as GOOD. If my device got them into DOING something,
that they otherwise could not do, if only for a brief period, then it wasn't
really a failure. They may have merely progressed enough, to do it without
aids. Learn from your mistakes, whatever they are, and move on!
Significant changes and advances
in the field since I first entered it
Boy, have there been changes! I have always been
one who believed that GOOD changes are worth sacrificing for, so I consider
myself blessed to have been able to contribute in bringing about those changes.
When the RESNA Student Design Competition lost its long-time funding, I asked
if I could help to find a NEW funding source. When more and more service
providers began to attend RESNA meetings, Jerry Weisman and I suggested
responding to their needs which ultimately led to Dudley Childress establishing
the 'Special Interest Groups." I believe this has been one of the BEST things
to happen within the organization.
for advances in the RESNA field, I would have to say that the MOST important,
was when we finally opened up our big old arms, and welcomed in ALL of the AT
specialists from all of the OTHER professional disciplines, like OTs, PTs,
Audiologists, and so on. They have now become comfortable with sharing their
particular expertise, as VALUED TEAM MEMBERS. I could NOT do what I do, without
their constant, extremely valuable assistance and input.
On the future of rehabilitation
engineering and assistive technology
The future of our profession is PEOPLE. We MUST
continue to attract new talent into our ranks. We MUST get the administrators
to understand and appreciate the annual RESNA Conference is, by and large, our
ONLY continuing educational forum, where we can share and learn NEW things. If
we are not supported to attend, our facilities (and our clients) will suffer.
What a shame! Because there is SO MUCH to share and LEARN!
My role within RESNA and what it
gave back to me
I have always felt
that my role in RESNA was simply to be a good ambassador. I have always tried
to make newcomers feel WELCOME, just as I was made to feel many years ago!
There is not enough paper or time to answer this question! I have NEVER
attended a RESNA function where I did not come away with new ideas, new
motivation, and new professional CONTACTS. People seem to always be amazed when
I can immediately refer them to another RESNA colleague, marketer, or vendor,
who seems to know the precise answer to their need. That's what I meant about
RESNA being in the PEOPLE business. RESNA IS about people. People ARE
On the future of RESNA
The continual attraction and retention of
TALENTED NEW PEOPLE!
My suggestions for those just
entering the field
Don't wait for
somebody to beg you to get involved, just roll up your sleeves and get busy!
Take the time to get to KNOW your professional peers. They are the BEST
resources that you will EVER HAVE at your disposal and in your profession! My
RESNA friends ARE my GREATEST professional asset. I can only hope that I have
meant as much to others.