Entry into the AT field:
How I got into the
As a student in engineering
school I had a part time job in the medical engineering research program under
the direction of James Reswick. The program was exploring the control of
powered upper extremity orthoses for individuals with high-level spinal cord
Important event(s) that influenced
my early decision to get into the assistive technology field
Jim Reswick was a Renaissance man who had created
a world class research program that was inspiring.
Why I chose the AT
The needs of people with
disabilities were a good match for my skills. I experienced an intuitive sense
of connection to the young male spinal cord injured patients at the hospital. I
was blessed early on with the notion of a mission-driven life.
My inspiration and
I met Edwin Prentke following
his first unsuccessful attempt to retire. He was also an engineer by training
and had already experienced a full and productive life, but realized that he
needed to continue to contribute. He exhibited an intoxicating zest for life.
We were different in many ways. He grew up in the city. I grew up on a farm. He
was Jewish. I was Presbyterian. While I was 20, he was over three times my age.
(Ed just turned 102 years old (2006)). Yet we connected in a meaningful way and
soon formed Prentke Romich Company.
Why the field is important to me
and the central focus of my work
assistive technology field is a noble calling. Our work can have a stunning
impact on the lives of those we touch. The original work of Prentke Romich
Company was in the area of environmental control systems for people with
high-level spinal cord injury. We soon had the opportunity to create a
communication system for a person who couldn't speak and that area of need
developed into the essence of PRC today.
My memorable successes and
greatest contributions to the field
The introduction of the semantic compaction
(Minspeak) language representation method was a milepost in the quest for more
effective AAC (augmentative and alternative communication). The development of
methods and tools for measuring AAC performance facilitated evidence-based
practice. These initiatives produced a feeling of mission effectiveness.
My greatest contribution has been the
establishment of Prentke Romich Company, including the values of mission,
integrity, respect, and a positive work environment.
My most memorable
I forgot all about my
failures, which must be how I dealt with them. But I haven't made a habit of
Significant changes and advances
in the field since I first entered it
The transition from art to science
(evidence-based practice) in the delivery of services has produced
significantly better results. The addition of semantic compaction as the third
language representation method produced more effective communication. The
development of the microprocessor allowed new ideas to bloom and other
technology advances have been dramatic, consistent and with much greater
On the future of rehabilitation
engineering and assistive technology
Much remains to be done. So long as our mission is driven by the vision of
improved quality of life for people with disabilities, we will find ways to
My role within RESNA and what it
gave back to me
Early on, RESNA was
and continues to be my mission-based community of like-minded people. My roles
within RESNA have been many, ranging from active member (author and presenter,
and committee, board, and executive committee participation) to a link between
the academic/researcher and business interests.
On the future of RESNA
RESNA will continue to provide leadership to the
fields of rehabilitation engineering and assistive technology by acknowledging
and capitalizing on the multi-disciplinary nature of these fields. RESNA will
continue the role of bringing and keeping our community together.
My suggestions for those just
entering the field
You have chosen
well. This can be a most satisfying and meaningful investment of the life
experience. Define your mission well. Keep your vision clear. Behave with
integrity. Treat people with respect. Have fun!