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What It Is - Whom It Is For - What It May Become

     The Rehabilitation Engineering Society of North America (RESNA) represents a joining together of persons who participate in the development and delivery of technology to people with disabilities. The goal of RESNA is to improve the quality of life of handicapped persons in all possible ways; from recognition of their needs, through design, development, evaluation, and production of devices both internal and external, and modification of housing and transportation environments, to enhancing the effectiveness of the delivery system to meet the needs of the disabled wherever they may be.

RESNA and the Rehabilitation Engineering Delivery System

     The Rehabilitation Engineering Delivery System is complex and many faceted. It involves many kinds of professionals and institutions and includes, most importantly, the person with disability and his/her family. To be successful, all components of this system must function effectively both as individual units and as an interconnected network.

     RESNA in its structure will mirror the Rehabilitation Engineering Delivery System. As a society it will be concerned with the total problem of making technology available to persons with disabilities. Some of its task groups will provide professional forums for experts concerned with their own role in the delivery process, while other committees will reflect the system as a whole and the interaction of its components. The professionals in the Rehabilitation Engineering Delivery System may be listed as follows:

  1. Consumers - Persons with disabilities and their families who need the benefits of technology.

  2. Practitioners - Physicians and allied health professionals including counselors who recognize the potential of a disabled person and who prescribe the specific Rehabilitation Engineering devices, provide service, and/or arrange for home and work modifications.

  3. Administrators - Directors and staff of federal, state, and local agencies (public and private) that have health, social, and vocational responsibilities for persons with disabilities.

  4. Manufacturers and Distributors - Members of firms and institutions that make equipment and services available to the handicapped, including builders.

  5. Operators - Members of companies that provide transportation, hotels, restaurants, recreation facilities that are accessible to persons with disabilities.

  6. Authorizers and Providers - Health agencies (e.g., Medicare) and insurance companies that must authorize purchase of equipment and services and provide third party payment.

  7. Inventors and Designers - Rehabilitation engineers and others who design and develop implants, assistive equipment, vehicles and housing to meet the needs of persons with disabilities.

  8. Researchers - Medical, Engineering, Allied Health, Social, Psychological, Vocational, and other professionals who conduct research activities, the result of which lead to better understanding of the needs of persons with disabilities and how better to solve their problems.

  9. Educators - University and college professionals who train rehabilitation engineers, allied health persons, designers, architects and technicians, for service to the disabled.

  10. Legislators - Politicians and staff personnel at federal, state, and local levels who pass and oversee legislation that concerns the application of technology to persons with disabilities.

     This list above, in many ways defines the Rehabilitation Engineering Society of North America. First, it describes the persons who are eligible for membership. Their credentials, activities, and interests vary widely, but the one thing they share in common is a deep concern for making the benefits of technology available to persons with disability. Thus, Rehabilitation Engineering - the application of science and technology to improving the quality of life of persons with disabilities - is the rallying point of RESNA. Each of the person-types represented has an equal responsibility in the overall delivery process. The process starts with the needs of the disabled person and ends when his/her needs are met. Each person plays a unique role and the system itself will not work if any part does not function effectively. RESNA is concerned with the entire system, and to be effective it must build its membership with all persons in the system.

     Secondly, the above list essentially defines elements of the Rehabilitation Engineering delivery system. A basic concept in systems theory is that the inter-relationship between the components of the system is as important as are the elements themselves. While the parts of the system are easily recognized, the inter-relationships or connections are difficult to define. In fact, most of the barriers to the delivery of Rehabilitation Engineering services are found in the connections or lack thereof between the elements of the system. A major goal of RESNA is to deal with these interactions and find ways to remove the barriers that inhibit the overall system from functioning effectively. For example, one of the major barriers is the lack of information and a system to make information available to the many persons within the delivery system. Many factors are affected by the lack of information or access to it, including definition of needs, research priorities, legislation, funding, availability of devices with associated indications for applicability and training. This is an area in which RESNA can and will contribute.

     As one looks at the Rehabilitation Engineering Delivery System as a whole, and at the same time examines the activities and problems associated with his/her individual specialty, he/she cannot help but identify many action areas wherein RESNA can be effective. These range from national planning and funding support at the highest federal levels to the specific application of technology for one person with a disability, wherever he/she may be. The list will be long and important. As the Society becomes organized into sub-task groups and committees, action plans will evolve to cover the needs. As of this time, no one group, including ourselves, is in a position to draw the blueprint for the Society. It will become clearer when the membership itself organizes itself to deal with the issues it believes most important and of manageable size. But we do have a vision of what our society might be in three or four years.

RESNA in Three Years

  • We see a membership of many thousands of persons who know why they wish to join together and who freely give of their energies and time in activities that they find enjoyable and rewarding, rallying around the concept of improving the quality of life of their fellowman through the applciation of technology.

  • We see a forum of resource persons and activities to which all of the constituencies - government, researchers, manufacturers, practitioners, and disabled persons themselves - can turn for professional help in planning, evaluations, state-of-the-art studies, peer reviews or whatever the particular need may be.

  • We see Annual Meetings that are attended by thousands of persons following the precedent and continuing the momentum already established by the Intergency Conference on Rehabilitation Engineering. Exhibits, technical papers, workshops, teaching sessions and, above all, personal contacts, will confirm the reality of the common and individual interests of the members of the society.

  • We see organization into subgroups, some comprised of members from all elements in the Rehabilitation Engineering Delivery System that deal with national and international needs, while other sub-groups will be-formed around the individual professional expertise of the membership to deal with the needs of their professions.

  • We see expanding publication activity that in some forms will appeal to the entire membership at large, and in other forms, provide high quality professional journal space for scientific and other professional articles.

  • We see an executive office, staffed with professionals who carry on many kinds of projects requiring full time attention, including workshops, evaluation studies, peer review, special studies, contracted assistance to public and private agencies as well as manufacturers for information and services vital to planning, marketing, and setting of priorities.

  • We see professional Rehabilitation Engineering subgroups that are particularly concerned with accreditation and certification of rehabilitation engineers by state and local institutions as the Rehabilitation Engineer becomes a recognized professional in the health service delivery system. Accreditation is directly related to training and thus RESNA will have an impact on new Rehabilitation Engineering University Programs.

  • We see RESNA as a member of an international federation of similar societies emerging in nations throughout the world and maintaining an active involvement on the international scene.

     These are some of the visions we have. While visionary at this point, we believe they are realizable because they are founded on sound concepts and because the people who can make the society all of these things - and much more - exist in North America, are concerned about the potential of technology for the disabled person and are ready and willing to join together in action groups that will have the power to bring about change.

     We cannot offer you now a perfect "slot" in a developed organization. But we can offer you the opportunity to join with your colleagues in a personally rewarding activity that will benefit millions of persons with disabilities. Will you join us?

The Founding Committee of RESNA
James B. Reswick
Anthony Staros
Joseph Traub
Colin McLaurin
Douglas Hobson

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