Role of the Rehabilitation Engineer

Doug Hobson

Date - ?

One question that immediately arises is: At what point is it desirable or essential for the RTS to engage the skills of a rehabilitation engineer? The answer is not always obvious, and therefore, some background information on what engineers do may prove helpful to the RTS in making the appropriate referral decisions.

In society at large, the role of the engineer is to solve problems. This involves asking how, with what, and at what cost? The engineer solves problems, making practical use of scientific theory by converting it into useful application. This is typically accomplished by designing a new product or system. "Engineers create designs to serve the needs of people and their culture" (Beakley et al., 1986). Inherent in the engineer's role is his or her stewardship of technological safety. The creation of technology that is safe for the public and the environment is paramount to the engineer. "Society has a special challenge for the [engineer]: use acquired knowledge for the benefit of humankind without endangering the surrounding environment or adding risks to the lives and safety of individuals" (Beakley et al., 1986).

A specific definition, role and function of the rehabilitation engineer (RE) have been developed by the RESNA Rehabilitation Engineering Professional Specialty Group (RE-PSG). It expands on the above general definition, role, and function of an engineer by emphasizing engineering applications "to meet the needs of, and address the barriers confronted by, individuals with disabilities" (RESNA RE-PSG, 1990) and describes the unique characteristics of the rehabilitation engineer. Basically, the rehabilitation engineer is a rehabilitation professional, as well as an academically-trained engineer, who strives to solve problems faced by individuals with disabilities and by those who assist these individuals.

RESNA is committed to provide credentialing of REs, which will allow consumers, third party payers and other members of the delivery team to identify those engineers who have successfully acquired the knowledge and skills to apply engineering principles to the needs of persons with disabilities. The rehabilitation engineer does so by creating or designing new devices and products derived from mathematical and scientific analyses of the problem being solved. In addition, the RE is qualified to assume responsibility for modifications of commercial products to meet the custom needs of individual consumers. Rehabilitation engineers should be qualified and willing to assume responsibility for safety concerns, especially in those cases in which they have been responsible for designing or overseeing custom modifications of AT devices.


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