Rehabilitation Engineering & Rehabilitation Technology

From: NCMMR Innovations - Spring - Summer 2008

The term rehabilitation engineering was first officially used in the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Public Law 93-112), which was enacted to "extend and revise the authorization of grants to States for vocational rehabilitation services, with special emphasis on services to those with the most severe handicaps, (and) to expand special Federal responsibilities and research and training programs with respect to handicapped individuals ... " The term is specifically used in Sec. 202, (b) (2): "The Secretary [of Department of Health, Education, and Welfare] is authorized to make grants [for the] ... establishment and support of Rehabilitation Engineering Research Centers to (A) develop innovative methods of applying advanced medical technology, scientific achievement, and psychological and social knowledge to solve rehabilitation problems through planning and conducting research, including cooperative research with public or private agencies and organizations, designed to produce new scientific knowledge, equipment, and devices suitable for solving problems in the rehabilitation of handicapped individuals and for reducing environmental barriers ..."

According to the Rehabilitation Engineering Network, "Rehabilitation engineering involves using advanced technology and innovation to help meet the needs of individuals with disabilities. A rehabilitation engineer knows the basic disability areas, resources, current laws, and existing technology. Through the application of the engineering disciplines, mathematics, physical sciences, life sciences, analysis, and logical problem solving, the rehabilitation engineer strives to maximize a client's abilities and independence. Design and application of enabling technology are major skills of the rehabilitation engineer. Rehabilitation engineers also team with other rehabilitation professionals to restore an individual’s ability to work and live as normally as possible."

Rehabilitation technology involves the actual intervention, equipment, or other technology that permits the end user to perform an activity or perform the activity better. Rehabilitation technology is the outgrowth and application of rehabilitation engineering and includes the systematic application of technologies, engineering methodologies, or scientific principles to meet the needs of, and address the barriers confronted by, individuals with disabilities in areas that include education, rehabilitation, employment, transportation, independent living, and recreation. The term includes rehabilitation engineering, assistive technology devices, and assistive technology services (from Rehab Engineer).

According to the official organization of the rehabilitation engineering profession, RESNA (formerly known as the Rehabilitation and Assistive Technology Society of North America), "rehabilitation engineering" is a broad term involving engineers, equipment vendors, therapists, and other professionals, all of whom engage their specific disciplines in the supply and/or application of assistive (rehabilitative) technology for persons with disabilities.

A portion of the Behavioral Sciences and Rehabilitation Engineering Technologies (BSRT) Program at the NCMRR develops and supports the application of engineering and bioengineering principles to study the habilitation of individuals with disabilities. A major focus of the Center’s mission is to support research for developing technologies aimed at helping individuals with disabilities perform daily activities; the rehabilitation engineering technologies portion of this Program is the lead on such projects. For more information on the Program, see the interview with the Program director, Louis A. Quatrano, PhD, in NCMRR Staff in the Limelight. The NCMRR is funding several programs in the Medical Rehabilitation Research Infrastructure Network that have expertise in rehabilitation engineering.

In addition, research in a closely related field, that of assistive technologies, is a focus for the NCMRR Spinal Cord and Musculoskeletal Disorders and Assistive Devices (SMAD) Program. Nancy Shinowara, PhD, is the director of the SMAD Program, which will be featured in an upcoming Innovations e-update.

From: NCMMR Innovations - Spring - Summer 2008 - pdf document



Professional Organization

Old RESNA homepage

New RESNA homepage