What is Rehabilitation Engineering?
From RESNA 2008
What is Rehabilitation Engineering?
Rehabilitation engineering is the use of engineering principles to
provide technology solutions to problems confronted by people with
For most of us, technology makes things easier. For people with
disabilities, technology makes things possible. Rehabilitation engineers use
devices and other materials to increase the functional capabilities of someone
with a disability. Rehabilitation engineers can use technology to improve
mobility, written and verbal communication, hearing, vision, independent
living, educational access, recreational access, and tasks associated with
employment, among many others. Technology that is used to help increase
functional capabilities is often called assistive technology.
What do Rehabilitation Engineers do?
- Rehabilitation Engineers play many roles.
They may suggest commercially available devices to solve a problem
for a person with a disability. For example, a rehabilitation engineer
assisting a worker who uses a wheelchair, might choose commercially available
components to set up an ergonomically accessible workstation with adjustable
height desks and tables and repositioned computer monitor and keyboard as a job
accommodation. A rehabilitation engineer working in a rehabilitation center
with a woman with limited movement might recommend electronic aids to daily
living for her to activate appliances and lights in her kitchen.
They adapt and customize technology and fabricate unique solutions
to fit the needs of an individual with a disability. For example, a
rehabilitation engineer working in a school system with a preschooler with
limited movement in his legs might adapt a battery operated toy car so that it
can be driven with hand controls rather than foot pedals. Another rehab
engineer working at a resource center might fabricate a wheelchair camera mount
for an amateur photographer who uses a wheelchair.
They may develop new technologies and new products to solve a
problem encountered by people with disabilities. For example,
rehabilitation engineers have invented voice activated systems to operate cell
phones and PDAs. Rehabilitation engineers have also invented wheelchair mounted
power supply system that takes power from the wheelchair batteries to provide
back-up power for a ventilator.
They may test devices and products for consumer safety and
compliance with state, federal and international standards. For example,
rehabilitation engineers working for independent testing laboratories conduct
stress, performance and failure analysis tests to determine the structural
integrity of wheelchairs. They might also analyze the safety of wheelchair tie
down systems in vehicles using crash test dummies.
- Rehabilitation engineers complement the work of other professionals, such
as physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists.
They bring the unique engineering perspective to problem solving, providing
technical assistance with technical systems and solutions that commonly fall
Training and background of a rehabilitation engineer
- While some rehabilitation engineers have master's degrees in rehabilitation
engineering, most rehabilitation engineers have undergraduate or graduate
degrees in biomedical engineering, mechanical engineering, or electrical
engineering. Their university training includes formal training in principles
of design, ergonomics, biomechanics, mechanical and electrical systems,
material sciences and life sciences. They also gain an understanding of the
functional capabilities and prognosis of people with various disabilities.
For more information
RESNA, the Rehabilitation Engineering
and Assistive Technology Society of North America, is the main professional
society for rehabilitation engineers. Call them at 703/524-6686.
Other affiliations of engineers include the Institute of Electrical and
Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the
Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES).
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