David F. Law, Jr.
Born: July 8, 1952 - Staunton, VA
Entry into the AT field: May 1977
How I got into the field
I ran a metal fabrication company in Staunton, VA, where we designed and built all types of automated machines for plants and assembly lines. Our goal was to build machines to enhance productivity by reducing operator fatigue, i.e. using modern industrial technologies to design PEOPLE out of their jobs!
Important event(s) that influenced my early decision to get into the assistive technology field
In my case, it was truly more along the lines of PROVIDENCE! Although I did not see it at the time, it now seems that every step in my 'hard knocks" education, not to mention, my professional talents, had been pre-arranged, to insure that I wind up in this marvelous field! It truly is remarkable!
Why I chose the AT field
I really didn't choose this field! It appears that this profession (or someone) was choosing ME, because every single door that needed to open, simply opened! I'm glad that I was in the right place, at the right time.
My inspiration and mentor
PERSONS ... many persons! I'll mention some of them later on.
Why the field is important to me and the central focus of my work
I had previously used technology to essentially design people OUT of their jobs. Well, when I discovered in this NEW field, that I could apply technology that would work people INTO more productive jobs! WOW! That was indeed the thrill of my lifetime, to discover that I been blessed with the privilege to truly CHANGE LIVES! It was as though providence had taken control of my life and all of my prior experiences neatly fit into guiding me into this new and exciting realm of service to my fellow man!
While I was managing the metal fabrication company, we were contracted by Helper Industries, one of the first manufacturers of van lifts, to lower the floor in two brand new Chevy Vans for disabled drivers being trained at the Woodrow Wilson Rehab Center. By being the very first person to make it possible for a driver using a wheelchair to enter a van IN his wheelchair, and then drive from that seat, I had finally found my niche in life. My work was so well received, I was invited to apply for a brand new job opening at Woodrow Wilson, their Adaptive Equipment SPECIALIST! So I jumped at the chance to use my skills to design aids for people with disabilities and the rest, as they say, is history. As for people who have been the most influential in my career, I would have to first give credit to the man who actually hired me. That was Dr. Steven Reger, Colin McLaurin's colleague, who had been consulting with WWRC's OTs on a weekly basis, to identify helpful AT, or as they called it back then, Adaptive Equipment. When Dr. Reger saw the quality of my design work and skills on the vans, I was advised that WWRC was in the process of hiring someone to manage these services, and develop these custom devices. The next thing I knew, I was the state's first (and only) Adaptive Equipment Specialist! But it was Steve Reger who made me feel important and the very first to welcome my involvement in this infant field of rehab engineering. As one of the very few practitioners in the field, who did not possess a degree in an engineering discipline, I must admit to feeling a bit out of my league at first. I remember sitting through many RESNA presentations where I wondered just what the heck they were talking about! But it was people like Sam McFarland, Kali Mallik, Dave Harden, Doug Hobson, John Leslie, Dudley Childress, Jerry Weisman, and many others, who came to recognize that MY contributions, albeit usually simplistic and pragmatically designed, were changing the lives of the clients for whom they were developed. I guess I was viewed more as a remarkable talent, more like a "McGuyver" than an engineer, but my work WAS welcomed and well-received, non-the-less.
My memorable successes and greatest contributions to the field
Successes? How does one go about quantifying successes? I always felt if I could help a client achieve something, that had previously seemed unobtainable, then my efforts WERE successful. It's not necessarily about the size or complexity of the need. It's about the look of gratitude in their eyes, when you see them do it for themselves!
What is "greater?" To develop a "body" for someone who has been cut in half at the navel, or to make a foot-operated feeding device for a man who lost both arms at the shoulders? Is a man-lift, that allows a paralyzed farmer to return to farming, any more wonderful, than developing a swiveling baby seat, that attached to the front of a young paraplegic mother's wheelchair, so she could "push" her baby wherever they need to go? I really can't put them into categories of greater value!
My most memorable failures
Anyone who says that they have never failed, is either lying, or they haven't truly tried to do anything! Naturally, I have had some devices that were abandoned by the intended user, but that can be viewed as GOOD. If my device got them into DOING something, that they otherwise could not do, if only for a brief period, then it wasn't really a failure. They may have merely progressed enough, to do it without aids. Learn from your mistakes, whatever they are, and move on!
Significant changes and advances in the field since I first entered it
Boy, have there been changes! I have always been one who believed that GOOD changes are worth sacrificing for, so I consider myself blessed to have been able to contribute in bringing about those changes. When the RESNA Student Design Competition lost its long-time funding, I asked if I could help to find a NEW funding source. When more and more service providers began to attend RESNA meetings, Jerry Weisman and I suggested responding to their needs which ultimately led to Dudley Childress establishing the 'Special Interest Groups." I believe this has been one of the BEST things to happen within the organization.
As for advances in the RESNA field, I would have to say that the MOST important, was when we finally opened up our big old arms, and welcomed in ALL of the AT specialists from all of the OTHER professional disciplines, like OTs, PTs, Audiologists, and so on. They have now become comfortable with sharing their particular expertise, as VALUED TEAM MEMBERS. I could NOT do what I do, without their constant, extremely valuable assistance and input.
On the future of rehabilitation engineering and assistive technology
The future of our profession is PEOPLE. We MUST continue to attract new talent into our ranks. We MUST get the administrators to understand and appreciate the annual RESNA Conference is, by and large, our ONLY continuing educational forum, where we can share and learn NEW things. If we are not supported to attend, our facilities (and our clients) will suffer. What a shame! Because there is SO MUCH to share and LEARN!
My role within RESNA and what it gave back to me
I have always felt that my role in RESNA was simply to be a good ambassador. I have always tried to make newcomers feel WELCOME, just as I was made to feel many years ago! There is not enough paper or time to answer this question! I have NEVER attended a RESNA function where I did not come away with new ideas, new motivation, and new professional CONTACTS. People seem to always be amazed when I can immediately refer them to another RESNA colleague, marketer, or vendor, who seems to know the precise answer to their need. That's what I meant about RESNA being in the PEOPLE business. RESNA IS about people. People ARE RESNA!
On the future of RESNA
The continual attraction and retention of TALENTED NEW PEOPLE!
My suggestions for those just entering the field
Don't wait for somebody to beg you to get involved, just roll up your sleeves and get busy! Take the time to get to KNOW your professional peers. They are the BEST resources that you will EVER HAVE at your disposal and in your profession! My RESNA friends ARE my GREATEST professional asset. I can only hope that I have meant as much to others.