Date: Monday, April 24, 2023
This month we spoke with RESNA member and Principal Research Scientist at Georgia Tech, Nathan Moon, about their experience in Assistive Technology.
How did you get your start in assistive technology?
Interestingly, I found my way to the field of assistive technology a bit accidentally. I originally trained as a historian of medicine, studying the history of psychopharmacology. During my time in grad school, however, I took a position as a graduate assistant for the two Rehabilitation Engineering Research Centers (RERCs) on Wireless Technology and Workplace Accommodations at Georgia Tech. Learning about assistive technology inspired me greatly and I never looked back.
It took a little while for me to become a member of RESNA. I presented at my first RESNA conference in 2005, but I didn’t actually become a member until 2012. Just over a decade later, I still ask myself, “What took so long?”
How have you seen the field of assistive technology develop over the years?
The last decade or so has been an astounding one for AT, especially where emerging and next-generation technologies have been concerned. While there is still progress to be made, it has been amazing to witness how voice control and intelligent assistances, along with “smart home” technologies, have given people back their independence and freedom.
Wireless technologies have realized similar advances. In the two decades of our work with the Wireless RERC, we advanced from “cracking open” handsets to make them accessible to harnessing software advances in current-generation smartphones to create apps for a variety of applications, from helping people who are blind to read currency to enabling new ways of working for people with disabilities.
What have been your volunteer roles within RESNA?
I have been a member of the Government Affairs Committee (GAC), serving as its chair from 2012 to 2020. During my term as chair, we worked with our other partnering coalitions such as the Disability and Rehabilitation Research Coalition (DRRC) to advocate for research funding. We also worked with partners such as the National Coalition for Assistive and Rehab Technology (NCART) to maintain and protect access to assistive technologies for the people who need them most.
I also served as a member of the Board of Directors between 2016 and 2018, and I was grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the strategic planning of the organization and to help in identifying its priorities. I also served for several years on the Governance Committee, which is charged with nominations for RESNA’s elected offices and awards. Where awards are concerned, it’s very fulfilling to be able to recognize all of the excellence that exists within our community.
Why do you choose to volunteer with RESNA?
Volunteering makes my membership in RESNA even more “real” to me. In taking a more active role, whether through service in the GAC or working with awards, I can actually see the difference that I’m making within our community. As a member-led organization, it’s possible for me to know that I’m contributing to something larger than myself.
Do you have any advice for AT professionals or those new to the field?
Research and practice need each other. Researchers cannot possibly make new contributions to the field without understanding what happens in practice and gaining an appreciation for the knowledge and skills that practitioners bring to their clients daily, as well as their ongoing, unmet needs. And when done well, researchers can offer practitioners new knowledge to inform their work. RESNA is one of the few organizations that I can think of that makes space for both research and practice, and it is this synergy that helps to create positive outcomes for the people we serve. So, let’s learn to appreciate each other and all that everyone does.
Beyond that, never doubt that you are making the world a better place. Even if it impacts just one person, you have made a difference!
You held a Research Summit, hosted by RESNA, to share research from Georgia Tech on disability, technology, and the gig economy. What was a highlight from this event?
The real highlight was being able to share our team’s research on contingent employment practices with a broader audience. Our world is changing in profound ways, right down to how we work. As more of us become freelancers, contractors, and entrepreneurs, there is a need for knowledge about how best to include people with disabilities within our workforce. Employment remains a key to independence. Anticipating this future—which already is here—and meeting the challenge is pivotal to everyone’s inclusion in it.