Glenn Hedman, MS, PE, ATP, RET
Born: December 3, 1958 - Chicago, IL
Entry into the AT Field: Summer 1979
How I got into the field
In 1979, I was a bioengineering undergrad at the University of Illinois, working part-time in the cafeteria at the Rehab Institute of Chicago (RIC). On the 14th floor was the Northwestern University Rehab Engineering Program (NUREP), led by Dudley Childress, with Ken Kozole providing clinical rehab engineering services. I asked to volunteer for NUREP. They had just completed designs and prototypes for an eating aid and a mouthstick system. I documented the designs to enable others to fabricate the devices themselves. I was then offered a part-time job as a fabrication technician.
While working at NUREP, I saw a flyer for the Rehab Engineering training program at the University of Virginia, one of the few training programs in the country. I attended there Fall 1981 through Spring 1983. After graduating from UVa, I returned to Chicago to work as a Clinical Rehab Engineer for RIC under Ken Kozole. When Ken left RIC I became Director of Rehabilitation Engineering in 1984. RIC Rehabilitation Engineering Clinical Services experienced a lot of growth during the 1980s. In 1989, I left RIC to start a new service delivery outlet for northeast Illinois, the Assistive Technology Unit (ATU) at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). The ATU was part of a research and public service office at UIC, the Institute on Disability and Human Development (IDHD). In 1996, IDHD matured into an academic department. Rehab Technology was identified as a concentration within the masters program, and teaching and advising has become part of the job as well.
Important event(s) that influenced my early decision to get into the assistive technology field
While I had the interest in disability and engineering, I most likely would not be in the field of rehab engineering if it were not for Dudley and Ken encouraging me. Their openness included finding a way for me to contribute in their work.
Why I chose the AT field
While in the UIC Bioengineering undergrad program, I chose artificial organs as my area of concentration. I saw this as a way to work in engineering with a direct positive impact on people. When I learned of rehabilitation engineering, however, it struck me as dramatically more direct - in clinical services every project has an individual consumer associated with it. That feedback on one's work was, and is, very appealing to me.
My inspiration and mentor
In addition to Dudley and Ken, I had the good fortune to do my student work at Virginia with another pioneer of rehabilitation engineering, Colin McLaurin. The opportunity to discuss wheelchair design with him on a daily basis was an incredible experience.
Why the field is important to me and the central focus of my work
Although I have taken on administrative and teaching responsibilities, I have maintained a sizable client load. So that initial draw to the field, the direct contact with consumers, is still present. Another reason rehabilitation engineering is important to me is the versatility it encourages. Early in my career, work focused on activities of daily living and other forms of adaptive equipment. Later seating and wheeled mobility was the primary work. Since coming to UIC, I have been able to focus on worksite modification and home accessibility. And going beyond the standard, off-the-shelf options have always been an aspect of the work.
My memorable successes and greatest contributions to the field
As a student, being able to design and fabricate a children's wheelchair with several non-standard components was an incredible experience. I enjoyed designing each aspect of the wheelchair with guidance from Colin and the UVa technicians. The opportunity to start a clinical service program from scratch has been very special. As a practicing rehabilitation engineer, I also feel good about achieving the PE, ATP, and RET. I highly value the clinical work I have done, and continue to perform. The chance to present case studies at the RESNA conference has helped me contribute to the field as well. Within RESNA, I have tried to introduce new initiatives with each assignment which have worked out well. The SIG-14 Don Ross Invited Lecture, recognizing a leader of the SIG who passed away and providing job accommodation professionals a forum has been very special. As RE-PSG Chair, I facilitated the final development of the credential for Rehab Engineering Technology. The RE-PSG had debated the issue of an RET credential for about 10 years. I led the Task Force which developed a final plan. Most importantly, while not supported by all, this plan was first brought to the RE-PSG giving members had a chance to comment. It was my feeling that the group needed to view the plan, discuss it, and indicate support or not. Ultimately, about 73% of those responding indicated support, and the RET moved forward. Its value will be a function of the recognition it gets, but at least it exists and has a chance to develop.
My most memorable failures
Sometimes designs you think won't work well winds up being really valued. One worksite modification device I made for an individual trying to return to work in a lampshade manufacturing facility, following a spinal cord injury. After a lot of design work, we made came up with an accommodation. Not thinking the design was the best, I apologetically brought it to the worksite and set it up. Client, supervisor, and vocational rehabilitation counselor were all thrilled. She used it for about 3 months, until she was able to perform the tasks without using the frame. The counselor later called and said the device helped her get back to work sooner, kept the employer interested in keeping his employee back and was in line with the mission of the voc rehab agency. While only used for 3 months, all viewed it as a success.
Significant changes and advances in the field since I first entered it
The amount of commercially available assistive technology is significantly different than the early 1980s. This facilitated a shift of the work, away from strict research and development to a healthy amount of pure service delivery. In seating, the development of affordable commercially available options for custom seat and back cushions was a major step forward. In communication, the development of dynamic displays greatly increased the communication options available to consumers.
On the future of rehabilitation engineering and assistive technology
The need for each has always been present, since the earliest development work in the 1970s. With the aging population, the need will be even greater. However, the future will be a function of how apparent the need for each is seen by the gatekeepers and third-party payers of services and technology.
My role within RESNA and what it gave back to me
I have served RESNA in a variety of capacities, including SIG-14 Chair, RE-PSG Chair, Awards Chair, Student Design Competition Chair, Finance Committee, Board of Directors, and now President Elect. The interaction with colleagues has been a tremendous asset. Additionally, life-long friendships have resulted. The ability to provide leadership in different capacities has helped me develop professionally. The recognition through these posts has also been seen as being of high value by my supervisors.
On the future of RESNA
During the past few years, RESNA has realized that its focus needs to be on the issues facing professionals in rehabilitation engineering and assistive technology. By helping professionals, ultimately consumers gain greater access to more advanced technology. RESNA's focus paved the way for investment in the credentialing program, which I think has been a very positive step for the field. The challenge for RESNA is to be seen clearly as the home of all professionals in rehabilitation engineering and assistive technology: researchers, service providers, and educators. To the extent that RESNA products and activities serve these constituencies, the future can hold great potential. Further, an ultimate goal for RESNA should be providing the forum where the integration of these three areas takes place.
My suggestions for those just entering the field
Working in rehab engineering/AT is a noble profession. Combining innovation with direct feedback on your work is unique. It makes it worth all the challenges.