Leonard L. Anderson, MSEM
Born: February 26, 1935 - Wichita, KS
Entry into the AT Field: October, 1976
How I got into the field
I hold an MS in Engineering Mechanics. After working for 20 years in mechanical and structural test engineering at the Boeing Co. in Wichita I had the opportunity to apply for a research position at Wichita State University. The university, in cooperation with the Cerebral Palsy Research Foundation, had received a federal grant naming them a Rehabilitation Engineering Center. The research involved seeking ways to provide employment opportunities for persons with severe physical limitations utilizing engineering. Having been a "gadgeteer" and "tinkerer" the work seemed suited to my skills.
Important event(s) that influenced my early decision to get into the assistive technology field
Dr. Glen Zumwalt had been my advisor through my graduate studies. Being a professor at WSU he knew of the pending grant and thought of me when considering someone to fill one of two non-teaching positions on the grant. The work potential interested me as I have always had an interest in helping people.
My inspiration and mentor
Two persons come to mind. Dr. John Leslie, who is a RESNA Fellow, was a Co-Director of the grant project, and Dr. Roy Norris, who was Chairman of the Electrical Engineering Dept at WSU and was a Project Director on the grant. Both of these gentlemen had worked with persons with disabilities and were able to indoctrinate me. I needed a great deal of tutoring having not worked in the field before.
Why the field is important to me and the central focus of my work
The field is important to me because it offers the only opportunity for persons with severe physical limitations to be more independent in the workplace and at home. The central focus for me began in vocational rehabilitation and has expanded into independent living situations as well. My approach to setting up workstations was to apply specialized tooling helps to assist in the material handling necessary on the job. The knowledge I had developed in methods of construction helped as I had the opportunity to find ways to modify homes when needed for accessibility.
My memorable successes and greatest contributions to the field
There have been many memorable successes. We were able to see many persons with cerebral palsy, having severe limitations in the use of their hands, working in non-sheltered industrial settings. Most of these folks had not ever had jobs before. Later, as the research progressed we were able to find ways to assist persons with mental disabilities to be productive on the job. It has been most gratifying to be able to see these successes.
I was privileged to work full-time for 22 years in the field before I retired. I now do some consulting when asked to do so. Results of our research efforts were able to show that applications of rehabilitation engineering are essential in providing for independence for persons with disabilities. As our research progressed it was necessary to "get the word out" by writing annual reports and issuing Technical Briefs depicting individual successes. In this process I was author/co-author of more than 75 publications. I was also privileged to make more than 200 (I stopped counting) presentations in 45 states, Canada, Australia, and Egypt.
My most memorable failures
I do not want to seem braggadocios, but the only failures we experienced in placing person on the job resulted from attitudinal problems on the behalf of the clients with whom we worked. Psychological aspects of the job were beyond the purview of us engineers. The specialized tooling that we developed was successful in placements where the workers were eager and willing to work.
Significant changes and advances in the field since I first entered it
The most significant change I see is that industry has recognized the need to provide assistive devices of a generic nature to assist persons with disabilities to be more independent. In doing so, the general public has become more aware of the need. I must say, however, that individuals often present unique problems that can only be addressed on an individual basis via applications of rehabilitation engineering.
It is awesome how advances in the fields of science, technology, and medicine have influence solutions to the needs of persons with disabilities. In my career I was advanced to the position of Vice President of Technical Services for the Cerebral Palsy Research Foundation and supervised many staff persons involved in several different disciplines of rehabilitation. Developments in electronic control systems and in the area of wheelchair design and posture control seating systems have been extremely impressive.
On the future of rehabilitation engineering and assistive technology
I see the future as being very bright indeed. There are many very bright and innovative people involved in all aspects of the field. The need for research and applications has no end. Advances in medical treatments will continue to influence further research in the applications of assistive technology and adaptations of the environment.
My role within RESNA and what it gave back to me
I am a founding member of RESNA. I have published and presented many papers at annual conferences. I have been part of faculty for many pre-conference courses. I was privileged to be the first Chair of SIG 14 (Job Accommodations) and then to establish the "Show 'n Tell" sessions at the annual conferences. I was on committees that developed the questions to be incorporated into the exams for accreditation. I was privileged to have been a member of the Board of Directors. I was named a RESNA Fellow which is certainly the highlight of my experience as a member. Belonging to RESNA and opportunity to join and share with colleagues has been an unparalleled opportunity. Friendships that have been developed will never be forgotten.
On the future of RESNA
WHOA! Are you serious? Advances in the field of rehabilitation and engineering are ongoing. One of the most important roles of RESNA is to bring new talent into its membership and to help develop them in the field as well as learn from them. The opportunities for cooperative sharing are endless.
My suggestions for those just entering the field
First, you will never have an opportunity to work in any field that has fulfilling rewards equal to those found in working in the field of rehabilitation technology. Finally, JOIN RESNA, and get involved.