Mary Ellen Buning
Born: 10/26/1947, Orlando FL
Entry into the AT Field: 1988
How I got into the field
I was working is a special center/school for students with multiple handicaps in Maryland and realized that the school staff needed tools for helping students communicate, make choices and participate in the daily living skills curriculum. Maryland was a state first funded by the “Tech Act of 1988” and I signed up for AT training. I took a summer course at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and have never stopped. I ended up moving to Colorado in 1989 (another state with first round Tech Act funding) for a MS degree in Occupational Therapy focused on AT and Children as part of a Maternal and Child Health Grant.
Important event(s) that influenced my early decision to get into the assistive technology field
child who had athetoid CP and a winning personality and who had no means to speak, or control her movements. She was very alert and aware of her environment and i was sure that some type of technology could be a bridge for her. Back then there were only prototypes of AAC devices available.
Why I chose the AT field
AT devices are the perfect form of assistive device as they are highly customizable and bring their own form of “Intelligence” to a functional task.
My inspiration and mentor
My early mentors were Ann Grady, Jennifer Angelo, Denis Anson, Roger Smith and Greg Vanderheiden.
Why the field is important to me and the central focus of my work
I am a user of AT in the form of an above knee prosthesis. I would have been deeply challenged as a person, a mother, a professional, an athlete without a wonderful series of prosthetic devices and skilled professional services.
My memorable successes and greatest contributions to the field
One of my early professional success was in adapting a Macintosh for scanning with a myoelectric switch for a police lab scientist with ALS. He took the adaptations I showed him and flew with them. He was already not speaking but went on to direct his care, communicate with co-workers, and write his last wishes and words to his wife.
My most memorable failures
Not being able to intervene in another situation with another man with ALS whose family was overwhelmed by his diagnosis and deterioration. They chose to let him die based on their feelings rather than allow him to use the AT communication to make his own choice. i had to learn to accept this difficult outcome.
Significant changes and advances in the field since I first entered it
All of the technological devices, user interfaces, power supplies, support surfaces and teaching techniques that have evolved since the late 80’s. It has been a thrill and a challenge to keep up with it all.
On the future of rehabilitation engineering and assistive technology
Technology is now part of nearly everyone’s life here in North America. Sensibilities about inclusion, participation, education, decision-making, supports for employment have progressed greatly. The world is now looking to us for how to do the same in their cultures and economies. The need for innovation, expertise and commitment to this field continues to grow.
My role within RESNA and what it gave back to me
I have continued to learn from my RESNA colleagues who are engineers of all types, policy wonks, PTs, Speech Therapists and deep thinkers. I have developed as a manager, problem solver and motivator of others through the various roles I have taken with RESNA leadership. This has all happened through staying open to possibilities and opportunities for growth.
On the future of RESNA
The future of RESNA is bright as we recruit and educate to share RESNA’s vision with new members and respond to requests for out-reach from other countries around the world,
My suggestions for those just entering the field
Know that you must be a life long learner and that you are being “called” to staying open to possibilities and opportunities for growth and those you will educate and serve.