Morris (Mickey) Milner, PhD
Born: May 7, 1936 - Johannesburg, South Africa
Entry into the AT Field: 1961
How I got into the field
My first child, Michelle, was cerebral palsied and through experiences relating to needs for understanding the problems and issues I became aware of the need and importance of multidisciplinary scientific approaches. This led me into the field of rehabilitation engineering.
I trained as an electrical engineer and received my Bachelor's degree from the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), Johannesburg in 1957. I joined the faculty there as a junior professor and obtained my PhD on studies relating to modeling of multi-fiber peripheral nerve. A sabbatical with the National Research Council of Canada in 1967 brought me to North America.
Important event(s) that influenced my early decision to get into the assistive technology field
I served at Wits as a faculty member for over a decade, and initiated a program of biomedical engineering research. I subsequently held appointments at the National Research Council, Ottawa, University of Cape Town and Groote Schuur Hospital (serving as first Director of Bioengineering and Medical Physics), Emory University and Georgia Tech., Atlanta, Georgia, USA, and McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario before joining the Ontario Crippled Children's Centre (subsequently Bloorview MacMillan Children's Centre (BMCC) and now Bloorview Kids Rehab) in 1978 as Director of Rehabilitation Engineering, with academic appointments at the University of Toronto. I served as Chairman, Rehabilitation Medicine. My appointments also include the Departments of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, Rehabilitation Science, Surgery, and the Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering. I am now Professor Emeritus.
My research contributions relate to human locomotor function and the development of various assistive technologies for which I have an extensive publication record. I have served as visiting professor at institutions locally and abroad, and given numerous invited presentations internationally. I currently advise on rehabilitation science, assistive and medical technologies.
I have contributed to training scores of persons in biomedical/rehabilitation engineering and mentored countless others in various disciplines.
As Vice-President, Research at BMCC and its legacy organizations over 15 years, my responsibilities included the Rehabilitation Engineering and Research Departments and directing Variety Ability Systems Inc., a non profit manufacturer/distributor of assistive technologies. I am Founding Director of the Ontario Rehabilitation Technology Consortium (ORTC) which links Ontario rehabilitation facilities, academic centres, consumers, and manufacturers to develop and commercialize assistive technologies. Over the past 12 years 33 ORTC assistive devices have been marketed. I currently serve as the Managing Director, htx.ca - The Health Technology Exchange which facilitates relationships and connections in medical and assistive technologies in the spectrum of activities from "innovation to invoice".
My inspiration and mentor
As a junior professor, I drew great inspiration from the Head of my department who ultimately became the President of Wits University, Dr. G.R. Bozzoli. He gave me enormous encouragement to follow my expressed desired pursuits, and was a remarkable organizer of people and activities. I learnt much from our many encounters over tea and coffee times.
Why the field is important to me and the central focus of my work
The field is important to me as I recognize the immense positive impact the understanding of needs and creative solutions can have on individual lives. Independence, dignity and accomplishment on the part of recipients of technologies of appropriate kinds are vital emergent facets. I have been able to utilize engineering principles in studies relating to human locomotor function and to be party to the design and development of a wide range of assistive technologies. Having learnt the importance of multidisciplinary approaches, I count myself enormously fortunate to have been surrounded by some remarkably creative people drawn from a multitude of disciplines concerned with rehabilitation issues who have turned ideas into reality.
My memorable successes and greatest contributions to the field
Particular successes relate to the development of child sized powered upper extremity prostheses; electric hands, elbows, and wrist rotators. I experienced a great sense of satisfaction in seeing the fruits of labors of a team and the enormous impact this had on the functional capabilities of children and the excitement of their parents. The initiation of work to advance the utilization of computers to help equalize opportunities for children with disabilities was another phase of excitement.
I believe my greatest contributions relate to the building of the rehabilitation and research resources at BMCC and making these relevant to identified clinical and child and family needs. Mentorship and development of younger people with immense capacity to solve significant problems and advance new technologies are other aspects that particularly strike me as being important.
My most memorable failures
Losing out on what I thought were terrific grant applications - I simply responded by getting up, dusting myself off and looking at alternatives, some of which worked pretty well.
Significant changes and advances in the field since I first entered it
The entry and participation of disciplines other than engineering has been significant. The creation of a wider array of educational programs relevant to the field. Certification programs relevant to AT. Changes in the political landscape. The augmented availability of grants pertinent to the field. The growth of support agencies to help in the provision of technologies.
Computer based technologies and advances in signal processing. Miniaturization and enhanced efficiencies of electromechanical devices and systems. Modular approaches to providing technologies. These have enabled the creation of more socially acceptable devices and systems.
On the future of rehabilitation engineering and assistive technology
Extremely bright, particularly when contemplating the aging of the population. Challenges will continue to exist for the provision of technologies appropriate to the countries and climates many people live in along with their financial circumstances.
My role within RESNA and what it gave back to me
I was a founding member of RESNA and served a term as President in the early 1980s. The opportunities to network with significant leaders in the field, to learn of the universality of problems people were facing were enormous. I had the good fortune on several occasions to work with others in planning and executing future conferences of relevance to members of RESNA. These opportunities have led to treasured lifelong friendships. The connectivity with others in the field, the opportunities to test ideas at annual conferences, all helped to advance and sharpen my personal perspectives about issues and possible solutions.
On the future of RESNA
I see RESNA as continuing to provide an important medium for the exchange of ideas and the advancement of those disciplines that are serious about moving forward rehabilitation engineering and assistive technology initiatives. This is true for those connected with R&D as it is for those concerned with service delivery aspects.
My suggestions for those just entering the field
Be sure to make RESNA an important part of your life! A true commitment to its objectives and values will help to advance your contributions in the field.