Anthony J. (Tony) Langton, MS
Born: August 3, 1946 - San Francisco, CA
Entry into the AT field: 1983
How I got into the field
In the early 1980s I was a faculty member at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. One of my responsibilities was to find out as much as I could about the rehabilitation technology field and begin to implement services at the university. We were interested in applications of rehabilitation engineering and initiated efforts to establish a technology service delivery center and eventually developed a rehabilitation technology concentration in the undergraduate vocational rehabilitation program.
With a background in vocational evaluation the concept of AT and accommodations made sense. It amazed me then, and still does today, that technology resources and services are not more of an integral part of the entire rehabilitation process.
Important event(s) that influenced my early decision to get into the assistive technology field
Involvement with RESNA enabled me to interact with key people who were pioneers in the field, such as Dudley Childress, Don McNeal, Gerry Warren, and Doug Hobson. These individuals and many others all reinforced this as a good decision.
Why I chose the AT field
As a vocational rehabilitation professional with a specialty in vocational evaluation, the importance of something that could help increase the opportunities of persons with disabilities to work and lead independent lives has always made sense. The field of rehabilitation engineering and assistive technology offered such promise that it seemed logical that there should be greater utilization of these resources and services throughout the rehabilitation process. Spreading the gospel of assistive technology and how practical applications of technology resources and services can impact the lives of persons with disabilities to other VR professionals such as rehab counselors and vocational evaluators is my primary professional passion.
My inspiration and mentor
Probably the most influential person was Sam McFarland. A riverboat ride in Memphis in 1985 started a friendship and mentoring relationship that made it clear this field was indeed special. Sam was a rehabilitation engineer who had a special blend of clinical expertise, technical knowledge, common sense and the ability to make you feel important. He helped a bumbling cheese-head from Wisconsin learn how to spell "AT." It was unfortunate we lost Sam so soon, but his legacy lives on in many ways.
Why the field is important to me and the central focus of my work
As a vocational evaluator my training centered around helping individuals with disabilities find meaningful employment. Much of the traditional methods focused on testing, identifying transferable skills and matching someone with job demands. Today I look at vocational evaluation practice and cannot imagine one can do an effective job without considering and using AT and workplace accommodation problem solving as part of the process. With the move toward serving persons with more significant disabilities, while at the same time demanding improved employment outcomes, the incorporation of AT resources and services is not only important but essential.
My memorable successes and greatest contributions to the field
Surviving being conference chair of the 1986 RESNA Conference and heading up the Meetings Committee for many years! Directing and being involved with two national projects that promoted rehabilitation technology resources and services within the vocational rehabilitation field stand out as good efforts that may have helped to turn on a few more light bulbs for vocational rehabilitation staffs that may not have really aware of how technology resources and services could assist them.
The AT field really has contributed much more to my work as a professional in the vocational rehabilitation field than I have given to the AT field. I hope that I have added to the awareness that other rehabilitation professionals have about assistive technology resources and services.
My most memorable failures
One thought that comes to mind was just the naïve assumption that assistive technology and rehabilitation engineering made so much sense that the spread and utilization of these resources would have garnered much stronger support that it has from schools, state agencies and employers. Efforts I have been involved with to increase awareness, and therefore utilization, have only been partially successful. Realizing now that this will be an evolutionary not revolutionary process has helped me to see things from these other perspectives.
Significant changes and advances in the field since I first entered it
Today the field has a much broader base and involves professionals from a wider variety of backgrounds. In the early 1980's rehabilitation engineering was clearly the buzzword. While research, development and engineering of products and devices are still important and should be supported, today we find a tremendous amount of readily available products and resources that can meet many of the needs that exist. We no longer have to develop nearly as many unique products to solve problems. Many more options are available to select from. What has not changed, however, is the need for creativity, problem-solving and individualized services. Products that were once one-of-a-kind "handicap devices" are now commercially available items that are less costly, more reliable and readily available to reduce time delays in making accommodations. Universal design and ergonomics have helped to distribute and market many of these resources to new and varied groups. Today the consumer has a much more active role in the process and is able to make choices about what they would like to use.
On the future of rehabilitation engineering and assistive technology
Rehabilitation engineering will continue to play an important, but perhaps less obvious role in the future. More behind-the-scenes inroads will be made by rehabilitation engineering to promote greater adaptation of universal design principles so that products and resources are not necessarily identified with "disability". The challenges of the past with fragmented service delivery and funding systems will likely remain serious issues to address.
My role within RESNA and what it gave back to me
Becoming involved in RESNA has been an excellent influence on my career. The decision to "get a little involved" resulted in co-chairing the 1986 RESNA conference and subsequently working on the Meetings Committee for many years. This enabled me to meet and work with an outstanding group of individuals. I consider myself to be a dual-career professional with one foot in the AT field and the other in voc rehabilitation. RESNA has been an excellent venue to bring these various disciplines together.
On the future of RESNA
RESNA always seems to be at a crossroads. This seems to be the nature of professional associations in emerging and developing fields such as ours. Forming real partnerships and collaborations with other groups and organizations will be essential for RESNA to not only encourage and sustain growth, but to have the impact needed on the lives of persons with disabilities and disabling conditions. The certification work which RESNA has initiated will continue to be important. The diversity of RESNA has always been its strength as well as its major weakness. Determining how best to use our diverse backgrounds and interests will be the key to future growth.
My suggestions for those just entering the field
It's a great field - stay flexible, remain diligent and always do your best to think outside that proverbial box, both with the individuals that you serve and with the field that you will help guide. You may have to use your technical knowledge and skills in ways that you have not considered to be able to find your niche.