James B. Reswick, PhD
Born: April 16, 1922 - Ellwood City, PA
Entry into the AT field: 1958
How I got into the field
I first started working in the rehabilitation field around 1958 when I was an Assoc. Professor in the Engineering Design Division of the Mechanical Engineering Department at M.I.T. I also had responsibilities in the Dynamic Analysis and Control Laboratory (DACL) that was involved in the Meteor Missile Program where I worked with high pressure gas operated servomechanism control systems. This laboratory was directed by Professor John Hrones who was, for me, my mentor. One of the Design projects undertaken by senior students had to do with the design of orthotic braces and involved an orthopedic surgeon and his staff at the Boston Metropolitan Hospital who assisted in the instruction of some of the students. Thus my interest in the field and an understanding of the importance of collaboration with physicians and allied health persons became rooted in my mind.
Important event(s) that influenced my early decision to get into the assistive technology field
In 1960, my mentor, Prof. Hrones, moved to Case Institute of Technology in Cleveland as Provost. He recruited me to join him and I assisted him in the preparation of a proposal to the Ford Foundation that led to a 9 million dollar grant. Half of these funds were allocated to me to develop and lead a new laboratory that I named the Engineering Design Center. This Center attracted students and faculty from the traditional departments to undertake graduate research that required the design and development of real systems. Among many engineering design projects that applied assistive device technology, we built, for quadriplegic patients, the Case Research Arm Aid (it would be called a robot now) that employed high-pressure air servos and was controlled by the patient via EMG voltages from shoulder muscles.
My inspiration and mentor
I got to know Joseph Traub at the Social and Rehabilitation Services (SRS), Anthony Staros at the Veterans Administration (VA) Prosthetic Center and Bennet Wilson who was Staff Director of the Committee on Prosthetics and Orthotics (CPRD) of the Nation Academy of Science (NAS). From the 1950s up through the 1980s these three men worked as a team to develop and fund collaborative research and development of devices and systems to improve the quality of life of persons with disabilities in North America and in Europe. Through their efforts, many persons and in many places, the workers in the field met, developed relationships and exchanged knowledge. I was fortunate, indeed, to be in the middle of these activities and I owe a great debt of gratitude to these three men. And it is interesting to note that they were part of the group of five persons who conceived of, and founded, RESNA. (The other two were myself and Doug Hobson.)
My memorable successes and greatest contributions to the field
As for contributions to the field, I would put having provided places and environments that attracted significant numbers of students and researchers to achieve their own potentials and become committed to devoting their own lives to serving the needs of persons with disabilities. My own technical contributions have been real but modest. I am proud to have had a role in the creation of RESNA and having served as its first president. The office of RESNA for the first year consisted of mine at Rancho Los Amigos Hospital in Los Angeles and that of Jan Little in Chicago. That RESNA survived that year and found support for following years was perhaps one of my most significant contributions.
My role within RESNA and what it gave back to me
I spoke above about the 5 persons who created RESNA. We had significant discussions about what the purpose and nature that RESNA should be. Some suggested that RESNA should be a "professional" society of engineers collaborating with physicians working to develop assistive technology. I was working at that time at Rancho where I was impressed by the effectiveness of the "team" approach wherein physicians, allied health persons, and engineers formed teams to care for the patients. So I pushed the idea that RESNA should not be a society where only engineers would meet to exchange ideas as is the nature of most professional associations but it should be a unique society that would bring together all the persons who play roles in the rehabilitation of persons with disabilities. The emphasis should be on assistive devices with concern for all aspects of their effectiveness including invention, research and development, engineering design, application, distribution, maintenance and repair. This is why the original name "Rehabilitation Engineering Society of North America" was later deemed to be inappropriate and was changed to "The Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America". I was pleased, however, to see that the two syllable word RESNA survived as an icon for the society. All of this that I say is to explain that now, over 25 years later, I feel my role in the formulation of the RESNA concept was, I believe, my most significant contribution to improving the lives of persons with disabilities and the effectiveness of those persons who bring this about.