Roger O. Smith, PhD, OT, FAOTA
Born: 1954 - Chicago, IL
Entry into the AT field: 1979
How I got into the field
I have a background in occupational therapy and physical medicine and rehabilitation. My degrees are in the areas of social sciences, health sciences, and engineering.
Important event(s) that influenced my early decision to get into the assistive technology field
Several events, experiences and people played an important role leading to my involvement in the assistive technology field. These included my dad who was a rehabilitation engineer working at Hines Veteran's Administration Hospital in Maywood, Illinois. I was a subject in a 1960's electrical stimulation study. It probably explains any irritability since.
Why I chose the AT field
Technology has always been intriguing to me from when I was very young. Tools, techniques, and technologies. Motivation? Inventions make the world easier. I routed some kite string over my dresser so I could turn on/off my room light without getting out of bed.
My inspiration and mentor
A number of people have provided critical inspiration and mentorship. I'd name a key mentor in the area of engineering and scholarship as Dr. Gregg Vanderheiden, Director, Trace R&D Center - facilitator, encourager, developer, principle investigator, and visionary. Oh yes….. and boss!
Why the field is important to me and the central focus of my work
Assistive technology devices, when working appropriately and provided through excellent services, equalize the function between people who have impairments and those who do not. The focus of my current work relates to the measurement of assistive technology and universal design outcomes. Obtaining good, reliable and valid outcome data to measure the effects of assistive technology and universal design have proved to be a significant challenge. It is also essential that we successfully find a method to measure the impact of our interventions.
My memorable successes and greatest contributions to the field
I recall a number of memorable successes in the field. The most significant include discovering new insights that could have a substantial effect on improving effects of assistive technology interventions. Also, the development of a prototype measurement instrument that shows promise to inform consumers, practitioners, and policymakers about the impact of assistive technology.
Probably the greatest contributions I have made in the field relate to the successes of publishing discoveries or creating instruments or protocols for more successful and accurate assessment of assistive technology outcomes.
My most memorable failures
The most memorable failures include the frustration of observing key AT groups losing funding; including research funding and third party reimbursement for consumers who require assistive technology devices and services. The only mechanism I have found to deal with these types of failures is to become more energized on the policy level.
Significant changes and advances in the field since I first entered it
Numerous major changes in the field have occurred since the 1970s and 1980s. Of these, one might list the sheer increase in the numbers of available assistive technology devices and interventions. The field has exploded from being a field where one person could be expert in knowing alot about assistive technology to a field that is so broad and deep that we require specialties to be competent.
The most important advances in the field include improvements in the sophistication of technology and wider awareness of the value of assistive technology. For example, portability and wireless capabilities have launched a new era in assistive technology applications and the "Tech Act" work has thrust the nation into a high level of awareness about how assistive technology can help improve the quality of life of people with disabilities.
On the future of rehabilitation engineering and assistive technology
The future of rehabilitation engineering and assistive technology remains cautiously optimistic. Obviously this revolves around the dependency of funding around research and development in rehabilitation engineering and assistive technology services. The future will bring enthusiasm, excitement and fresh opportunities created through advancements in technology. How well these opportunities transfer to individuals who need the devices and services will be fundamentally dependent on how well we can financially support the required resources.
My role within RESNA and what it gave back to me
I have been an active member in RESNA since the mid 1980s and have revolved in and out of committee membership and committee chair roles related to measurement, outcomes, and quality assurance of assistive technology devices and services and the PSGs. Colleague networking and conference opportunities have been a fundamental contributor to my career path.
On the future of RESNA
The future of RESNA shouts extraordinary potential.
My suggestions for those just entering the field
Comments to those who are entering the field:
- Enter the field!
- Attend every RESNA conference you can.
- Participate in meetings and committees on the local, regional, and national levels whenever the opportunities arise.
- Enjoy your colleagues and the consumers for whom you serve.
- Keep swimming and keep learning.