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Nations Only Telerehabilitation Engineering Research Center Established At The University Of Pittsburgh School Of Health And Rehabilitation Sciences

PITTSBURGH, December 9, 2004 The University of Pittsburgh's School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences (SHRS) has been awarded a five-year, $4.25 million grant from the federal governments National Institute of Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) to establish the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC) on Telerehabilitation. The only research center of its kind, the RERC will study and develop methods, systems and technologies for the remote delivery of rehabilitation services via the information superhighway.

By creating this center of excellence, we have been afforded the incredible opportunity to invent the state-of-the-art in telerehabilitation, said David Brienza, Ph.D., director of the RERC and associate professor of rehabilitation science and technology. The research team, led by Dr. Brienza and co-director Michael McCue, Ph.D., will take input from the disability community to create a consumer-driven design and usable technology to create a model telerehabilitation system that will be used world-wide.

The top-notch resources in western Pennsylvania will provide a great contribution to the RERCs projects, said Dr. McCue, who is an associate professor of rehabilitation science and technology at SHRS. We are fortunate to have a vibrant technology community and an active disability community; partnered together they will be an invaluable tool in developing cutting-edge programs and technology to solve current service-delivery problems.

The RERC research team will be partnering with National Science Foundation-sponsored e-Design Center in the department of industrial engineering at the University of Pittsburgh; the Medical Robotics Group at Carnegie Mellon University; Anthrotronix, Inc.; AT Science, Inc.; and the Center for Telemedicine Law. Infrastructure will be based on existing, award-winning infrastructure currently in use by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. The Three-Rivers Center for Independent Living will help by providing user input. In addition, researchers will draw on the expertise and resources of their colleagues from the departments of rehabilitation science and technology, health information management and communication science and disorders at SHRS. SHRS is a sophisticated research and educational environment, generously funded by the National Institutes of Health, NIDRR, NSF and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The collective work of our faculty continually strives to make our world more accessible to all people with disabilities. This RERC will enable us to reach out to the disability community in innovative ways, said Clifford Brubaker, Ph.D., dean of SHRS. This grant further establishes the University of Pittsburgh as a leading center in rehabilitation, dedicated to developing and delivering the best in rehabilitation services to the people who need them the most.

Over 54 million Americans have a disability. Many are isolated from rehabilitation services due to geography or physical limitations. Researchers plan to develop and study the necessary infrastructure and architecture and develop and test programs that will provide for the remote delivery of a comprehensive spectrum of rehabilitation services.

The community of people with a disability is an underserved population. Without a doubt, people with disabilities face a significant lack of accessible services. Many are isolated geographically because they don't live close to services and some are isolated physically because they are unable to leave their homes or communities, said Katherine D. Seelman, Ph.D., associate dean for disability programs at SHRS, and communication director of the grant. Telerehabilitation can deliver the needed services in an efficient and effective manner.

Projects in the RERC aim to help people with disabilities by providing an interface with experts at leading rehabilitation programs like those at the University of Pittsburgh. Experts will provide services including communication therapy for children with disabilities, assessment for wheeled-mobility devices, and accessibility assessment of the home and work environment. Researchers also plan on developing an automated job coach that will prepare people with disabilities to enter the workforce. Health care providers in underserved areas will be able to consult with experts as well, helping to alleviate the shortage of rehabilitation professionals.

Additionally, through the RERC, SHRS plans to take a leadership role in establishing telerehabilitation across the United States by influencing public policy and developing a telerehabilitation curriculum.

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