$7.5 Million Grant Funds New Center At UB to Foster Development And Manufacture of Devices For Persons With Disabilities

By Lois Baker

Release Date: November 1, 1993 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The University at Buffalo has received a five-year, $7.5 million grant from the National Institute on Disabilities and Rehabilitation Research to establish the first national center for advancing new devices for persons with disabilities from the inventor's workshop to the manufacturer's assembly line.

The center will screen prototypes for new assistive devices from across the U.S., select those with the most market potential, evaluate and refine them, and establish partnerships with commercial firms to manufacture and market the products.

Called the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Technology Evaluation and Transfer, the new initiative is a collaboration between the Independent Living Center of Western New York, an agency that assists persons with disabilities; the Western New York Technology Development Center, Inc. (TDC), a corporation in business to create, expand and diversify technology-related business in Western New York, and UB's Center for Assistive Technology, a multidisciplinary group providing research, education and service in the field of assistive technology.

UB's experts will assess the technical feasibility of each new device. The Independent Living Center will conduct consumer tests to determine if a device is usable, and the TDC will assess the market potential of devices and commercialize those that are promising. Each will draw on regional contacts and national organizations to serve inventors, designers and manufacturers across the U.S.

The new center will help close the supply-demand gap in assistive devices existing nationwide, said Joseph Lane, associate director of the Center for Assistive Technology and project director of the new initiative.

Five to 10 new devices per year -- items that likely would not reach the public otherwise -- could become available to persons with disabilities as a result of the center's work.

"We plan to bring into the marketplace products that will make a difference in people's lives," Lane added. "We hope to reach the inventor working in the family garage, as well as the established designer.

"Really helpful products often never see the light of day because many designers and inventors don't have resources to develop their ideas and make them marketable, and don't know how to link up with a manufacturer," he said. "On the other hand, manufacturers often lack knowledge about consumer needs and product requirements. Our new center will provide the resources and become that missing link."

A 10-member board of directors with representatives from national consumer associations, private corporations, research centers and technology-transfer agencies will oversee the work of the new center.

A five-stage evaluation process ensures that time and money won't be wasted on products that don't have market value, Lane said.

Each prototype will be analyzed by technical, user and marketing groups at every stage, and will either be withdrawn or advanced after each stage, depending on the results of collective evaluations.

About 250 devices are expected to be evaluated at the entry stage annually, with up to 10 passing final muster and advancing to a manufacturer. Devices could enter the evaluation process at any stage, depending on their level of development, Lane said.

He added: "Military research and development of the past decade generated a wealth of new technologies that are pending declassification. They hold great promise for assistive technology applications."

The Center for Assistive Technology currently houses the national Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Aging, which develops and evaluates assistive devices for disabled older adults.

Also under the Center for Assistive Technology umbrella are the Developmental Disabilities Assistive Technology Institute, which designs and produces low-demand assistive products; Project LINK, a nation-wide database connecting consumers needing assistive products with appropriate device manufacturers; Rehabilitation Technology Services, which designs and builds customized seating and positioning devices, plus a wide array of services for persons with sensory, physical and cognitive impairments.