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A Rehabilitation Engineer (R.E.) works in many areas relative to assistive technology. Some are involved in research and work on developing devices, or developing standards for a particular category of devices. Others work in private industry in the development of products for the consumer. Many RE's are involved in direct service delivery. This includes working with an individual client to determine their needs and to employ assistive technology to meet those needs. The settings common to this profession are universities, hospitals and private industry. There are also RE's in private practice, typically serving as consultants.
Prior to 1990, very few schools offered programs specializing in Rehabilitation Engineering. The profession has evolved from a variety of medical and technical disciplines but is primarily based in the field of engineering. Presently many graduate programs in engineering now offer a specialization in Rehabilitation Engineering. Other schools offer graduate degrees in Rehabilitation Sciences and some have certificate programs in Assistive Technology. Some certificate programs are also open to those with non-engineering backgrounds.
Credentialing exams are offered by the Rehabilitation Engineering Society of North America (RESNA). Three exams are presently offered: Assistive Technology Practitioner (ATP), Rehabilitation Engineering Technologist (RET) and Seating and Mobility Specialist (SMS). These exams are available to those in a variety of different professions related to assistive technology.
The RE staff at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) has mixed academic backgrounds including mechanical engineering, biomedical engineering, rehabilitation sciences and industrial design. Bill Armstrong, the supervisor of this department, has both his Bachelor's and Master's degrees in industrial design. While working on his graduate degree, he set up internships at a variety of different rehabilitation facilities to gain practical experience. For his thesis he researched and developed an assistive device. He is also credentialed as an Assistive Technology Practitioner. Mr. Armstrong contributed to this article.
The Rehabilitation Engineering Department at the RIC provides direct service delivery. The RE's work in conjunction with occupational therapists, physical therapists and other disciplines to determine the needs of an individual client. They then work together to find assistive devices to meet the client's needs. If none exist, the RE would be responsible for modifying available devices, or when appropriate, designing a new device to suit the client. Services are provided in the following areas:
In all of these areas, the REs function as part of an interdisciplinary team. The main focus of this team is to help increase the client's function, comfort, safety and overall independence.
In addition to recommending, modifying and designing equipment, the RE is also involved in applying for funding for the client and providing documentation justifying the need for the equipment. Other activities include keeping current on new assistive devices and evaluating those that may be recommended to clients in the future.