Intended for healthcare professionals

Hospitals Of The Future

Technology for disabilities

BMJ 1999; 319 doi: (Published 13 November 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;319:1290
  1. Rory Cooper, chair (
  1. Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology, University of Pittsburgh
  1. Correspondence to: R Davis

    Rory Cooper, an expert in wheelchair design, talked to Ron Davis about his research, his own disability, and new advances in assistive technology

    Rory Cooper was 20 years old at the time, stationed with the US army in Germany, riding his bicycle past a bus stop. A bus sideswiped him, pushing him into oncoming traffic. He collided head on with a truck “It was quite a miracle that I lived,” he remembers. “The left front wheel of the truck ran over my chest and broke most of my ribs, broke my clavicle, and fractured my pelvis. And at one time, I had 18 drainage tubes in me.”

    He also experienced a spinal cord injury, at the T7-T8 level. After two chest operations, spinal surgery, six weeks in intensive care, eight more weeks of hospitalisation, and three weeks of rehabilitation, he was left permanently disabled, requiring a wheelchair for mobility. But, remarkably, one year after his accident, he was “independently functional.” Ultimately, he decided to devote his career as an engineer to helping others with serious disabilities to become independently functional.

    Summary points

    New technologies are improving the effectiveness of rehabilitation services provided to people with disabilities

    These technologies include better wheelchair design, tele-rehabilitation (telemedicine applied to rehabilitation), improved prosthetics, new treatments for bowel and bladder control, and more accessible transportation systems

    Computer technology applied to electric powered wheelchairs has allowed independent mobility for people with more severe impairment, such as actor Christopher Reeve

    Technology development in rehabilitation has not been problem free; access to new treatments and devices is often limited, and electromagnetic interference has occurred between devices (such as hearing aids and hand held telephones)

    Primary care doctors should become more knowledgeable about disabilities and should be comfortable making referrals to physical medicine specialists

    Patients with disabilities should be treated with …

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