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Pitt Researchers Win Awards to Improve Wheelchair Professionalization

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) recently awarded a small group of University of Pittsburgh researchers a two-year, $2.3 million sub-award to develop the new International Society of Wheelchair Professionals sometime in 2015. This Society will create a global network to teach and professionalize device repair, build affiliations to put better equipment in the right hands, and ensure a level of standardization, certification, and oversight.

The organizers intend to create three areas critical to this international network: train people to build capacity for service providers around the world; develop international standards; and initiate a broad advocacy and outreach campaign to recruit affiliates on every continent.

The International Society of Wheelchair Professionals will be launched and administered by faculty members from the Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology in the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. Assistant professors Jon Pearlman, PhD, associate director of engineering at the Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL), and Rory Cooper, PhD, HERL founding director and Distinguished Professor of Rehabilitation Science and Technology, will serve as co-directors

“For at least the last 30 years, there has been a need for an international society to help improve the quality of wheelchairs, service delivery, and repair as well,” Cooper said, “and to link consumers, designers, manufacturers, rehabilitation professionals and wheelchair users so that we can all communicate. A rising tide raises all boats, so let’s raise the level for everybody in the world.”

“USAID is part of the federal Department of State, and it tries to spread the mission of the United States internationally,” said Pearlman. “In this case, it’s a grant to the University of Pittsburgh, but to build a network and an ability to professionalize services around the world to contribute to this common goal — which is to improve the lives of wheelchair users.” Since 2002, USAID has granted more than $45 million to improve wheelchairs and wheelchair services worldwide.

The professionalization and standardization wheelchair products and repair is timely because ironically, as longevity keeps improving throughout most of the world, there are a growing number of people who lose the use of their legs while still having many years of a quality of life. To achieve that quality, becoming proficient at wheelchair maneuverability is essential. To acquire that necessary mobility, newly paraplegic patients must get high quality occupational and physical therapy and wheelchairs that are certified as meeting the highest current standards. It is these standards that will be codified and disseminated worldwide by this USAID project at Pitt. The launching of the International Society is welcome news for patients and their therapists alike.

Robert M Hoyt, Ph.D.
Allied Health Professionals LLC

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