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Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals

New grant continues Institute’s tradition of national rehabilitation research

February 11, 2021

Communication is essential to daily life. Whether talking, texting, writing a letter, emailing or conveying non-verbal cues, the ability to communicate allows us to meet new people and explore novel opportunities to enrich our lives. But for more than 5 million Americans with complex communication needs, access to these methods is significantly restricted. Thanks to new federal funding, Madonna’s Research Institute for Rehabilitation Science and Engineering is partnering with other communication experts to change that.

Madonna, alongside Penn State University, Koester Performance Research, the University of Kansas and University of Nebraska Medical Center, has been awarded a five-year, $4.6 million grant from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research for the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Augmentative and Alternative Communication (RERC on AAC).

 RERCs play a vital societal role in advancing engineering research and innovative technology development to solve rehabilitation problems. They often lead to new ways for individuals with disabilities to break down environmental barriers they might face. By taking part in this critical research and development, Madonna will continue to provide new opportunities for adults and children with a variety of complex communication needs to harness their independence.

“It is an honor to advance critical AAC research and development activities with other leading researchers from across the nation,” said Dr. Susan Fager, the Institute’s Communication Center Director. “Madonna’s leadership and contributions to the RERC on AAC aligns directly with the unique expertise we have in providing technology solutions to help our patients communicate and participate as fully in life as possible.”

Dr. Fager will lead three RERC on AAC development projects at Madonna. One creates software clinicians can use to assess patients with severe motor impairments and improve their access to computers and communication technology. The second explores using the electrical signals generated by the brain and muscles of individuals with severe motor impairments to communicate. The third project creates a user-friendly app for care teams and families to help guide their support of individuals who need assistive communication.

“Dr. Fager has a strong history of leading and collaborating on NIDILRR projects that focus on developing new AAC technology to meet the needs of those with severe physical deficits,” said Dr. Judy Burnfield, Institute Director. “Undoubtedly, the proposed RERC work will have a tremendous positive impact on the lives of individuals with challenging communication needs cared for at Madonna and other facilities around the world.”

This work extends Madonna’s long history of leading and collaborating on federally funded grants. Additionally, it distinguishes Madonna as a leader in innovative rehabilitation research as the RERC on AAC is one of only 14 currently funded RERCs across the country.

Not only does this prestigious grant speak to Madonna’s expertise in rehabilitation engineering research, it capitalizes on the organization’s clinical, research and technological innovation strengths to address critical, unmet rehabilitation needs for individuals who have been impacted by serious injuries and illnesses.

“We are excited to continue to find ways to improve the quality of life for not only our patients, but for all individuals who rely on technology to support their communication needs,” Fager said.

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