Campus News

Right fit, knowing user are keys to helpful assistive technology, Gresham lecturer says


Published May 20, 2022

Marcia J. Scherer.
“The number one fundamental is to involve the consumer from the get-go. ”
Marcia J. Scherer, professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation
University of Rochester Medical Center

In any client relationship, a collaborative approach to understanding wants and needs is vital to buy-in and long-term success. The same is true when it comes to matching a person with disabilities with assistive technology (AT) — the correct technology to improve their learning, working and daily living. Getting to know the user is the key to achieving that partnership.

Marcia J. Scherer, a rehabilitation psychologist and founding president of the Institute for Matching Person & Technology, discussed ways to achieve user buy-in to, as well as benefit from, AT use during a recent talk at UB. Scherer, professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Rochester Medical Center, delivered the 13th Glen E. Gresham Visiting Professorship in Rehabilitation Science lecture, titled “Technology is the Answer, But That’s Not the Question.”

The answer, Scherer believes, lies in working as a provider-user team centered on user and provider goal achievement, user well-being and provider satisfaction.

“The number one fundamental is to involve the consumer from the get-go,” Scherer said. “Address functional needs, but also personal factors and environmental factors, going beyond the built physical architectural space to the social space that that person is living within.”

Scherer stressed that use-worthiness is vitally important for users to value AT and not abandon it. She noted that the top three reasons that users abandon AT are that no comprehensive assessment was completed; the device didn’t meet user expectations for setup, maintenance or usability in all environments; and that the actual use didn’t result in gains or benefits.

While clinic directors, funding agencies, physical therapists, occupational therapists, engineers, etc., all emphasize giving users the means to accomplish activities, “The user wants to be comfortable and gain function,” Scherer said. “AT needs to result in functional gain and use-worthiness … as well as realizing benefit from use-enhanced well-being and quality of life.”

Assistive technology is now on the world stage for funding, impact and consideration of people with disabilities, Scherer said, thanks to the World Health Organization (WHO) adopting a resolution to make assistive technology a priority. Additionally, organizations throughout the world that previously operated separately voted in 2014 to become chapters of a global alliance of assistive technology; the organization, GATE, is an initiative of WHO and emphasizes well-being as well as function.

It is estimated that more than 1 billion people globally currently need one or more assistive product. While in the U.S. only 38.4% of working-age adults with disabilities are employed, the good news is that over 10 years this ratio is increasing in favor of those who have a disability. Meeting their needs for AT will be a component of their success, and now there is more worldwide cooperation in removing barriers to get the right AT to the people who want it, Scherer said.

The Glen E. Gresham Visiting Professorship in Rehabilitation Science lecture is held annually to honor the former UB faculty member and features a nationally or internationally recognized authority in an area directly related to rehabilitation science. It is supported by an endowment made by the late Albert Rekate, and his wife, Linda, to benefit students, faculty and the wider community.