Atlanta, GA,
09:30 AM

Duke University, Shepherd Center and Northeastern University Awarded $4.625 Million for New Center on Technologies for People with Disabilities

Duke University Medical Center, Shepherd Center and Northeastern University are launching a partnership to conduct research and develop new technology solutions to promote independent living and community participation by people with disabilities.

The partnership received a $4.625 million, five-year grant from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research to fund the LiveWell Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center for Community Living, Health and Function (LiveWell RERC).

LiveWell is dedicated to researching and developing information and communication technologies, with specific focus on emerging technologies broadly referred to as the Internet of Things. These include wearable technology, monitors and sensors, automation technology, and cloud computing and storage. The goal is to promote expanded community participation and improved health and function for people with disabilities and their caregivers.

The LiveWell partnership has two primary missions. The first is to promote access to existing and emerging information and communication technologies for all people regardless of ability and age. The second is to develop and validate information and communication technology applications to enhance independent living and community participation.

“Device manufacturers and service providers are expending considerable resources developing the next big (or small) thing,” said Frank DeRuyter, Ph.D., co-director of the LiveWell RERC and chief of the Division of Speech Pathology & Audiology at Duke University Medical Center. “This presents both risk and opportunity for people with disabilities and their caregivers.”

“One of our primary goals is to make sure these new technologies are accessible and useful to those most at risk of being left behind,” DeRuyter added. “Equally important, we seek to develop new solutions that leverage the Internet of Things to allow people with disabilities and their caregivers to live fuller, healthier lives.”

“It’s about helping information and communication technology developers recognize the market opportunities among their potential customers waiting to be served,” said Mike Jones, Ph.D., vice president of research and technology at Shepherd Center, and co-director of the LiveWell initiative. “And it’s about challenging developers to shape future information and communication technologies for people of all ages and abilities through universal design.”

The LiveWell RERC is composed of several distinct research and development projects, including a “blue sky” research project to discover areas of unmet needs by people with physical, cognitive, sensory, and speech limitations.“The goal is to proactively shape the development of new technology solutions that creatively leverage emerging platforms and infrastructure,” Jones said. 

Another project is built around the Safe@Home research project already underway at Shepherd Center under the direction of Ron Seel, Ph.D. Seel, director of brain injury research at Shepherd Center, is collaborating with researchers Misha Pavel, Ph.D. and Holly Jimison, Ph.D. at Northeastern University’s Bouvé College of Health Sciences and College of Computer and Information Science to develop in-home passive sensing systems. These systems identify and minimize risks to individuals living with the effects of brain injury.

“People living with brain injury face considerable risk because of decreased judgment and inhibition, and sometimes limited balance, coordination and vision,” Seel said. “Dr. Pavel and Dr. Jimison’s wealth of knowledge and experience in unobtrusive, passive in-home sensing systems will be critical to implementing what we’ve learned in the Safe@Home project into a real live system.”

“We’re excited to adapt our work developing a coaching platform for elderly individuals to the brain injury population,” Jimison said. “This population could benefit considerably from the sensing and feedback systems we are developing."

The LiveWell RERC also includes the Tech Factory project, which is dedicated to short-duration, high-impact assistive technology development projects. Some Tech Factory projects will be undertaken by LiveWell staff, while others will be undertaken by external teams with promising ideas and technical capabilities. Initial projects will focus on wearable platforms such as smartwatches and other trackers, and will rely on biometric sensing to provide feedback to the user. For example, optical heart rate monitors could be used to cue people suffering from post- traumatic stress that they are showing early signs of stress.

“For many people with disabilities,” DeRuyter said, “the challenge of independent living is striking the proper balance between personal autonomy, self-determination and risk taking on the one hand, and safety, reliance on needed supports and associated restrictions of choice on the other. The LiveWell RERC research and development projects are aimed at making it easier for people with disabilities to find an effective and acceptable balance.”

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again. 

About Northeastern University, Consortium on Technology for Proactive Care
Located in Boston, MA, Northeastern University is a selective private university comprising 9 colleges and renowned for its innovations in both experiential education and research. Over the past decade, Northeastern University has become a research powerhouse, particularly in health-related fields, and is home to nearly 50 research institutes and centers of excellence. The Consortium on Technology for Proactive Care, based at Northeastern University, is a collaborative effort by faculty researchers and health clinicians across the country to develop economically feasible, technology-based solutions to the health and healthcare challenges of the United States. This transdisciplinary collaborative is comprised of faculty in health science, computer sciences, and engineering from Northeastern University as well as the University of Missouri, University of Washington, Washington State University, Lincoln University, University of California – Berkeley, and Oregon Health & Science University. Led by Dr. Holly Jimison and Dr. Misha Pavel, the Consortium aims to develop and use technology-based interventions to transform the health of individuals and the overall healthcare system.

About Duke University Division of Speech Pathology and Audiology
The Division of Speech Pathology and Audiology is one of two non-medical divisions within the Department of Surgery. The division conducts over 50,000 clinical procedures each year to over 14,000 patients. Many patients require assistive technology and/or augmentative and alternative communication clinical services, complemented by research and training activities. These procedures are conducted in partnership with Duke’s Biomedical Engineering Department as Duke is the only service provider in the region. A multidisciplinary team of clinicians, engineers and researchers collaborate with Pratt School of Engineering, School of Medicine, Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, Center for the Study of Aging & Human Development, Durham Veterans Administration Medical Center, Navy Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division, and the Southeastern Federal Laboratory Consortium.