HED: New technology center for the disabled opens at MSU

By Marty Russell

Daily Journal

STARKVILLE - A $2.9 million facility designed to serve the clinical needs of disabled individuals statewide and perform research to meet additional needs of those individuals was dedicated Tuesday by Mississippi State University and state Department of Rehabilitation Services officials.

Called the Comprehensive Assistive Technology Center (CATC), the new facility on the campus of MSU is intended to improve the capabilities of the disabled and help prepare them for the work force if possible. It will also be used as a training facility for therapists and others who work with the handicapped as well as a research facility for assistive technology.

Assistive technology is any piece of equipment or product that improves the functional capabilities of the disabled.

"I don't see us developing any new products," said Dr. Harry Rizer, director of the center. "What we're offering are fairly specialized applications of commercially available products. There's not a lot developed specifically for the disabled, so we take those products and modify them to fit their needs."

That can involve computer programs that can scan a page and read it back to a blind person, computer programs that allow the paralyzed to communicate in a variety of ways and new automotive technology that makes driving easier for the disabled.

"This is a historic occasion," MSU President Donald Zacharias said in dedicating the facility. "This is something that will change the lives of many people for decades to come."

The CATC is designed to serve the entire state and Rizer said he expects to have between 350 to 400 clients a year. Most will be referred through the Department of Rehabilitation Services, which is footing most of the bill for the project with assistance from the MSU Office of Research.

How it got its start

MSU was chosen as a site for the facility when the concept first emerged in 1989 to build a statewide center for assistive technology for people with blindness or low vision. The Rehabilitation, Research and Training Center on Blindness already was located on the campus.

The concept later was broadened to include all people with disabilities.

In addition to helping the disabled improve their capabilities, the CATC also will assist in finding employment for its clients.

Dr. Nell Carney, director of the state Department of Rehabilitation Services, said in the past disabled workers have been at a disadvantage seeking work, especially in a production atmosphere such as assembly-line work.

"But assembly lines are being replaced by computer systems, which are friendly to people with disabilities," Carney said.

She said she doesn't think the new CATC will be a competitor with the Regional Rehabilitation Center in Tupelo, which offers free therapy and rehabilitation services for clients statewide.

"It will be a complement," Carney said of the CATC's relationship to the Rehabilitation Center. "(The Rehabilitation Center) can bring their staff down here to train."

Clients of the new center will be referred by physicians, special education workers, home health agencies, the Department of Health and the Department of Veterans Affairs, but most are expected to come through the Department of Rehabilitation Services.

"There will be some fee for services, but the majority of our clients are expected to come from the Department of Rehabilitation Services and those will already be paid for by the department," Rizer said.

The new center has a staff of 14, including therapists and rehabilitation engineers. The facility includes computer labs, design and fabrication shops, a vehicle augmentation lab, a seating and mobility center, and specialized examination and evaluation rooms.

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