ALBANY — Dayton, Ohio, has been called the birthplace of aviation. It was in this southwestern Ohio city that the Wright Brothers designed the first manned, powered plane that actually went airborne. The plane, which Wilbur piloted at Kitty Hawk, N.C., in 1903, stayed afloat for 59 seconds and traveled 852 feet.
Dayton is also the home of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. The largest single site employer in the Buckeye state, with more than 30,000 employees, this complex has an annual economic impact of $4.2 billion.
Dayton also has served as the temporary home of one of the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency’s most interesting members. This larger-than-life individual, recently retired, is Scott Barr. Despite living with quadriplegia since his college years (as a result of a snow skiing accident), Barr has continuously strived for excellence in his academic pursuits and in his workplace. Regarding the former, with effort and time, Barr was able to relearn how to write semi-legibly using a splint and shoulder muscles and was able to stay abreast with his engineering studies despite having no hand function.
In his work with GVRA as a rehabilitation engineer and then as an assistive technology supervisor for the south quadrant of the Peach State, Barr and his team members have been able to help many of their clients achieve their goals. In many instances, he has provided coordination for vehicle and home modifications.
There is a wide array of adaptive driving equipment and vehicle modifications that can enable individuals with minor to severe impairments to safely and independently operate a vehicle. Examples of simple devices include left foot accelerator, keyholder and steering wheel devices (knob, loop, triple-pin). On the more complex side, examples include structural modifications for wheelchair access and computer-controlled electro-mechanical servo throttle/brake and steering controls. Solutions can range from less than $100 to $100,000, not including cost of the base vehicle. A few common impairments for which vehicle modifications exist include amputations, stroke, spinal cord injury, brain injury and cerebral palsy. Proper assessment and training are crucial to safely maximize independent transportation.
Common home access modifications include ramps, widened doorways and reconfiguring/enlarging bathrooms for wheelchair access. Doorways can be widened by about 1.5 inches by changing to offset door hinges. Simple tub/shower branches and raised toilet seats are available for well under $100. When expansion of a bathroom is not possible due to space or structural limitations, a ceiling mounted lift and track may be an alternative. One of these devices can lift an individual and transport him/her to access a shower or toilet. Again, costs can vary greatly, from under $100 to tens of thousands of dollars.
Since most employment opportunities demand at least some interaction with a computer, there is a multitude of hardware and software solutions to assist users with virtually any level of impairment. Blind individuals have worked as phone-based customer service and technical support for many decades.
With appropriate assessment, training and, in some cases customization (custom programming or screen reader scripting), computer hardware and software solutions enable individuals lacking functional vision to operate a computer independently. Every bit of information usually presented visually can be accessed auditorily.
Late in his career, Barr supervised six staff members in the southern part of Georgia. Technologists Sean Zeller, Jared Tompkins and Eve Harrell provide assessments, recommendations and follow-ups for clients in more than 50 counties. Technicians Celeste True and Regina Bing provide equipment set up, basic training and troubleshooting. Occupational therapist Lakisha Wilborn has had a dual role as a technologist for the Savannah area and OT for the south assistive technology team.
Now that he has retired, Barr often helps family and friends with navigating benefits, online account activities and computer technical support (often using Team Viewer so he can work on their computer remotely). The VR team in south Georgia will miss Barr’s spirit and his competency, but they — and especially his clients — can find inspiration in the example he has set in not giving up in the face of adversity.
Thomas Connelly is a communications specialist with the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency.