Assistive Technology Institute Launched

February 23, 2004

Dallas, Pa. – In an effort to better apply technology to benefit older Americans and people with disabilities, Misericordia University announced today a new Assistive Technology Research Institute to be based at its Dallas campus. Funding for the Institute comes from a $190,000 federal grant from the Administration on Aging. Congressman Don Sherwood helped secure the funding and joined the College in making the announcement. He emphasized that the Institute will bring the considerable expertise of Misericordia University faculty to bear upon the issues of mobility and quality of life for older adults and people with disabilities.

“By establishing the Assistive Technology Research Institute, Misericordia University will be working to make sure that older citizens and people with disabilities get the maximum benefit from new technologies,” said Congressman Sherwood. “This special area of focused research and the cooperative effort with local businesses could lead to new uses and new products to help improve people’s lives.”

The Institute will draw upon the strength of the health science programs based at Misericordia University, including occupational therapy, physical therapy, nursing, medical imaging and speech-language pathology. It will conduct studies in conjunction with Pennsylvania technology and manufacturing firms as well as various government entities on the local, state and federal levels. Other MU departments such as special education and social work will lend expertise as well. The studies will produce data with real-world implications to learn how to help people with disabilities benefit from the rapid advances in technology.

According to Dr. Michael A. MacDowell, president of Misericordia University, “The Institute is one more example of a local college working hand-in-glove with innovative firms in our region to create viable programs and products that better serve people.”

MacDowell, who serves on the Executive Committee of the Great Valley Technology Alliance (GVTA), will work closely with area firms as well as with Chris Haran, executive director of GVTA, in developing the Institute and subsequent research projects. Created in March 2000, the GVTA is a regional public-private partnership designed to facilitate the development of a knowledge-based, technology-focused economy for Northeastern Pennsylvania. “The development of these products and services using companies and knowledge based here in Northeast Pennsylvania will also serve to benefit the local economy,” adds MacDowell.

The Institute is undertaking several initial projects to meet its objective. The first research effort, developed by Brenda Hage, MSN, CRNP, MU nursing professor, will analyze older people’s ability to use e-mail and the World Wide Web to enhance communication and lessen the feeling of isolation that many of them experience, especially when residing in a long-term care setting. Her research will center on people living in Luzerne and Wyoming counties. Hage, a board certified informatics nurse explains, “By bridging the 'digital divide', we can lessen the gap that separates generations and remove the boundaries of time and distance that tend to isolate older adults living in long-term care facilities.”

According to MU occupational therapy professor Denis Anson, who will be research director for the Institute, the Institute’s work will have implications for millions of Americans. “Technology’s impact on our world grows greater with each passing day. As a country, we must understand technology’s effect on seniors and people with disabilities and, perhaps more importantly, use technology to improve their productivity and quality of life.” Anson has been noted for his research into software and computer hardware for the disabled and was awarded the grade of Fellow with RESNA, the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America, for his contributions to the field of assistive technology.

Dr. Joseph Cipriani, nationally recognized MU occupational therapy professor, will serve as director of the Institute at Misericordia University. “The faculty and students of Misericordia University already perform research in this area and present the findings at national conferences. The funding for the Institute will only enhance and focus this process as well as allow us to partner with local businesses and non-profit organizations to solve some of the access problems people encounter every day.”

Misericordia University has earned a track record of success in assistive technology. MU’s Teacher Education department earned previous grants through Link to Learn and U.S. Department of Education Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology program to enhance assistive technology to serve MU students and incorporate assistive technology into our teacher education curriculum. MU teacher education faculty conduct numerous seminars throughout the state on the application of assistive technology in the teaching and learning process.

Founded by the Religious Sisters of Mercy in 1924, Misericordia University is Luzerne County’s first four-year college. It provides a broad based liberal arts education in both graduate and undergraduate programs built on the principles of its founders: mercy, service, justice and hospitality. “The Institute is a natural outgrowth of Misericordia University’s interest in and dedication to serving those in need,” says MacDowell.

For more information about the Institute, call Dr. Cipriani at 570-674-6412.

Photo ID: Misericordia University nursing professor Brenda Hage, with her father, Wyoming County resident Harold Harding, demonstrating a new assistive technology device for Internet access to enhance socialization opportunities for older adults. This new technology is one example of the research and development opportunities available through Misericordia University's Assistive Technology Research Institute.

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