NMHM Chicago’s TechAbility Exhibit merges tech with Disability Progress

TechAbility merged technology and progress among people with disabilities
TechAbility exhibit presented the evolution of technology and its application and impact on people with disabilities through the past several decades

I’m currently rehabbing from two reconstructive spinal surgeries that were required due to my Charcot Arthropathy of the lower spine that was first diagnosed in 2005. This has been a very challenging year beginning in January when the first signs of further deterioration developed. Through months of successive CT scans, x-rays, MRIs, and blood panels my surgeon and physiatrist determined that this was a progression of the Charcot that had first been addressed ten years ago. As background, I sustained a traumatic Spinal Cord Injury as the result of a fall while I was in college in 1981.

This wasn’t the story I would have written for my life, but I can’t deny that it continues to be a fascinating journey – and the intelligent application of dramatically evolving technology in healthcare has been a central element. Intelligently applied technology has impacted most aspects of my ability to remain independent, productive and engaged. Having worked for years in the Durable Medical Equipment (DME) industry, I have had access to developing wheelchair technologies through the years. If I had the space to keep all of my former chairs they would have made a pretty nice exhibit themselves. As I have aged and these acute health challenges have emerged, access to technology in the healthcare field has been key to my quality of life along with millions of others. Consider the complex technology associated with the MRI, CT and other sophisticated diagnostic tools that are used millions of times a day. Reviewing my most recent spinal x-ray, I was enthralled – and overwhelmed – staring at the array of springs, rods, pins, screws and cages that have become the scaffolding for my once healthy spine. It’s incredible that our bodies can accept and accommodate such a variety of foreign matter.

National Museum of Health and Medicine Chicago banner
National Museum of Health and Medicine Chicago banner

The National Museum of Health and Medicine Chicago is unique in its mission and its design. As a 501c3 entity supporting the parent NMHM in Maryland, its mission is to promote knowledge of health and medicine and to encourage scientific research and innovation. NMHM Chicago does this through a combination of accessing large scale digitized health data, supporting revolutionary exhibit approaches as well as artistic efforts linked to the human condition and educating both the public and scientific research community on these efforts.

I was approached to participate in the TechAbility exhibition some time ago – I believe that my friend and ROCH 2014 Illinois teammate Reveca Torres approached me. The team at NMHM was conducting interviews with companies who were supporting the career success of people with disabilities (PWD) as one element of their exhibition. I was interviewed regarding our Civic Tech and Engagement efforts at SPR which include a significant investment in PWD and tech careers. In fact, ITKAN is at the heart of our efforts to continue to support the education, networking and placement of candidates with disabilities into roles in technology.

Another focus of the TechAbility exhibit was a review of how technology has influenced mobility among people with disabilities that have limited or negated their ability to walk. In another career I was on the founding management team of Sigmedics, Inc., a rehabilitation technology company that designed, manufactured, trained and distributed the Parastep-I System – the first FDA Pre-Market Approved (PMA) standing and ambulatory system based in superficially applied Functional Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation (FNES). We launched the company in late 1988 and received our PMA from the Food and Drug Administration in April, 1993.

The Parastep-I System and collateral on exhibit at NMHM Chicago TechAbility
The Parastep-I System and collateral on exhibit at NMHM Chicago TechAbility

Having been a research participant since 1983 in the clinical program at Michael Reese Hospital and Medical Center from which Sigmedics and the Parastep developed, it was gratifying to be asked to lend the system and collateral to the exhibit. The Parastep represented state of the art integration of FNES technology along with critical clinical evaluation and training at the time of its emergence on the market. It continues to be applied as a standing and gait modality through the US and Europe.

The constant evolution of technology, coupled with its  creative application by skilled professionals in so many fields including healthcare, industry, government, the arts and others, has supported a higher quality of life for millions of us living with disability. Thanks to NMHM Chicago for continuing to apply its unique brand of technology and artistry to its exhibits. In doing so they cast a unique spotlight on our evolving human condition.


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