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New UAB lab helps spinal cord patients cope

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A new lab at UAB’s Spain Rehabilitation Center offers spinal cord injury patients a look at how technology can help them overcome disabilities, particularly in using computers and other electronic equipment.

The Dr. Samuel L. Stover Assistive Technology Laboratory is being dedicated at 12:15 p.m. today at the Center for Psychiatric Medicine. The lab is named for a former chairman of the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s department of physical medicine and rehabilitation.

“We want to empower patients with information,” said Phil Klebine, project coordinator for the lab.

The lab is confined to a single room and is filled with technology grouped into four areas – home, office, school and entertainment. The office area includes a computer that offers software such as voice-recognition typing programs and hardware such as a mouse than can be controlled by foot, for those who cannot use their hands.

The computer also is equipped with a sensor in a hat that allows users to control a computer’s cursor with head movements.

Hospital patients visit the lab just to try things and see the possibilities, Klebine said. “We just want to give patients an idea of what will work for them.”

The home station has a basic environmental control unit that can be adapted to remotely control any electrical device. There is also a self-answering telephone that can be dialed with a single button.

The entertainment station includes a Wii gaming system, a recreational device that has proved be helpful in rehabilitation settings by encouraging repetitious movement.

The lab primarily is funded by a grant from the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation along with contributions from Spain Rehabilitation nurses and the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

The lab was equipped for about $8,000, and Klebine is looking for donors to expand offerings. Klebine, assistant director for research services at Spain Rehabilitation, said technology is constantly being upgraded and integrated. Already some electric wheelchairs have been connected to computers.

“Before too much longer, your cell phone is going to operate everything,” he said.

Birmingham News – staff writer

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