Penn State DuBois event highlights the latest in assistive technology

Melissa Davis from Laurel Medical Solutions demonstrates the use of a wheelchair equipped with Eye Gaze technology.

Melissa Davis from Laurel Medical Solutions demonstrates the use of a wheelchair equipped with Eye Gaze technology at the Penn State DuBois Assistive Technology Fair. The system allows the user to control movement of the wheelchair using only their eyes.

Credit: Penn State

DUBOIS, Pa. — Penn State DuBois held an Assistive Technology Fair on Thursday, Nov. 7, hosted jointly by the campus Occupational Therapy Club and the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry's Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR). The event featured a dozen vendors from around the area who offer specialized equipment to assist people with special needs in completing tasks around their home, in the classroom, or at work.

The fair was open to the public, and featured live demonstrations of devices, as well as opportunities to learn how to properly evaluate assistive technology needs. Representatives from local providers, as well as OVR, were also on hand to provide consultation and information.

Featured equipment included wheelchairs and lifts; specialized keyboards and other computer equipment; household upgrades, such as accessible bathroom fittings; and more.

Organizers said they hoped members of the public who have needs for such information and devices could benefit from a one-stop environment where they could gather information.

LuAnn Demi, senior instructor in the Penn State DuBois Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) program said, “The intention is for people to get a better understanding of the technology available to help people who have limitations or disabilities. There’s no way our students or the community could see all of this if we didn’t pull it all together in one place. And this shows that you can have physical limitations, but there’s probably equipment out there that can help you do whatever you want to do.”

One such piece of equipment featured at the event was a wheelchair outfitted with Eye Gaze technology. The user can control the wheelchair’s movement using their eyes. Scanners pick up the eye movement, and the system maneuvers the wheelchair where the user wants to go. Melissa Davis from Laurel Medical Solutions demonstrated the chair. She said, “We do a lot of work with the ALS Association and with people who are paralyzed. This is some of the technology we use to help keep people independent. It’s absolutely incredible, and we’re very fortunate to have this technology.”

Demi said that her students are required to attend the Assistive Technology Fair, to get a first-hand look at items they’ll likely use in their future careers in Occupational Therapy.

"There's only so much we can present to students in terms of equipment when we're in the classroom," she said. "There's so much high-tech equipment here. These are things that we otherwise may only be able to show them in a book. Here, they can be hands-on with it. To have this opportunity for the students to see these things is great."