Coordinator of Assistive Technology
Auburn University Center for Disability Research and Service
A diving accident nearly 20 years ago left Scott Renner paralyzed from the neck down, but it hasn't stopped him from living a rich and independent life. Renner credits assistive technology for helping him enjoy some of the same activities he engaged in before his accident. In his current position with Auburn University's Center for Disability Research and Service, housed within the College of Education, Renner helps others learn about the possibilities that exist for individuals with disabilities as a result of cutting-edge technology. Assistive technology enables Renner to move, turn on lights, open doors and answer his phone, but it also affords him the freedom to engage in more adventurous pursuits.
1. A lot of people may not be familiar with the term "assistive technology." Can you explain what it is?
The federal government defines it as any piece of equipment or device that can improve the quality of life for an individual with a disability to allow them to be more independent. It can be used in employment, education or recreation. When you look at assistive technology, sometimes people think of high-dollar assistive technology, but a lot of what I use is low-cost, low-tech and really meets my individual needs.
2. How long have you relied on assistive technology and what are some of the devices that help you on a daily basis?
It's going on 19 years in August. My wheelchair is the biggest piece of assistive technology that I utilize for my independence. It really allows me to go where I want to go - it's my legs - and it's the biggest piece I use. At work, I use computer access and voice-activation software. For low-tech, I use the mouth stick to type on the keyboard, dial the phone and turn pages. At home, I use an environmental control unit, which allows me to dial the telephone, operate the TV and VCR, open doors, turn on lights and be able to manipulate my environment. It's a small computer system that is beside my bed. I operate my house through my computer, using an automatic door opener. I can push a button on my lap tray with my mouth stick and it unlocks it and lets me access the house.
3. What recent assistive technology advances do you consider to be most significant?
Computer access. When I was first injured, I had to use voice activation; you had to talk like a robot and it was very frustrating. That's when I turned to the mouth stick. With voice recognition software and the improvements in that area and with computer access, like being able to put a dot on your forehead and manipulate the mouse, I utilize that now.
4. What are some of the hobbies that assistive technology enables you to enjoy?
I enjoy going to the beach and went this past summer. We built a beach chair out of a nice aluminum folding lawn chair and wheelbarrow wheels. I enjoy fishing, and I have a cane pole that I strap to my wheelchair. I also golf with a Big Bertha golf club C-clamped to my leg-rest and the ball on a 2 x 4. I do a 360 and that's how I hit the ball. I've hit it about 75 yards.
5. The Center for Disability Research and Service opened in August 2010. What sort of feedback have you received about the center and the resources it provides?
It has been very positive. With the Alabama Assistive Technology Expo and Conference, we've had great feedback from the participants and it has brought great awareness of assistive technology. That's why we felt it was important for Auburn to adopt it and make it an annual event for the center to hold. Some people are in fear of assistive technology, but if they see where it will improve thequality of life, they'll bring it into the classroom. A lot of teachers are scared of it and think there will be a big learning curve to it, but if we can show them how easy it is to adapt in the classroom, that will help.
For more information about the Center for Disability Research and Service and the Alabama Assistive Technology Expo and Conference, go to this link.