David J. Reinkensmeyer, University of California - Irvine
Sarah Blackstone, Augmentative Communication, Inc.
Cathy Bodine, University of Colorado
John Brabyn, Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute
David Brienza, University of Pittsburgh
Kevin Caves, Duke University Medical Center
Frank DeRuyter, Duke University Medical Center
Edmund Durfee, University of Michigan - Ann Arbor
Stefania Fatone, Northwestern University Prosthetics-Orthotics Center
Geoff Fernie, Toronto Rehabilitation Institute
Steven Gard, Northwestern University Prosthetics-Orthotics Center
Patricia Karg, University of Pittsburgh
Todd A. Kuiken, Northwestern University
Gerald F. Harris, Marquette UniversityFollow
Mike Jones, Shepherd Center
Yue Li, Toronto Rehabilitation Institute
Jordana Maisel, University at Buffalo IDeA Center
Michael McCue, University of Pittsburgh
Michelle A. Meade, University of Michigan - Ann Arbor
Helena Mitchell, Georgia Institute of Technology
Tracy L. Mitzner, Georgia Institute of Technology
James L. Patton, Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, University of Illinois at Chicago
Philip S. Requejo, Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center
James H. Rimmer, Lakeshore Foundation, Univesity of Alabama - Birmingham
Wendy A. Rogers, Georgia Institute of Technolgy
W. Zev Rymer, Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago
Jon A. Sanford, Georgia Institute of Technology
Lawrence Schneider, University of Michigan - Ann Arbor
Levin Sliker, University of Colorado
Stephen Sprigle, Georgia Institute of Technology
Aaron Steinfeld, Robotics Institute, Carnegie Mellon University
Edward Steinfeld, University at Buffalo IDeA Center
Gregg Vanderheiden, Trace Center, University of Maryland - College Park
Carolee Winstein, University of Southern California - Los Angeles
Li-Qun Zhang, Northwestern University
Thomas Corfman, National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research

Document Type




Publication Date



BioMed Central

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Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation

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Over 50 million United States citizens (1 in 6 people in the US) have a developmental, acquired, or degenerative disability. The average US citizen can expect to live 20% of his or her life with a disability. Rehabilitation technologies play a major role in improving the quality of life for people with a disability, yet widespread and highly challenging needs remain. Within the US, a major effort aimed at the creation and evaluation of rehabilitation technology has been the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Centers (RERCs) sponsored by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research. As envisioned at their conception by a panel of the National Academy of Science in 1970, these centers were intended to take a “total approach to rehabilitation”, combining medicine, engineering, and related science, to improve the quality of life of individuals with a disability. Here, we review the scope, achievements, and ongoing projects of an unbiased sample of 19 currently active or recently terminated RERCs. Specifically, for each center, we briefly explain the needs it targets, summarize key historical advances, identify emerging innovations, and consider future directions. Our assessment from this review is that the RERC program indeed involves a multidisciplinary approach, with 36 professional fields involved, although 70% of research and development staff are in engineering fields, 23% in clinical fields, and only 7% in basic science fields; significantly, 11% of the professional staff have a disability related to their research. We observe that the RERC program has substantially diversified the scope of its work since the 1970’s, addressing more types of disabilities using more technologies, and, in particular, often now focusing on information technologies. RERC work also now often views users as integrated into an interdependent society through technologies that both people with and without disabilities co-use (such as the internet, wireless communication, and architecture). In addition, RERC research has evolved to view users as able at improving outcomes through learning, exercise, and plasticity (rather than being static), which can be optimally timed. We provide examples of rehabilitation technology innovation produced by the RERCs that illustrate this increasingly diversifying scope and evolving perspective. We conclude by discussing growth opportunities and possible future directions of the RERC program.


Published version. Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation, Vol. 14, No. 109 (2017): 1-53. DOI. © The Author(s). 2017 Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.