Center for Disability Research and Service offers resources for community

Special education graduate student Mary Beth Litsey helps a student learn how to use a specially-modified iPad designed to help improve the communication and social skills of children with autism. The devices were used during the 2010 Summer Program for Students with Disabilities at Richland Elementary School.

AUBURN – The Auburn University Center for Disability Research and Service has officially opened, offering additional resources to improve the lives of Alabama citizens with significant disabilities.

Housed in the Dawson Building, the center is an extension of the Department of Special Education, Rehabilitation, Counseling/School Psychology in the College of Education and will focus on developing initiatives in autism and developmental disabilities, assistive technology, program evaluation and employment and community support.

Department head E. Davis Martin said the center’s multifaceted nature will enable it to assist individuals with significant disabilities in living independently and realizing their career and educational goals.

“We’re working to develop a model that will better assist those with the most significant disabilities to work, live and play in the communities of their choice,” Martin said.

Martin also said the center will strive to build a national reputation for advancement in each of the fields it serves, and will be interdisciplinary in nature with many of its research and service activities to include counseling, kinesiology, speech, psychology and human services.

Research relating to autism spectrum disorder will expand on the work previously conducted by the Auburn University Autism Center, which has been absorbed by the new center. In addition, the new center will collaborate on projects with the Auburn Transition Leadership Institute, which provides support to youths with disabilities by providing continuous improvement resources to assist with their transition to adulthood.

One of the center’s current projects focuses on the development of assistive technologies, which aid persons with disabilities. The department recently began collaborating with students in the Department of Industrial Design to develop assistive technology, said Scott Renner, who coordinates assistive technology for the center.

Industrial design and rehabilitation students are paired with a person with a disability and they work together to develop new product concepts. The design of these technologies aims to improve the quality of life for persons with disabilities.

The center will also host assistive technology classes in the spring and summer, as well as in-service training for professionals throughout the year.

In October, Auburn’s Office of Professional and Continuing Education and the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services will sponsor the first ever Alabama Assistive Technology Expo and Conference, or ALATEC.

“This will provide an opportunity to see firsthand the latest in assistive technologies, practices and services for persons with disabilities that will increase the ability of such persons to access education, employment, housing, transportation, health care, leisure and recreation in the community of choice,” Renner said.

ALATEC will also provide an opportunity for vendors, persons with disabilities and their families or loved ones, and professionals to exchange and gather information relative to the accessibility and availability of assistive technology.

“We hope to reach educators, students and parents,” said Margaret Flores, an assistant professor of special education and the center’s coordinator of autism and developmental disabilities. “We’re acquiring more and more pieces (for assistive technology) and we’re looking to bring in consumers.”

(Contributed by Troy Johnson.)

Contact: Troy Johnson, (334) 844-4468 (, or
Mike Clardy, (334) 844-9999 (

The iPads are loaded with applications that assist children with limited verbal skills in communicating their preferences for particular food, toys or activities.

The Center for Disability Research and Service will focus on the development of devices that will assist individuals with disabilities. Many of the best ideas come from class project collaborations involving students in rehabilitation and special education and industrial design.