Stair-climbing wheelchair highlights Third Independence Forum demosAssistive technology innovations was the theme of the Third Independence Forum, held at the Marin Civic Center Exhibition Hall in April.
The star of the show was the prototype of an astonishing wheelchair which. with three military-grade gyroscopes, can stand straight up on its two back wheels, and can even climb stairs. "It should be on the market in a year," said engineer Jeff Klein (right) of DEKA Research and Development, which has developed the iBOT chair in partnership with Johnson and Johnson. It won't be cheap, though -- probably from $25,000 to $30,000. Larry Meredith, Ph.D., Director of Health and Human Services for Marin County, welcomed the large crowd and spoke of the need to change the way federal and state reimbursement emphasizes institutions."We need to make assistive technology 'reimbursable,'" said Meredith, in order to promote independent living for the disabled.
Keynote speaker Rebecca Roberts, host and managing editor of Springboard: Exploring the Digital Age, an Emmy-nominated PBS series from KQED-TV, gave a cogent overview of the technology revolution to date.
One key topic on which she touched was "convergence," which is to say: "The big goal is, all digital media is going to be delivered in one box."
Roberts also covered nanotechnology (manipulation of matter on the atomic scale -- a nano equals one millionth of a meter), voice recognition software ("still pretty lousy, but it's getting better"), and biotechnology such as the Human Genome Project and stem cell research. Stem cells, Roberts explained, are "early cells of the human embryo that can become anything. If you catch them at that early stage, you can tell them what to become," with profound potential for the health sciences. Marin County Supervisor Cynthia Murray addressed funding, paratransit, and the key issue of elders being able to remain in their homes. "We can strive for a better health-span," said Murray. "Not just a life-span, but a health-span." She also addressed the primary problem: "How do you get the funding?" asked Murray. "You get the attention of your politicians, and get them to step up to the plate."
The Independence Forum was sponsored and/or coordinated by The Marin County Department of Health and Human Services Division of Aging, Disabled Students Programs and Services at College of Marin, Disability Rights Enforcement, Education, Services (DREES), Indoor Sports Club (San Rafael Chapter), Marin Center for Independent Living (MCIL), National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare, and the office of Supervisor Cynthia Murray.