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Assistive Technology

Researchers in the Duke Department of Head and Neck Surgery and Communication Sciences conduct studies to develop and test assistive technology (AT) devices that individuals with speech and auditory disorders can use to better communicate.

A major component of our program is the development of the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Communication Enhancement (AAC-RERC) that seeks to improve augmentative and alternative communication technologies for persons with significant communication disorders.

AAC-RERC is the leading national center for AAC; this multi-institutional collaboration is funded by the National Institute on Disabilities and Rehabilitation Research.

Current Studies

Ongoing studies related to assistive and augmentative technologies for individuals with speech and hearing disorders include:

Context-Sensitive Messaging with Radio-Frequency Identification Technology

Frank DeRuyter, PhD, from Duke, and Melanie Fried-Oken, PhD, CCC/Sp, a researcher from Oregon Health & Science University, are investigating the use of RFID technology to provide context-sensitive information and vocabulary, and to facilitate message construction, with the goal of improving speed and ease of augmentative and alternative communication device use.

Technology/Policy Watch and Emerging Issues

Frank DeRuyter, PhD, is leading a team of researchers to identify cutting edge developments in mainstream technologies that have potential application within AAC/AT; disseminate scientific and technology developments to researchers, clinicians, and manufacturers; identify emerging technologies that can impact policies, guidelines, and standards related to AAC; and proactively address emerging AAC issue areas.

Student Design Project

Kevin Caves, ME, ATP, RET, and Tom Jakobs, ME, from InvoTek will develop online training modules and support activities for engineering students and university faculty.

Wheeled Mobility in Everyday Life (RERC-4a)

Kevin Caves, ME, ATP, RET, is working with a team at the Durham VAMC including Helen Hoenig, MD, that is examining how mobility performance in real life tasks and environments is impacted by the use of specific types of wheeled mobility devices (wheeled walker, manual wheelchair, power wheelchair/scooter).

Visit to find more information related to the Wheeled Mobility in Everyday Life study.

Towards Clinical Acceptability: Enhancing the P300-based Brain-Computer Interface

Kevin Caves, ME, ATP, RET, is collaborating with Leslie Collins, PhD, from the Pratt School of Engineering, and Eric Sellers of East Tennessee State University to improve the P300 Speller system. The aim of the research is to provide an effective means of communication for individuals with locked-in syndrome.