The ETH is planning a broad-based Rehab Initiative aimed at improving the quality of life of people with physical disabilities. Central to the initiative is a new competence center, where researchers from various disciplines can work with clinics, foundations, public authorities and companies.
“The Rehab Initiative focuses on the person, and disabled people themselves are involved in the research right from the outset,” explained ETH President Joël Mesot in a statement. “At the same time, the initiative builds on a broad foundation of scientific expertise and also addresses aspects of teaching and knowledge transfer.”
In addition to the competence center, the university is planning a new Rehabilitation Science and Technology Master’s programme and up to eight new professorships. Funding has already been secured for four of these professorships – data science in personalized health; barrier-free and inclusive architecture; mobile health systems; and healthy ageing. The ETH is currently seeking additional partners to fund the other four professorships.
The initiative is the vision of Robert Riener, Professor for Sensory-Motor Systems at the ETH and Balgrist University Hospital. His perspective on rehabilitation changed at Cybathlon 2016 – a competition in which people with disabilities solve everyday tasks using state-of-the-art technological assistive systems. Riener discovered that “the actual needs of people with disabilities do not feed into the development of assistive technologies enough.” Conversely, major research discoveries “aren’t finding their way into practical applications,” he said. This is now set to change.