Capitol Correspondence - 10.31.23

President Biden Honors Groundbreaking Work in Assistive Technology

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In a ceremony at the White House, U.S. President Joe Biden recently presented the National Medal of Technology and Innovation to Dr. Rory Cooper, an acclaimed professor from the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. Cooper joins the ranks of technological pioneers such as Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. His award recognizes his outstanding contributions in the field of assistive technology.

The National Medal of Technology and Innovation is awarded by the U.S. president to individuals or teams for their “outstanding contributions to America’s economic, environmental, and social well-being.” In this regard, Dr. Cooper’s commitment to enhancing mobility and function for individuals with disabilities, particularly through advances in wheelchairs, is exemplary.

In 1994, Cooper established the Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL), a hub of innovation in assistive technology. Over the years, Cooper and his team have developed groundbreaking innovations, including the first smart wheelchairs and ergonomic rims. These innovations have been pivotal in improving the lives of people with disabilities, reducing barriers, and enhancing their independence.

Cooper is known for enhancing the mobility and independence of individuals with disabilities through groundbreaking innovations in assistive technology and has dedicated decades to improving the lives of countless Americans. Notably, his work includes the development of smart wheelchairs and ergonomic wheelchair rims, which have been transformative in reducing barriers and increasing accessibility.

With 25 U.S. patents to his name, Cooper’s contributions to the field are not just locally recognized; he is also the world’s most cited rehabilitation engineer, according to Google Scholar metrics. This accolade adds to a long list of honors, which include the John P. McGovern Science and Society Award, a Distinguished Eagle Scout award from the Boy Scouts of America, and the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal. President Biden’s recognition of this work emphasizes the nation’s commitment to innovation that enhances the quality of life for all Americans with disabilities.