This week is National Rehabilitation Awareness Week, organized by the National Rehabilitation Awareness Foundation, recognizing rehabilitation in all its forms, educating people about its benefits and impact on independence, and increasing opportunities for access to rehab. The first thing people may think of when they hear the word “rehab” might be physical therapy after an injury, or speech therapy for someone who has had a stroke. They might also think about vocational rehabilitation, which can help people with disabilities join or return to the workforce. But rehabilitation can include many other interventions, services, and supports, such as relearning how to drive (driver rehabilitation), dancing (dance therapy), playing games (play or recreation therapy), making art (art therapy), and learning how to use apps and telerehabilitation programs (mRehab), among other examples.
Returning to driving is often a rehabilitation goal after an injury or illness. Driver rehabilitation specialists conduct assessments for people with disabilities who want to learn or return to driving. These specialists may help someone with paralysis learn to use hand controls to operate their vehicle, teach someone with reduced vision or perception to make adjustments as they drive, or help in selecting the right equipment for a new or returning driver, among many other services and supports. NIDILRR-funded research in driver rehabilitation includes this recent study covered in our Research In Focus series: Return to Driving May Be an Important Goal for Improving Quality of Life for People with Moderate to Severe Traumatic Brain Injury.
Some people may find it challenging to engage in physical activity that benefits their health, whether conventional exercise or physical therapy. Using music and dance may be one way to encourage people with disabilities to engage in physical therapy or programs that supplement physical therapy. Our Research In Focus series looked at recent NIDILRR-funded research that studied the Movement 2 Music program (M2M) to improve health for adults with stroke and multiple sclerosis.
Play, Games, and Video Games
Play and exergames can be an important part of rehabilitation for young people with disabilities, such as children with cerebral palsy (CP) or traumatic brain injuries. These therapies can help with coordination, reaching, grasping, and other physical movements. This new NIDILRR-funded Small Business Innovation Research project is looking at exergaming technologies to improve hand and arm function for children with CP, and the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC) on Patient-Centered, Home-Based Technologies to Assess and Treat Motor Impairment in Individuals with Neurologic Injury is working on a home-based device that uses a video game to encourage children with CP to exercise and improve their gait and range of motion and studying the use of toys with sensors to assess the development of grasp in infants at risk for motor delays. Adults can use play and exergames, too. The RERC on Interactive Exercise Technologies and Exercise Physiology for Persons with Disabilities has studied wheelchair accessible video game controllers for improving health and function measures and advanced virtual exercise environments. Research In Focus highlighted their project to develop an adapted balance board for active video games.
Art and Photography
Creating art can be therapeutic in many ways. It can help with coordination. It can help in expressing emotions. It can even help in building confidence to accomplish goals. One NIDILRR-funded study we covered in Research in Focus used photography to help people with psychiatric disabilities build confidence in achieving their vocational rehabilitation goals.
Mobile rehabilitation (mRehab) uses technology to deliver rehabilitation service remotely to people in their homes and in the community. mRehab can include equipment taken home after in-patient rehab, accompanied by instruction through a videoconference tool like Zoom. It can also include apps created to deliver therapies like breathing exercises or track activity and health outcomes to be shared with a therapist. In this podcast, researchers from the NIDILRR-funded RERC to Improve Information and Communication Technology Access for mRehab talked about their research to understand how mRehab can be effective, identify and remove barriers to mRehab, and create mRehab solutions to support long-term recovery and participation of people with disabilities in their communities.
These are just a few examples of the diverse world of interventions and tools that one might encounter in rehabilitation. They might be offered alongside traditional therapies like physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy, to support an holistic approach to setting and achieving rehabilitation goals.
NARIC’s Ask a Librarian series offers explainer articles on arts as therapy and recreation therapy, as well as assistive technology guides for art, driving, recreation, mRehab, and much more. If you are interested in learning more about research in these areas, visit the NIDILRR Program Database to explore current and completed research and development projects, or search our REHABDATA database for abstracts of articles, books, and reports from the NIDILRR community and elsewhere.