Improving Knowledge and Lives

Reprinted from PN September 2017

From research with Amazon Echo to a program on independent living, PVA Education Foundation grants look to help everyone with SCI/D.

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Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) has been advocating for and assisting veterans who’ve sustained a spinal-cord injury or disease (SCI/D) for more than 70 years. However, PVA’s unique expertise in spinal-cord injury (SCI) issues doesn’t stop with veterans. From helping to write key parts of the Americans with Disabilities Act to working to improve air travel to funding SCI research, PVA has long been a champion to assist everyone and anyone with SCI. Education has also been a big part of PVA’s many programs, and this year is no different. Once again, the PVA Education Foundation has awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars to educational projects that push innovation, help with the understanding of SCI and enhance the quality of life of individuals with SCI.

One-year grants are offered in five categories: assistive technology; conferences; patient consumer and community education; professional development and education; and research utilization and dissemination. For more information on the PVA Education Foundation, visit

The following are brief descriptions of the 2017 grant awardees and their respective studies. 

Read the article below

Assistive Technology
Artificial Intelligence – Cost Effective Alternative to Conventional ECU

Peter Hunt, PhD

Southern California Institute for Research & Education


The development of artificial intelligence is a relatively new phenomenon. Artificial intelligence that interacts with smart-home devices could revolutionize the way people operate electronic household devices. Such artificial intelligence could potentially be a more cost-effective alternative to a conventional environmental control unit (ECU). Amazon Echo is an example of such artificial intelligence, which has the ability to perform many similar functions as conventional ECU.  Amazon Echo is relatively inexpensive and readily available to purchase on 

However, whether or not Amazon Echo can replace conventional ECU for veterans with high-level SCI remains unknown. The goal of this project is to explore all the possible features and functions of Amazon Echo in comparison to conventional ECU, to learn more about how veterans with SCI will use Amazon Echo in home settings and how this technology will affect their quality of life.

7th Annual KARRN Conference:  Engagement, Communication & Access

Patrick Kitzman, PhD

University of Kentucky


The proposed conference will center on a theme of “Engagement, Communication and Accessibility” and expands on the concept of accessibility beyond basic physical access to include knowledge, resources and collaboration. Using a model of achieving access through engagement and communication, the morning session will focus on practical methods for engaging people to become active participants in shared decision-making. Next, establishing appropriate patient-provider communication that includes assistive technology and augmentative communication technology will be discussed. Practical steps on how this process can be implemented, as well as the challenges to its successful implementation, will be presented. The afternoon presentations will apply this model to evaluation of seating and mobility and will include case study videos and demonstrations. The final presentation will focus on innovative technology to maximize function, building on the conference objectives of improving access through engagement and communication. 

Spinal Cord Injury Through the Continuum of Care Conference

Lauren Vagelakos

Orlando Regional Healthcare


Orlando Health Rehabilitation Institute (OHRI) is part of Orlando Regional Medical Center located in downtown Orlando, Fla. Given the location, which is both central to the city and the state, OHRI sees on average 49 patients per year with a diagnosis of traumatic SCI. To better serve the community, OHRI will be hosting a three-day Spinal Cord Injury Continuum of Care Conference for SCI care professionals this fall. Conference topics will include trauma, intensive care unit and acute care (Day 1); inpatient rehabilitation (Day 2); and outpatient rehabilitation (Day 3). In addition, the conference will cover care management, care coordination, transfer training, mobility skills and assistive technology. The goal is to provide hands-on educational and training activities to SCI care professionals in the community in order to better serve and care for individuals with SCI in Central Florida.

Patient Consumer & Community Eduction
Living Healthy with SCI for Independent Living

Shannon Carter, MS Arizona Spinal Cord Injury Association


The Living Healthy with SCI for Independent Living is a seven-week educational program that addresses the lack of access to health, prevention and education resources, all of which help individuals acquire the skills, education and hands-on experience necessary to transition to the community and maintain a healthy, active lifestyle. The Arizona Spinal Cord Injury Association believes in the need for those living with paralysis, along with their families and caregivers, to learn the importance of health and wellness and how to avoid the dramatic effect of secondary conditions on reintegration into the community.

The Living Healthy with SCI for Independent Living Educational Program supports the PVA Education Foundation’s mission by enhancing the quality of life for individuals with SCI/D through education and peer support and is inclusive to veterans and their families/caregivers. There is one seven-week session scheduled this fall and a second session scheduled for spring 2018.  

Pressure Management in Adapted Sports

Ian Rice, PhD

University of Illinois


Adapted sports are increasingly recognized as a potent, cost-effective tool for the management and prevention of secondary health complications among veterans living with SCI, which has led to increased government funding of sports equipment and participation opportunities. However, research and educational resources on training and proper utilization of sports equipment haven’t matched the influx of new participants, which may place individuals at risk for complications like skin breakdowns and pressure ulcer (PU) formation. Therefore, the purpose of this project is to 1) identify salient factors related to the person and the user-equipment interfaces which influence risk of PU development during adaptive sports, and 2) develop online educational guidelines outlining identified risks and associated strategies to minimize their occurrence across many popular sports. It’s hoped that this information will represent a first step in developing comprehensive guidelines for safe and effective participation in adapted sports.


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