Q&A: Mary Ellen Buning, RESNA president-elect

‘I see technology as an enabler’
Friday, October 20, 2017

ARLINGTON, Va. – RESNA’s recent annual conference highlighted disability as a functional limitation as much as a diagnosis-driven condition. It was a step by the organization to embrace the increasingly important role that assistive technology is playing in the larger aging and wellness movement, says President-elect Mary Ellen Buning, an OT and ATP/SMS. Here’s what Buning, who will officially become president next year, had to say about RESNA’s efforts to broaden its scope and impact.

HME News: You’re coming off your first RESNA conference where you were involved more from a leadership level. What stood out to you as new and exciting?

Mary Ellen Buning: Aging well was part of the theme of this year’s conference. Alex Mihailidis from the University of Toronto gave a very interesting presentation on the use of technology for aging well. People who are aging are not disabled; they have functional impairments; they have changes in their hearing or their mobility that require an aide. There’s an ongoing discussion at RESNA about whether or not our mission statement needs to include aging in some way. Alex brought new energy to the idea.

HME: It sounds like RESNA is broadening the way it thinks about rehab engineering and assistive technology.

Buning: Yes, we’ve also been approved for an accreditation program for the educational institutes that teach rehab engineering and assistive technology. The program includes standards for assistive technology education—all the parts of the curriculum that need to be addressed—that a person graduating from one of these institutes is expected to have. Site visits to the first three educational institutes will happen this fall.

HME: How else is RESNA expanding its scope and impact?

Buning: We’re working on an exciting initiative that will have us bringing a new track to the American Occupational Therapy Association’s event next year. The track will show OTs that there is an organization that will help them learn the skills to work as specialists in this field. There’s been somewhat of a resistance to seeing technology as important to the practice of OTs. It’s been thought that any OT can do a wheelchair evaluation. But for those of us who have practiced in seating and mobility, we know that’s not true.

HME: As president, how do you hope to leave your mark on RESNA?

Buning: I’ve been a technology user since my late teens, early 20s. I had bone cancer and I’ve been using an artificial limb since then. I understand the role that technology can play for an individual who has the desire and interest and motivation to find solutions and move ahead. I’ve been able to accomplish everything I’ve wanted to, because I have a limb that fits me well and has features that meet my needs. That has freed me to think about what I’m doing, not how I’m going to get there. I see technology as an enabler.