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 Pittsburgh Edith L. Trees Trust to Fund Technologies Lab at SRU 




Contact: K.E. Schwab  -- 724-738-2199;  e-mail:


          SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. – Technology is bringing new freedom and abilities to countless individuals with physical and mental disabilities, and beginning next fall Slippery Rock University special education students will have an on-campus laboratory filled with such technology so they can learn to better employ such technology in education setting involving special education students.

          The Assistive Technologies Laboratory project, to be located in the Jack C. Dinger Special Education Building, is the brainchild of Dr. Joseph Merhaut, special education assistant professor. It is being made possible through a $100,000, four-year grant from the Pittsburgh-based Edith L. Trees Charitable Trust. The trust specializes in funding programs to benefit those with mental retardation and will supply $25,000 annually to equip the laboratory.

          “This is an idea I came up with after noting all of the strides being made in providing technology to help those with mental and physical difficulties,” Merhaut, a 1989 SRU graduate in special education, explains in outlining how the laboratory will operate. “We received word of funding approval from the Trees Trust in December, and we immediately began making contacts with companies that provide such equipment so we could get the lab up and operating.” Merhaut’s daughter is mentally retarded and has cerebral palsy.

          SRU, which was founded as a teacher training school, has more than 500 special education majors in its College of Education, which carries an overall enrollment of 2,667.

          The three-year special education faculty member envisions the laboratory offering SRU special education majors, as well as other education majors, the chance to work with special equipment designed to help those with communication, vision, motor skill and audio difficulties. A joy-stick operated wheelchair will be included as well as a special “tunnel” devise popular in helping stimulate those with severe or multiple disabilities. The tunnel offers light, acoustic and nerve stimulation to engage the interest of those who suffer from severe mental retardation. The lab will also offer specially designed eating utensils that help those with motor skill problems.

          Stations for augmentative communication devices, gross motor and mobility training equipment, sensory motor equipment, equipment used in daily living as well as seating and positioning equipment will be included.

          “We will have such things as large-key keyboards to help those with communication and motor skill difficulties. The keyboards can be linked to specific words or sentences that allow those with communication problems to better, and more quickly, communicate. Many will recognize the ‘predictive text” function from their work in sending cell phone e-mails,” Merhaut explains, adding that with large-key keyboard, those with motor skill difficulties can more easily strike the correct key or symbol which can be pre-linked to specific phrases as a way of making their thoughts known to others. Specially designed eating utensils will also be included.

          He says the overall concept is for SRU students to have opportunities for hand-on experience with such equipment so that when they go into the workplace – schools or other employment involving people with special needs – they will know what equipment is available in the marketplace and how to use it. “Hopefully they will see additional opportunities for making use of the equipment or adapting the equipment to the special needs of those they are actually working with who facing physical and mental challenges.”

          Use of the lab will be incorporated into appropriate special education and education classes beginning next fall, and Merhaut says special courses, seminars and workshops are also being proposed to allow other, even non-student, groups use the laboratory’s equipment to learn of its capabilities.

          In addition to his SRU studies, Merhaut holds degrees from California University of Pennsylvania and Duquesne University.




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