K.E. Schwab -- 724-738-2199; e-mail:
PITTSBURGHEDITH L. TREES TRUST TO FUND
TECHNOLOGIES LAB AT SRU
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
addition to his SRU studies, Merhaut holds degrees from California
University of Pennsylvania and Duquesne