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Adaptive equipment specialists perfect customer service

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For Immediate Release
Friday, October 28, 2013

Adaptive equipment specialists perfect customer service
Mary Elizabeth Robertson
The Morganton News Herald
October 28, 2013

Morganton, N.C. - Tinkering away like Santa's elves, six men come up with solutions that can change a person's whole world.

When a person is presented with a gift, the smile that spreads across their face is infectious and shows their gratitude in ways a simple "thank you" can't.

"It's a big passion," Thomas Auten said. "Most of them give you a smile. It makes you thankful."

Auten is one of the six adaptive equipment specialists who work to provide quality equipment for the residents of the J. Iverson Riddle Developmental Center. Auten, along with Ben Hudson, Ronny Wilson, Charles "Herb" Dills, Darrell Pruitt and Chad Wilson, works to design wheelchairs, recreational equipment and items to help the residents of the center.

The center offers comprehensive residential care to citizens from 34 counties in the western portion of the state. To be eligible for admission to the Riddle Center, a person must have a diagnosis of profound or severe mental disability, or a related developmental disability, according to

"We do highly specialized equipment with a resident base," Director of Adaptive Engineering Barry Kerley said. "We focus on things that can't be purchased."

And so, in a workshop room, the men swivel, screw and saw wheelchairs that match resident's exact specifications. If a resident needs help drinking from a cup, the team at adaptive engineering redesigns the cup. When a resident wanted to kick a soccer ball, rather than disappoint the resident and say "you can't do that," the team in adaptive equipment built a machine that allows residents to kick a soccer ball with the push of a button.


"All of these guys have tremendous skill," Kerley said. "The type of person required to do this job, they have to be welders, machinists... Even if you have the skill set, that doesn't work with this group unless they have the attitude to work with residents."

After they find a solution, they design, build and then meet with the resident to see if the product works for them.

"Comparing to commercial, our cushions last," Kerley said.

In addition to products to make eating, sleeping and mobilizing easier, the team creates products to let the residents have fun. They have built water skis, croquet sets and Frisbee machines that allow a resident to play with ease.

The reason for building products to be used in recreational activities is simple: The team wants their family to have fun. At the Riddle Center, the residents and those who work there are family.

"I've learned a lot from the kids," Auten said. Auten calls the residence kids, an endearing term to show the love everyone feels for one another at the center. "Here, we have a camaraderie and we develop that with the kids, too," he said.


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