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Team at Riddle Center Builds Wheelchairs, Other Equipment to Help Residents

The Adaptive Engineering Technology team at the Riddle Center

The Adaptive Engineering Technology team (L-R): Danny Sessions, Derek Bollinger, Chad Wilson, Ben Hudson, Darrell Pruitt, Ronny Wilson and Barry Kerley.

March 14, 2018 — When Barry Kerley and his team in the Adaptive Engineering Technology Department at the J. Iverson Riddle Developmental Center in Morganton get a request for equipment, they don’t just order it. They start from scratch to meet residents’ needs. 

The Adaptive Engineering Technology team at the Riddle Center designs, modifies and repairs specialty wheelchairs — most of which are very complex in function — and makes or modifies items such as helmets, splints and beds to assist residents with activities of daily living. The team also supports the recreational needs and activities of residents and has built a fleet of water skiing equipment and other adaptive recreational equipment. 

 Water skiing equipment specially designed for Riddle Center residents










Water skiing equipment specially designed for Riddle Center residents.

“It all starts with the residents, many of whom have a wide range of cognitive and physical disabilities,” said Kerley, a mechanical engineer who has served as Director of Adaptive Engineering Technology at JIRDC since 2001. “We tweak things to theme the wheelchairs to the delight of our residents. This can be exciting for the recipient and, in some cases, provides for a more positive outcome for the resident overall."

Kerley and his team of six fulfill about 2,000 work orders a year for nearly 300 residents — roughly 50 percent of whom have significant mobility challenges. Their work requires a wide variety of skills — from metal machining and welding, plastics forming, working with foam fabric and upholstery, woodworking and building complex mechanisms and assemblies. 

The team members are respected by their colleagues for their talents as well as their interpersonal skills. They provide comfort, understanding and a willingness to meet the needs and interests of residents. 

“The team is creating really outside-the-box, individualized adaptive equipment to meet the needs and improve the quality of life for residents at JIRDC,” said Niki Ashmont, Assistant Director, Developmental Centers, Division of State Operated Healthcare Facilities. “Their collaboration with the physical and occupational therapists, staff and residents is exemplary.”

For example, Kerley has developed a safety monitoring system for residents that utilizes a paging system and integrated sensors to detect potential safety concerns and wirelessly send a descriptive text message to a staffer’s pager. This all happens silently, within four seconds of activation, allowing for rapid staff response and providing residents independence while helping to ensure safety.
“We have special jobs here and we can see the purpose of our work directly,” said Kerley. “We believe it is significant work and that we do a great job of meeting residents’ needs. We get a sense of accomplishment in the knowledge that we’re improving the lives of our residents.”

Dan Guy