By Marilyn Tinnin
The T.K. Martin Center for Technology and Disability Empowering the Disabled
The 2010 United States Census reported that there are 56.7 million Americans classified as disabled. That number represents approximately 20% of the total population. Of those 56.7 million, more than half are severely impaired. Some are born with their afflictions, and many become disabled through accidents, injuries, or strokes—all events that can rob their victims of mobility, sight, hearing, communication skills, and even the ability to enjoy the simplest of life’s pleasures.
At the T.K. Martin Center, on the campus of Mississippi State University, there is an incredible team of highly trained specialists whose passion and compassion drive their super human mission. They seem to accomplish what “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men” were not able to do—they put Humpty Dumpty together again! Their mission statement, “To ensure that persons with disabilities are able to continually benefit from technological solutions and advances in the field of assistive technology,” presents new challenges every day because theirs is not a “one-size-fits-all” kind of program. Every client is unique.
The staff of Speech-Language Pathologists, Occupational Therapists, Special Educators, and Rehabilitation and Biomedical Engineers work together in a truly state-of-the-art facility to assess and prescribe comprehensive and holistic solutions for individual needs. The array of services accommodate persons with disabilities regardless of age or diagnosis, and the ability to design and fabricate whatever unusual device is required, sets the T.K. Martin Center apart. For these highly skilled miracle workers, the greatest “payoff” is never monetary. When their creative synergy helps remove a barrier in a client’s life, there is soul satisfaction and sheer joy that is beyond description. Seeing is believing—and I became a believer one day this past August when I got the red carpet treatment!
There is nothing here that looks or feels like an institutional or clinical setting. Just inside the double front doors is a long hallway with track lighting that resembles an art gallery, and indeed, that is exactly what it is. The Martha Lipsey Art Gallery on the first floor is lined with bright and colorful paintings attractively framed and labeled with the artists’ names. The gallery represents one of the most innovative programs offered here.
The Martin Center’s EXPRESS Yourself! Art program uses techniques called Artistic Realization Technologies making it possible for those with the most severe disabilities and minimal mobility to experience the power of self-expression through art. The program, developed by Tim Lefens, a New Jersey-based abstract painter, sculptor, and arts activist, uses trained individuals who use precise techniques and exacting technology to put on canvas the image that the disabled artist is unable to do himself. This art is truly, by definition, real art. It is much more than therapy although the ability to create beauty is in itself uplifting and therapeutic! You can learn more at www.eyart.org.
The broad range of assistive technology includes vehicle modifications, hearing and visual aids, seating and mobility design, home accommodations and more. The ability to design, set up, and then train the client in the use of his or her custom-made device adds a personal dimension to the T.K. Martin Center. For these individuals and families whose daily lives involve a constant challenge to overcome, the T.K. Martin Center is almost like family. It is definitely a place where those challenges seem smaller and fewer and where the army of specialists are also personal cheerleaders for their very special clients.
For more information see www.tkmartin.msstate.edu or call 662.325.1028.