RESNA’s Buning on ‘impassioned’ finalists

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Friday, February 22, 2019

LONDON – RESNA’s Dr. Mary Ellen Buning flew to London in late November to help select the five finalists for the Toyota Mobility Foundation’s Mobility Unlimited Challenge.

Buning, president of RESNA’s board of directors, was one of 11 judges to winnow down the field of finalists from 10 to five, with each finalist receiving a $500,000 grant to help them develop their idea further.

“The thing that most impressed me was how impassioned they all were about their projects, and how some of them had really worked hard on their ideas with people with mobility impairments,” said Buning, who recently retired as a seating and mobility specialist in the Department of Neurological Surgery and the Division of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of Louisville in Kentucky.

The judges will next select one winner to receive a $1 million grant to bring their product to market, with the Toyota Mobility Foundation expected to make an announcement at the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo.

Buning says she was impressed by Moby, an integrated network of wheel-on powered devices that’s accessible via a simple app, because it was not so much a modification to a product but a modification to a concept.

“It speaks to the need for a larger public thinking about including wheelchairs more in society and communities, like they do scooters and bikes,” she said.

But Buning acknowledges that, as a former seating and mobility specialist, her “prejudices” lean toward technology like Qolo that advance the ability of a person with mobility impairments to stand and walk. Having such a technology as the eventual winner of the challenge would help get Medicare and other payers to rethink their stance on policy and reimbursement for the technology, she says.

“Somehow they’ve come up with the idea that standing is a luxury,” she said. “Part of the reason they think that is because they’ve never thought of the reality of being forced to be in a sitting posture for the rest of their lives. This competition helps to put out the idea that people with mobility impairments want to be mobile. They don’t necessarily need to be cured, but they need the tools to get the most out of their lives and to meet their personal goals.”