The Ontario Rehabilitation Technology Consortium

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Have you ever taken a ride on the Rocket, said that writing was hard or wanted to see something that you could not.The Ontario Rehabilitation Technology Consortium (ORTC), a leader in innovation and commercialization benefits more than 1.5 million people with disabilities in Ontario and many beyond. Established in 1992, under the leadership of Dr. Morris (Mickey) Milner, the Ontario government made an investment through a funding commitment of $15 million over 10 years because it believed in the economic, health and social benefits of developing made-in-Ontario assistive products for people with disabilities. Assistive device categories addressed by the Consortium’s teams embrace communication, hearing, mobility, prosthetics and orthotics, respiration, seating and vision. Other important organizational components, the Psychosocial Evaluation Team, the Commercialization Unit and the Secretariat cross-link with, and support, the device teams to facilitate the work of the Consortium. The teams are drawn from partner institutions including Bloorview MacMillan Children’s Centre (headquarters), the Centre for Studies in Aging of the Sunnybrook and Women’s College Health Sciences Centre, the University of Toronto, the University of Waterloo, The University of Western Ontario and West Park Healthcare Centre.

The ORTC has brought recognition to Ontario as an international leader in the research and development of assistive devices. To date, the Consortium has developed and commercialized 27 products, many of which are sold in more than 10 countries. In addition, licensees are being sought for a further 14 products and 15 more are still under development. Twenty-seven patents have been awarded with another 28 pending; 25 trademarks have been registered; 10 start-up companies have been created as a result of commercializing the ORTC’s research, with some 45 jobs created in industry. Over the past 10 years $29-million has been leveraged in cash (grants, revenues from contracts and royalties) and in-kind contributions. Twelve Ph.D. and 92 Masters degrees have been awarded with another 14 and 29 respectively in progress; and an annual average of 42 refereed publications, 28 conference presentations (many at international venues) have been rendered. Eleven product awards have been received, attesting to the ORTC’s excellence in rehabilitation technology.

As well, the ORTC has participated at key trade shows around the world, raising the profile of Ontario’s capabilities in this field. Alongside this there are significant international collaborations established by ORTC teams.

Clearly, the ORTC is a leading centre for rehabilitation and assistive technology research and development and related commercialization in Ontario and Canada. In fact, as a unique entity, the ORTC model is the only one of its kind in the world. As an organization that enhances the role of technology in rehabilitation, ORTC contributes to the government’s health and social policy agenda as well as the economic agenda for research and development and innovation.

The ORTC contributes directly to MOHLTC’s research agenda of “making research count” and to the Ministry’s rehabilitation strategy by:

  • developing products and innovations that benefit people with chronic conditions
  • reducing care-provider burden and helping people with sensory and physical challenges to lead a better quality of life
  • helping to reduce health system costs while improving the delivery of health services
  • building health research infrastructure and research transfer (similar to the mandates of MOHLTC-funded health system-linked
  • research units)
  • encouraging rehabilitation and medical researchers to focus on assistive technologies.

Telling her story: Julie, 12, shows text she wrote with WordQ software. Its ability to predict words as she types (see box on screen) has given her a way to easily express herself in writing for the first time.

The work of the ORTC is relevant also to social policy for seniors and people with disabilities. The ORTC plays a key role in helping Ontario secure a global leadership position in the field of technology and aging. The ORTC’s research in assistive and rehabilitation technologies fits well with the Ontario government’s innovation agenda in the following ways:

  • it has built a culture of innovation that brings together researchers, industry and consumers of assistive and rehabilitation technology
  • it enhances Ontario’s science and technology infrastructure through linkages among key players in this field
  • it provides research opportunities, training and experience to post-graduate students, and disseminating its research through numerous published scientific papers and presentations
  • it has a strong emphasis on business partnerships which support research and development, technology transfer, and entrepreneurship
  • it creates high, value-added employment through new start-up companies and jobs that have been created as a result of its work.

To reiterate, the ORTC model is unique; the remarkable combination of research and development, commercialization and economic achievements of the ORTC were made possible through the annual provincial investment of about $1.5 million, which has served as the essential binder for leverage among its partners. Continued public funding will be required to support ORTC’s social and economic mandate. Clearly, Ontario’s future in rehabilitation technology lies with the Ontario Rehabilitation Technology Consortium.

For more information, visit: www.ortc.on.ca. or contact ORTC, Bloorview MacMillan Children’s Centre, 350 Rumsey Road, Toronto, Ontario M4G 1R8; tel: 416-425-6220 ext. 3574; e-mail: dlevine@bloorviewmacmillan.on.ca.