Philanthropy at Work: Cathy Bodine
Cathy Bodine began her career in assistive technology—a term that describes equipment and services used by individuals with disabilities—in 1985 after she graduated from college. There was little technology of that nature at that time, she said, and her first five clinical clients were non-speaking.
“I didn’t know what to do, but I found technology to help them talk. It got me motivated,” she said.
Today, Bodine is internationally recognized for her leadership in assistive technology, a diverse field that includes anything from wheelchairs and walkers to voice-recognition software, eye-gaze typing and robotics. She is executive director of the Assistive Technology Partners program at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and an associate professor within the Department of Bioengineering.
So how exactly does technology help people who are aging, disabled, injured or impaired? The classic example, Bodine said, is Dr. Stephen Hawking, the legendary physicist, scientist and author who has Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a progressive neurodegenerative disease; his life was the focus of the 2014 award-winning film “The Theory of Everything.” Hawking uses assistive technology to compensate for his mobility and speech disabilities and has been able to continue his work and his contributions to science.
“If we can keep people in the workforce, or even living at home for just six months longer through assistive technology, we can save billion dollars in healthcare costs, as well as tremendously improve quality of life for persons with disabilities and the elderly” she said. “We’re seeing a tremendous increase worldwide in the aging demographic, and the majority of these people will age into disabilities. It’s imperative to develop new methods of assistive technology because our medical and health infrastructure, and our Social Security and federal dollars, are not enough to care for an aging workforce. We simply can’t build enough nursing homes; and most of us would prefer to age in place.”
Bodine believes so passionately in her program’s mission that she donates by monthly payroll deduction to the Assistive Technology Partners Endowment.
“I think it’s important if I ask a donor to support our program that I have faith in what we’re doing, and that I am willing to contribute. I also think it’s the right thing to do,” she said. “I can’t bring myself to ask a donor to give if I can’t say that I’m willing to do the same. And I believe it’s made a difference with our donors.”
The Assistive Technology Partners program has 15 faculty and staff and currently 12 graduate students, 10 of which are supported through stipends or scholarships, and the program hires undergraduate and graduate students to work on a variety of projects. The program does local, state, national and international professional development and community outreach to the elderly and the disabled. In addition, it has $2.0 million annually in federal research funding.
“For our bioengineering students, we are creating a pipeline of talent to industry,” Bodine said. “Students need to know how to design medical devices and assistive technology that works for a wide population.”
For Bodine, it’s about helping people across the spectrum—about making things possible through technology.
“The idea is to keep people as independent and productive as long as possible,” she said. “We’re giving seniors the ability to remain in the workforce through tools such as eyeglasses, hearing aids and voice recognition for typing. Veterans injured in today’s conflicts can return to school or work with appropriate technologies. If a child is born with severe disabilities, we can use technology to help them reach their developmental milestones in early childhood and later provide access through technology to the education they need to become self-sufficient, tax-paying citizens.”