Appalachian Center for Assitive Technology one of 3 new programs at Center for Excellence in Rural Health

'I did this because I wanted to — it helps people'

By Ryan Clark
CHS Communications Director

HAZARD, Ky. — Brian Wooton said there was no other place he'd rather spend his 18th birthday. 

Wooton, a local high school student, has been working with UK's Appalachian Center for Assitive Technology (ACAT) for the past three years. He's been doing things like helping to refurbish local playgrounds so that they can be more accessible for those in wheelchairs. Or tweaking old toys so children with special needs can play with them. Or rebuilding old walkers for those who need them. 

It all led up to Monday, when the Center for Assistive Technology became one of three grand openings at the Center for Excellence in Rural Health, part of the Kentucky Appalachian Rural Rehabilitation Network at 750 Morton Road in Hazard. It just happened to be Wooten's birthday too — so it was a memorable party for all. 

"I did this because I wanted to — it helps people," Wooton said. 

And it actually was the culmination of about 10 years of work, says Patrick Kitzman, PhD, PT — professor in the College of Health SciencesPhysical Therapy and Rehabilitation and Health Sciences PhD programs, as well as director of both the Kentucky Appalachian Rural Rehabilitation Network and ACAT. 

"This is the Assistive Technology Resource Center for eastern Kentucky," Kitzman said. "Here, we're refurbishing everything from walkers to wheelchairs, to even toys with a purpose."

During the open house and ribbon cutting ceremony, community and education leaders came out to celebrate programs that will impact patients and future healthcare workers in the region. Two other programs were also introduced: the Kentucky Homeplace Community Health Worker (CHW) Training Center and the Systems Integrated Modeling and Simulation (SIMS) Lab.

“The University of Kentucky says we’re the university for Kentucky, and so reaching out to rural is very important,” said UK CERH Director Frances Feltner. "Really, the goal is to train people in rural, and they’ll stay in rural to practice."

Since last summer's flooding, Kitzman said the center has refurbished more than $53,000 worth of wheelchair and walker equipment. "We are now able to build, to create, experiment with ways we can adapt different equipment and that’s also part of our larger project where we are working with the high school students here," he said. 

Along with local educators, students, family and friends, other luminaries toured the facilities Monday, including: State Representative Chris Fugate (of the 84th District); Betsy Clemons, Executive Director of the Hazard Perry County Chamber of Commerce; Mayor of Hazard, Donald "Happy" Mobelini; and Perry County Judge Executive Scott Alexander.

"I saw how this program makes a difference because I saw how my own son was changed because of it," said Michelle Ritchie, co-Principal of Perry County Central High School. Her son, Caiden Ritchie, is a junior at the school, and volunteered to help with the program. "This allows kids to see things like a playground from the perspective of someone in a wheelchair. Even today, my son still looks at places and sees how he can make them more accessible."

"Everything here is a platform for training and teaching," Kitzman said. "This is official now, and here we are."

Just a month ago, the University of Kentucky announced a $125,000 grant from Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky to support ACAT.

“Toyota is committed to supporting our neighbors and improving our local communities,” said Kim Ogle, senior manager corporate communications, Toyota Kentucky. “We are proud to partner with the University of Kentucky to help expand access to critical services and mobility devices for many across eastern Kentucky.”

"The Center for Assistive Technology has been a 10-year dream and passion of Dr. Kitzman," said Scott Lephart, PhD and Dean of the College of Health Sciences. "I have watched him build community partners and strong programming to support the needs of the region. I am extremely proud and happy for him on this important day."