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ATIC Lab Combats RSI in New Space

By Zareena Hussain
associate news editor

MIT's Adaptive Technology for Information and Computation lab surrendered its space in room 11-112 to the Student Services Center renovation project, but in return it will be getting new, visible space in 3-123, the office currently holding the pilot Student Services Center.

The lab will move to the new location from its temporary space in 12-150 sometime during August, said Kathleen Cahill, Information Systems consultant and director of the ATIClab.

The ATIC lab is designed to serve students and faculty members with disabilities like repetitive strain injury, visual impairment, learning disabilities, as well as other physical and mental disabilities.

The lab is open 24 hours a day for students and staff. "A lot of people with disabilities can't use the normal computer setup; we are there to provide alternative access," Cahill said.

ATIC addresses needs of disabled

The lab came to MIT in 1992, an outgrowth of the work by Information Systems Consultant M. Susan Jones, who worked as a computer consultant at Oberlin College. She saw the need at the Institute for a computer lab to address the needs of students with disabilities, Cahill said.

The lab centralizes technological aids for the disabled, offering a host of specially designed computers and input devices to offer alternative ways of interacting with computers. The lab contains two Athena workstations, two personal computers, and four Macintosh computers, Cahill said. Specialized keyboards, trackballs, voice recognition software, screen reading software, magnification, scanners, and Braille printing are among the interfaces available.

There are currently 20 students who regularly access the services of the ATIC lab as well as many students who come in to try the equipment on a short-term basis.

Students who feel they may need to access the services of the ATIC lab can call or e-mail the lab to set up an appointment in order to get an understanding of the problem and to see a demonstration of the equipment.

ATIC a resource for RSI sufferers

In addition to serving students with learning and physical disabilities, the ATIC lab also helps students who may suffer from RSI.

RSIis a class of injuries to the muscles, tendons, and nerves that results from chronic overuse or misuse. Repetitive actions, especially small rapid movements like typing, poor working posture, strenuous movements, and working without taking regular breaks may cause RSI.

Over a three-month period from January to March, the ATIC lab had 17 new people come in with RSI-related problems, Cahill said.

RSI is a growing problem on campus. In 1996, the number of RSI-related cases that the MITMedical Center dealt with increased 20 percent, said Dr. David V. Diamond, who sees most of MIT's RSIpatients.

Precautions prevent injury

Most people who suffer from RSI can get better if they follow a few guidelines, Diamond said. Posture, an ergonomic working environment, and "pacing" can all prevent repetitive stress injuries.

Pacing involves taking "microbreaks" as frequently as every 10 minutes, to stretch and relax the muscles of the neck and shoulder.

Students should not try to work through the pain, nor is taking medication or wearing braces necessarily a good idea, Diamond said

Working through the pain sometimes helps strengthen weak muscles, but in RSI the pain is produced by a lack of endurance, not a lack of muscle strength.