iDAPT Research Logo

Featured Collaborations

Toronto Rehab’s research team has strong ties with other organizations and universities. Some of our current partnerships:

Cross-Border Alliance Advances Universal Design

Toronto Rehab and the University at Buffalo are partners in an unprecedented U.S.-Canada research alliance on universal design that’s exploring how to improve accessibility in housing, public buildings and outdoor spaces.

Funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), the partnership received a five-year renewal in 2010 worth $4.75 million (U.S.), with $1 million (U.S.) allocated to Toronto Rehab’s projects.

“It’s a great example of how researchers can come together to expedite a field of study,” says Dr. Geoff Fernie, Institute Director, Research, Toronto Rehab. “We’re making real progress in turning universal design into a reality.”

Universal design is all about creating products, homes and communities that are safe and user-friendly for everyone, including older people and those with disabilities.

The NIDRR funds the universal design alliance through a Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC) on Universal Design in the Built Environment. Toronto Rehab is a partner in the RERC with the Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access (IDEA Center) at the University at Buffalo: The State University of New York.

“We have developed a capability with our collaboration that is unequalled anywhere in the world,” says architect Dr. Edward Steinfeld, an acknowledged founding father of universal design and director of the IDEA Centre. Dr. Steinfeld co-directs the cross-border partnership with Dr. Fernie.

“We have an incredibly diverse group of researchers and people experienced in the environmental design field and product design. I think we have a team and resources that can’t be found anywhere else.”

For its part, Toronto Rehab is working to make indoor and outdoor spaces more liveable, particularly in winter. “We want to understand how people navigate things like slopes, uneven terrain and cross slopes, all of which can be difficult for people with orthopaedic problems and those who use walking aids or wheelchairs,” says Dr. Fernie. The findings will help urban planners and designers.

Stairs are also a big focus. Deaths and serious injuries from falls on stairs are becoming a growing problem. Many people give up their homes because they cannot manage the stairs. The Canadian team is looking at how to design, modify or equip stairs in ways that can reduce the risk of accidents.

“The practical solutions we are developing will improve quality of life for older people and those with disabilities, but they will also make everyday life easier and safer for everybody, whether pushing a child in a stroller or moving around outdoors in cold weather,” says Dr. Fernie.

Canada-Europe Collaboration Focuses on ‘Intelligent’ Homes

Dr. Alex Mihailidis, a Toronto Rehab senior scientist, is part of an international research team awarded $730,000 over three years to develop ambient assistive living technologies ― sensors and other devices that can monitor and support people in their own homes.

The grant, awarded in 2013, will allow Dr. Mihailidis, with Drs. Andrew Sixsmith (Simon Fraser University), Arlene Astell (University of St. Andrews) and Louise Nygard (Karolinska Institute), to create ‘intelligent’ home systems that help seniors with mild cognitive impairments to live well and live independently for longer.

The Toronto Rehab-led project is one of six international research projects funded under the European Research Area on Ageing (ERA-AGE), Europe’s first joint research program in aging. The Government of Canada, through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, is investing close to $1 million of a total international partner investment of approximately $5 million.

Dr. Mihailidis is recognized internationally for his use of artificial intelligence, computer vision and voice-recognition technology to support older people and those with disabilities in their daily living. His innovations include a ‘prompting’ system that guides people with dementia through hand washing and other tasks, and building materials that monitor people’s vital signs.

Holder of the Barbara G. Stymiest Chair in Rehabilitation Technology Research at Toronto Rehabilitation Institute / University of Toronto, Dr. Mihailidis is an associate professor of occupational science and occupational therapy and a core faculty member in the Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering at the U of T, with a cross appointment to the Department of Computer Science.