Yih-Kuen Jan is an Associate Professor and Director of Rehabilitation Engineering Lab at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). His research focuses on the development of assistive devices and technologies and the promotion of social inclusion for people with disabilities. He is the Chair of Scientific Papers and a member of the Assistive Technology Standards Board and the Research Committee of the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA). He is passionate about advancing knowledge to help veterans with disabilities and, having been an editorial board member of JRRD, was very keen to become an editor of the PLOS Channel for Veterans Disability & Rehabilitation Research.
Tell us about yourself and current research, and about how you came to be interested in this field?
I am an Associate Professor and Director of Rehabilitation Engineering and Research Lab at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. My research focuses on the understanding of biomechanical and physiological changes associated with disabilities and development of suitable assistive technology to improve quality of life in people with disabilities (cerebral palsy spinal cord injury). I received my BS in Physical Therapy, MS in Biomedical Engineering and PhD in Rehabilitation Science and Technology. While I was an undergraduate student, I had already made up my mind to develop better assistive devices for people with disabilities.
What made you decide to join the editorial team at the PLOS VDRR Channel?
I was on the editorial board of Journal of Rehabilitation Research and Development (JRRD). When I heard that JRRD would be transferred to PLOS, I did think about how I can help PLOS VDRR Channel to reach to the audiences of JRRD. This is the reason that I decided to join VDRR Channel.
What is your favorite piece on the Channel to date? What do you think is a must-read on the Channel?
I enjoyed reading an article about how social media can help people with disabilities have better social participation. The authors explored whether Facebook could improve communications in people with cognitive impairments. In my opinion, rehabilitation researchers should read this article and promote various social media to people with disabilities to build better connections with others. The article is entitled “Facebook as communication support for persons with potential mild acquired cognitive impairment: A content and social network analysis study”.
Where do you see your field of research heading in the next few years? What are the next big questions the field will address?
I believe that with the advancement of artificial intelligence, assistive devices and technologies will become smarter devices to help people with disabilities to live out a better life. At this moment, the so-called smart assistive technologies are just not smart enough to understand the needs and intentions of users with disabilities. If we can improve communications between the user and the assistive device, we can make our “smart devices” smarter, to serve people with various disabilities.
What is the importance of Open Access and open data in your field?
I have been participating in the World Health Organization’s Global Cooperation on Assistive Technology and have had opportunities to interact with people from around the world. For clinicians and researchers from less-resourced countries, they cannot access information published in non-Open Access journals; accordingly, they greatly appreciate the concept of Open Access journals, which allow them to read the most up to date knowledge. Thus, I fully support Open Access in disseminating information free of charge to readers. In my opinion, this is a game changer to advance the disability and assistive technology field around the world.