DHARS HenleyThe inaugural Symposium for DHARS, hosted by the UAB Center for Disability Health and Rehabilitation Science (DHARS), brought nationally recognized disability experts to the University of Alabama at Birmingham on Friday, January 13, 2017.

See More: Symposium Photo Album

The event kicked off with UAB School of Health Professions’ Dean Harold P. Jones, Ph.D., who challenged everyone to join the newly created Center because more members mean more research and more discoveries.

“Progress in rehabilitation science requires a true interdisciplinary approach where all angles and efforts – technology, community, science, communications and more – are working together and that is why we created the Center for DHARS,” said Jones.

Keynote I: Thubi H. A. Kolobe, PT, Ph.D., FAPTA

DHARS KolobeThubi H. A. Kolobe, PT, Ph.D., FAPTAThe initial keynote speaker was Thubi H. A. Kolobe, PT, Ph.D., FAPTA, professor, Ann Taylor Chair in Pediatric & Development Disabilities, The University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. Her lecture, titled “Reinforcement and error-based movement learning in infants with and without risk for cerebral palsy,” touched on infants at risk for Cerebral Palsy and the use of the Self Initiated Prone Progressive Crawler (SIPPC) that she developed.

The SIPPC was used on the infants in their first 12 months of life because this time of development is linked to many systems including vision, arousal, vestibular function and perceptual cognition. She told the participants they use the SIPPC in a reward and error-based learning method.

“We found the children became much more proficient using the SIPPC because we expose them to errors,” said Kolobe. “When you don’t protect children from errors they have to solve the problem themselves and we found their development progressed much better.”

Marcas Bamman, Ph.D., FACSM

During lunch, Marcas Bamman, Ph.D., FACSM, Director of the new Rehabilitation Research Resource to Enhance Clinical Trials (REACT), encouraged students interested in research to get involved early. In his talk titled “A Bright Future for Medical Rehabilitation Research: National Resources, Opportunities, and Innovative Directions,” he told the participants – specifically Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy students – that opportunities exist.

“There are full-time positions that are specifically for doctoral students, but our researchers and resources are available for DPT and MSOT students who want to learn more about the process,” said Bamman, who is also Professor, UAB Cell, Developmental and Integrative Biology and Director, UAB Center for Exercise Medicine.

Keynote II: Sherri LaVela, Ph.D., MPH, MBA

DHARS LaVelaKeynote Sherri LaVela with DHARS Co-Directors James Rimmer (left) and David BrownThe afternoon kicked off with Sherri LaVela, PhD, MPH, MBA, Senior Research Health Scientist, Department of Veterans Health Services Research and Development and Spinal Cord Injury Quality Enhancement Research Initiative (SCI QUERI), Research Assistant Professor, Northwestern University. The title of her lecture was “Functional needs assessment: Factors associated with life satisfaction in individuals with spinal cord injuries/disorders (SCI/D).”

LaVela captured the attention of the audience when she brought up photovoice. A show of hands revealed nobody in the crowd had worked with that method yet which LaVela said is not surprising since it is not widespread.

She explained that photovoice asks participants to take photos of a topic, guided by specific questions and prompts from the researcher, and those photos are used to stimulate the discussion between the two sides in follow up interviews.

“Photovoice is unique in that it fosters a partnership between the researcher and the participant,” said LaVela. “We found that a partnership relationship engages the participant at the same level as the researcher which you don’t see in standard studies. We also found that developing this relationship combined with guidance in the interventions, improves the success of the results.”

Keynote III: V. Reggie Edgerton, Ph.D.

The final keynote of the day, presented by V. Reggie Edgerton, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor, Neurosurgery, Professor, Integrative Biology and Physiology, UCLA, was titled “Neuromodulatory potential to recover function is critically dependent on activity-dependent mechanisms.”

Edgerton challenged the participants to avoid the thinking that a person with complete spinal cord injury will never regain walking function again. His research, conducted over a 35 year history, has led to important discoveries about the plasticity of the spinal cord and the role of exercise, combined with electrical stimulation, can reinforce the low residual neural activity that exists after injury. His recent work shows examples of people regaining standing balance after complete loss of function.

Travel Awards

DHARS WinnersTravel Award winners: Holloway, Henley, NaiduThe Symposium for DHARS also sponsored a trainee poster session that highlighted research of undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral trainees including clinical fellows and residents. The three winners, who earned $500 travel awards, were:

  • Kathryn Henley, Ph.D., UAB Phd in Rehabilitation Science program
  • Jamie Holloway, PT, DPT, PCS, UAB Phd in Rehabilitation Science program
  • Avantika Naidu, PT, UAB Phd in Rehabilitation Science program


The UAB Center for Disability Health and Rehabilitation Science is a Pilot UWIRC established by the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees on November 6, 2015. The DHARS vision is to create a world where people with disabilities will be afforded the same opportunities for a high quality of life and purposeful living as all other individuals. Co-directors are David Brown, PT, Ph.D., Professor and Program Director of the UAB PhD in Rehabilitation Science program, and James Rimmer, Ph.D., Director of the Lakeshore Foundation/UAB Research Collaborative, and the Lakeshore Foundation Endowed Chair in Health Promotion and Rehabilitation Sciences.