VA researcher Rory A. Cooper, Ph.D, founder and director of the Human Engineering Research Laboratories, received a Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., Thursday.
The awards — known as the Sammies — are given by the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service to recognize the accomplishments of federal civil servants. Cooper is the recipient of the 2017 Science and Environment Medal.
“I’ve been helped by so many Veterans over the years and by the VA, and to see the VA’s research work recognized is tremendous,” Cooper said of winning the award. “But I also hope it’s a platform to get people to understand the needs of Veterans and the technology needs, what technology can do. And hopefully to motivate Veterans to achieve everything that they can; maximize their abilities and continue to serve and contribute to society.”
“Rory’s research on wheelchair technology has helped transform the lives of millions of disabled Veterans,” said VA Secretary Dr. David J. Shulkin. “I’m thrilled that the Partnership for Public Service is recognizing him for a career filled with incredible passion and ingenuity.”
Cooper was honored for his work designing innovative wheelchairs and other assistive technologies, which have markedly improved the mobility and quality of life for hundreds of thousands of Veterans and other people with disabilities. He led innovations that include a wheelchair with robotic arms and hands that can grasp, personal vehicles enabling people to access terrain that could not be handled by normal wheelchairs, and manual wheelchairs with more comfortable and adjustable seats.
An Army Veteran who was paralyzed in an accident while serving, Cooper has dedicated his career to improving the mobility and quality of life for people with disabilities. Cooper and his team are credited with 25 patents that have advanced wheelchair technology.
A selection committee that included leaders from government, business, the nonprofit community, academia, and the entertainment and news media selected Cooper and six other winners, from 26 finalists and more than 440 nominees.