Recognizing Rory Cooper on Armed Forces Day

In honor of Armed Forces Day on May 18, the National Inventors Hall of Fame is proud to celebrate inductee Rory Cooper, inventor of wheelchair technology.

A biomedical engineer, Cooper developed innovations in wheelchair technology that have improved manual and electric wheelchairs, and advanced the health, mobility and social inclusion of people with disabilities and older adults.

A U.S. Army veteran, Cooper was stationed in Germany in 1980 when a bicycle accident left him paralyzed from the waist down. Frustrated that his 80-pound chrome and steel wheelchair was difficult to maneuver on campus, he went into his family’s automotive and repair shop to design his own ultralight wheelchair.

Informed by his experience with building a better wheelchair for himself, Cooper researched adaptive technologies and was determined to reduce the repetitive stress injuries plaguing many users of manual wheelchairs. By 1994, he was founder and director of the Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL), a collaboration between the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the University of Pittsburgh.

Cooper holds more than 20 U.S. patents and continues to direct HERL, the nation’s leading assistive technology research laboratory. He is a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors, American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering and IEEE. He includes the Samuel E. Heyman Service to America Medal among his many honors. Passionate about athletics, Cooper won a bronze medal at the 1988 Seoul Paralympics in the 4×400-meter wheelchair relay and more than 200 medals in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games.

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