ECU News Services

Rehabilitation studies master’s student Nicole McKnight, left, gets instruction on using the Joule functional capacity evaluation system by developer and trainer Mary Ruprecht. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)

ECU’s new way to evaluate rehab progress after injury

By Crystal Baity

New equipment in the College of Allied Health Sciences will help rehabilitation studies students evaluate a person’s physical readiness to go back to work after an injury.

Rehabilitation studies doctoral student Min Kim takes a balance test as he is evaluated by other students and faculty using the new Joule system.
East Carolina University is the first in the UNC system and the only one in North Carolina using Joule, a functional capacity evaluation system made by Valpar International Corporation.

“If someone has had a work injury or illness, and he or she wants to return to work, this system can help determine how much can be done after injury,” said Dr. Steven Sligar, assistant professor of rehabilitation studies and director of the graduate program in vocational evaluation.

The system, which combines diagnostic equipment and specialized computer software, allows vocational evaluation students to take a person through a series of 20-30 progressive tests to measure a range of abilities, from how much weight someone can lift to balance and stair climbing. It includes a time stamp and stopwatch to determine how long each task takes and how soon someone is fatigued by an activity.

“Within each test, you can make recommendations and modifications. You’re basically writing your report while you’re doing the evaluation,” Sligar said.

The evaluator enters findings into a computer program that produces, on average, a seven-page report to help determine appropriate job matches based on the person’s physical abilities.

“We’re excited about having it,” Sligar said. “I like to say the idea behind it is to find the ‘cans’ rather than the ‘can’ts.’ ”

Master’s and doctoral degree students will use the equipment, as well as clients in the college’s Project Working Recovery, a service research project that assists individuals in choosing, getting and keeping a job as a means to sustain recovery from addiction, Sligar said.

On Thursday, Mary Ruprecht, the developer and manager of Joule, led a training session for rehabilitation studies students and faculty.

The equipment often is used in worker’s compensation and large rehabilitation centers, where students may work after graduation. “It will be a good skill for them to have,” Sligar said.

This story appeared originally in the June 15, 2010 issue of Pieces of Eight. An archived version of that issue is available at