Since its inception in 1983, Quartet Technology, Inc. has grown to be a world leader in the development and sale of Environmental Control Units (ECU's). State of the art technology and product diversity have made it the company rehabilitation specialists look to first when seeking to return their clients to their greatest possible level of independence.
Yet as our company has grown to include multiple product lines and a network of dealers that extends around the globe, we continue to be guided by the personal
vision that inspired and continues to inspire our founder: that of restoring self-esteem and dignity to the physically disabled.
When the mind is willing, but the body is not
As a young engineer working with voice recognition systems in the early 1980s, Michael Rourke wondered if there was a way this new technology could be adapted to help his mother, who had long been confined to a wheelchair with multiple sclerosis.
One incident from his youth remained always in his mind. He had returned home one day to find this bright, once capable woman gazing vacantly at Sesame Street. Her family, loving but weary of its round-the-clock need to care for her, had all left at once, not thinking to change the channel before they went on about their business.
A few devices designed specifically for the physically challenged had begun to come on the market at that point, but they were of little help to quadriplegics like Ellen Rourke. She could not use her hands well enough even to press the oversized keypads that would have allowed her to dial a phone or turn on a light, much less change the channel when a nature program gave way to children’s programming.
Thanks to her son’s efforts, Ellen Rourke had long since traded in round the clock attendant care for a few hours of help each day. She passed away in 1996 as Quartet was introducing its third generation of voice and/or switch activated ECU’s. Each new generation of control units opened possibilities the physically disabled could only have dreamed of in the past, and now some of Quartet’s clients are back in school and even working again.
Determination, and a basement room
Inventing and bringing to market an electronic control unit such as he envisioned was not an easy road for Michael Rourke, however.
Banks and even venture capitalists were skeptical, so Mike Rourke gathered some private investors and set to work in 1983 in the basement of his home. He tinkered, fine-tuning each invention by trying it out on his mother. It was during this process that he learned a lesson that has proven to be the cornerstone of Quartet's ongoing success.
"You have to listen to your clients and imagine yourself in someone else's body. You have to ask yourself what you would need if you were them " says Mr. Rourke, who serves as president of Quartet and remains active in new product development. “ We always have to remember that our clients are smart; they're just trapped in a body that doesn't work."
Working with his mother brought him down to earth many times in the course of developing his first ECU and taught him another valuable lesson.
"You have to learn not to be embarrassed by your mistakes," Mr. Rourke says. "I was so proud of the first unit I made for my mother because I gave it a keypad so she could dial the phone. She said, 'That's nice, Mike, but how am I going to push those buttons?'" That was the start of my education and I'm still learning."
With ability comes hope
Seeing the change in his mother's personality as she began to do things for herself was an eye-opener for the inventor: He saw that this new technology could provide benefits that went far beyond mere physical assistance.