Entry into the AT field:
How I got into the
I am an occupational therapist.
My first job was at the Crippled Children's Hospital School in Memphis. We were
next door to the University of Tennessee Rehabilitation Engineering Center. I
had to learn how to participate in Seating Clinic, which was held at the
hospital. I still remember Mike Heinrich explaining the importance of pelvic
position while holding on to a child's pelvis that we were seeing.
Important event(s) that influenced
my early decision to get into the assistive technology field
The more I did with "technical aids," as they
were called then, the more I loved it. I loved the immediacy of technology. I
remember working with a little girl, Connie, who had Morquio Syndrome. She was
unable to functionally move anything except her head. We evaluated her for
powered mobility and environmental control (A Du-it System!!). She was
immediately able to drive her wheelchair and turn on her TV and radio. She was
thrilled. I was too!
There were so many
resources at the Rehab Eng Center (Doug, Elaine, Greg Shaw, Mike H.), I just
fell in love with the idea and then the field.
Why I chose the AT
I chose the field because of
selfishness and the love of immediate gratification. How great for a therapist
to be able to have such an immediate and life-changing impact on a client's
life. It still blows me away!
My inspiration and
Elaine Trefler. We worked
together for 10 years. I learned a lot from her, and we learned a lot together.
Also Doug Hobson, Greg Shaw, Mike Heinrich and Nigel Shapcott, who were all at
the program at the same time in the mid- 80's. We all learned how to integrate
the right-brained OT with the left brained engineer to produce wonderful
results for our clients.
Why the field is important to me
and the central focus of my work
has always been client service, although I also enjoy mixing in education and a
little research. I think it is really important for us to educate the upcoming
My memorable successes and
greatest contributions to the field
One of my most memorable successes was learning
how to teach in front of a crowd without hyperventilating. Really, the most
memorable things have to do with someone telling me I have made a difference in
their lives. I got a letter from a client's wife -he had died a few weeks
before from ALS. She said that he specifically said to tell me that I had made
the last part of his life much more comfortable and bearable. The patchwork of
stories like that over 26 years are my (and the teams I have worked with)
I have tried to publish what
I thought would be valuable for people to know, and I have been very involved
in the fabric of RESNA in many different capacities for many years.
My most memorable
How long do you have? I
would say that most failures in clinical involvement stem from not listening
well enough. Some, of course are due to other factors beyond our control, but
clients have certainly taught me how to listen.
Significant changes and advances
in the field since I first entered it
In seating and mobility in 1980 there were so few
choices. We were all learning. We all worked together improving our base of
knowledge by sharing and working together with manufacturers to push the
development of equipment forward.
from equipment, I think significant advances include the research relative to
seating and mobility. It makes us look at our assumptions and ask questions
rather than always retreating to the status quo. For example, as the research
on aging with disabilities began to come out, I have incorporated it into
questions I ask and conversations I have in clinic with clients.
On the future of rehabilitation
engineering and assistive technology
I hope the funding part improves. It runs what we
are able to do. For what I do, I see "smart" seating systems and wheelchair
bases that provide just the kind of support you need when you need it as well
as wheelchairs that are not bound by inaccessibility.
My role within RESNA and what it
gave back to me
I have had many roles
within RESNA. I just remember being SO excited at my first RESNA conference in
Ottawa in 1984. All those people who were interested in the same things I was.
It was overwhelming. The next year was in Memphis in 1985, so I guess my
involvement was baptism by fire. I've done committee work (Education,
Publications, Meetings), been on the Board, etc. Each has taught me a little
more and made me some friends for life. RESNA has helped my career by
developing connections - and I mean more than for jobs. People I can email or
call with a client problem, funding issue or whatever. It has also provided me
with learning how to work within an organization to get things done.
On the future of RESNA
RESNA is the only place where people from a
variety of backgrounds can come together. I think it will remain a smaller
organization than it was, simply because people have specialized, but it is
still very important.
My suggestions for those just
entering the field
questions, make waves. You have an opportunity to make a difference, a real
difference in the lives of the people you work with.