OT and AT

QUICK QUIZ: Can you identify these assistive technology devices? The answers are at the end of the post!

Assistive Technology

You might know what that first abbreviation is, but are you familiar with the second? If not, I’m going to tell you all about it! AT is short for Assistive Technology, which is defined as “any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities” (U.S. Department of Education, IDEA, 2004). Assistive technology can be a huge part of what an occupational therapist does with a client, and therapists who work in a wide variety of settings, including hospitals, schools, outpatient clinics, and community-based programs are all likely to work with people who need or use assistive technology.

There are multiple categories of AT, including:

  • Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)
  • Mobility Devices
  • Sensory Aids (Hearing, Vision, etc.)
  • Environmental Control or EADL
  • Cognitive/Learning Tools/Educational Software

In one of my classes this semester, we are going to be learning all about the different kinds of assistive technology that occupational therapists can recommend for clients, train them to use, and help them access. Some things are more “low tech,” like dressing sticks and reachers, while others like the Tracker Pro hands-free computer access device can involve complex digital controls! While all OT students receive general training in the use and recommendation of AT, if you’re especially interested in engineering, technology, or design, this might be an area of practice you can pursue further and specialize in.

If you are interested in learning more about particular tech and related specialty certifications, you can go to these websites to find out more about what these specialty certifications entail and enable you to do!

Organization Certification or Credential
Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA) Assistive Technology Professional (ATP)

Seating and Mobility Specialist (SMS)

National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS)
American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) Specialty Certification in Environmental Modification (SCEM)
Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialist (ADED) Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialist (CDRS)

Assistive technology is used by people in community, home, school, and other settings, and occupational therapists are often responsible for ensuring that whatever technology is being used is effective and has a good “person-environment” fit. This means that the OT will need to conduct an in-depth client and caregiver/family interview in addition to environmental, physical or other assessments in order to determine which equipment is most likely to be used most effectively by the client. It’s not as simple as ordering in the latest piece of tech to hand to the client – an effective occupational therapist will take a client-centered, holistic approach to understanding the client’s wants and needs and then using this information to make decisions with the client and family/caregivers about what things to try.

Occupational therapists also collaborate with many other professionals to help clients find the best AT devices for their needs, including teachers, physical therapists, home builders, and speech-language pathologists. The combined thinking of the client, OT, and others is ultimately what makes any AT intervention a success, and I’m very excited to get into practice and begin seeing more of the amazing assistive technology that’s out there!


 AT QUIZ ANSWERS

  1. Universal cuffs: This relatively simple piece of equipment allows people with limited hand and fine motor function to hold an object such as a pencil or utensil.
  2. One-handed cutting board: The small spikes allow a user to stabilize whatever food is being cut, and the “walls” at the upper corner provides a barrier to keep food that is being spread with a condiment or topping from moving away.
  3. Key turner: A user can use this piece of equipment to hold a key and turn it in a lock if they have difficulty grasping and manipulating small objects.
  4. Leg lifter: A person who cannot move their limbs voluntarily can use this stiffened strap to move their legs into different positions.
  5. Dressing stick: This can be used multiple ways to help a person get dressed. For example, he or she might use it to pull up pants (larger coated hooks) or pull up a zipper (smaller hook).
  6. Reachers: Despite what you may think, not all reachers are created equal. The type of “jaws” that each has impacts the type of objects the user can pick up, handle, or manipulate.
  7. One-handed mixing bowl and stand:  With this tool, you only need one hand to mix ingredients in the bowl – and when you rotate it 90° in the stand, you can scrape the ingredients into a dish or container with only one hand as well!This was one of my favorites!
  8. Buttonhook: This can make dressing easier for those with poor sensation or fine motor skills, arthritis, or another condition that makes fastening buttons difficult. It does have a slight learning curve, however, and can be frustrating for some users.
  9. Sock aids: These can help people who have difficulty donning socks get dressed more easily. The smooth plastic ones are pretty typical, but the terry-cloth covered versions make it less likely for thinner sock materials to tear.

Sources

Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1400 (2004).

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