St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa has a unique Assistive Technology Lab that’s doing some special things to help people with different disabilities. It’s part of a Masters in Occupational Therapy curriculum that teaches students how to improve lives, and I’m happy to feature the program in this article and its attached video.
Assistive technology is anything used to increase, maintain, or improve our functional capabilities, and we all use assistive technology in one form or another to improve our lives. Examples include eye glasses & contacts, hearing aids, remote controls, cordless phones, computers, bicycles, cars, etc. When these items, tools if you will, are designed for use by anyone regardless of age or ability, we use the term Universal Design, but some of the tools are designed for special needs, such as the wheelchair designed for someone who can’t walk, or the smartphone apps designed for people who are blind.
The AT Lab helps students find or invent practical solutions to even more unique problems. And without a large budget, OT students and faculty also supply the community with long-term loans of equipment ranging from simple tilt boxes to lighting and environment controls. If a patient is to stick with a piece of technology, it should address their specific needs, so the loaner program is an expensive way to find out what works best.
Students don’t limit themselves to just what’s available off the shelf or out of a catalog but are taught to manipulate and adapt everyday items to make them more functional for people needing help with all sorts of activities. They re-purpose “throw away” computers and turn them into environmental control units and often design or create their our own adaptive equipment at a fraction of the cost of purchasing similar items off the shelf. So in a real sense, this graduate program teaches students to think, create, and innovate.