Monday, October 26, 2015

Grossmont College OTA students show that necessity is, indeed, the mother of invention

Students in a Grossmont College Occupational Therapy Assistant class have become inventors, creating homemade adaptive devices to help make life a little easier for friends and family members with physical impairments.
Amanda Plascencia explains the benefits of the Comfy Reader.

The 19 students will demonstrate their creations during the OTA program’s Eighth Annual Assistive Technology Show from 6:30-8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 5, in the upper and lower lobbies of Building 34, the Health and Sciences Complex at Grossmont College, 8800 Grossmont College Drive in El Cajon. 

Christina David created the multi-function Pedi Check.

During a recent practice run for the show, the students taking instructor Darlene Cook’s assistive technology course brought their projects to class and gave 5-minute presentations, explaining the origins of their devices and how they work, the materials used,  and the labor and cost of their handiwork. As each demonstration ended, classmates peppered the students with questions, while a panel of four other students provided written critiques and scores.

The students in the class are training in the two-year program to work under the supervision of an occupational therapist to provide patient treatment to people whose abilities to perform everyday tasks are threatened or impaired by developmental deficits, aging, mental health problems, physical injury or illness. OTAs are employed in hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, skilled nursing facilities, schools, day treatment centers, outpatient clinics and other community agencies.

Some of the OTA students in Cook’s class set up display boards with photos of their “clients” using the devices that the students not only created, but also named. The devices, all under $25 and constructed with common, household materials, included:

•    Pedi Check, a multi-function device designed to help a family member with Type II diabetes not only monitor the condition of his feet, but to also massage them and to apply lotion to prevent skin cracking. Made with PVC pipes, the student used electrical tape to attach a small mirror on the device, along with a vibrating tennis ball powered by a 9-volt battery that functions as a massager.
•    Comfy Reader, a pillow-like book rest that the student’s 71-year-old grandmother could hold in her lap or place on a table or bed. Osteoarthritis and a decreased grip strength made holding books with her hands too difficult, the student explained.
•    Sit in Peace is an apron-like icepack carrier that ties onto a chair, providing relief during long hours at a DMV work station for the student’s 59-year-old mother, who injured her tailbone after slipping on concrete. The carrier keeps the icepack in place and can be folded up to fit into a freezer.
•    I Got It is a document holder made out of a foam swimming pool noodle cut along one side so that it can be attached to a computer monitor. A metal ruler with a binder clip that protrudes from the noodle holds documents in place. The device was created to aid an office worker suffering neck strain from the repeated vertical motion of looking up and down from a document to the computer monitor.
•    Gotcha Gloves is a pair of knitted gloves with Velcro on the palm side that makes grasping and holding items easier for the student’s 6-month-old nephew, a stroke patient in recovery. Born with a congenital heart defect, the tot had developed a clot after undergoing surgery that doctors say caused the stroke.

The devices, while functional, are rudimentary by design, Cook said, to keep costs down.
“Many people in the medical field are unable to purchase over-the-counter or custom devices,” she said. “This project empowered the students to work with their clients and family in problem-solving and coming up with affordable alternatives.”

The Assistive Technology Show was initially a way for first-year OTA student to see the devices created by the second-year students in Cook’s class. It has since become an event that draws professionals in occupational therapy and rehab, as well as fieldwork educators, and the families and friends of the students.

“The hardest part of the project was coming up with the idea and figuring out the solution to address the problem,” said Viki Shusterman, who created the document holder. Some research in ergonomics indicated that a lateral movement of the head is less stressful on the neck, a finding that determined the design of her device.

About Grossmont College’s OTA program
Accreditation by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education allows graduates to take the certification exam administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy. Those who pass the exam earn the title, certified occupational therapy assistant, or COTA. 

Grossmont College is one of only four accredited OTA programs in the state. The others are Sacramento City College, Santa Ana College, and Stanbridge College in Irvine. The next OTA Program Preview Informational Meeting is set for 10-11 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015, in Building 34, Room 251.

For more information about Grossmont College’s OTA program, go to

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