Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Inventive Grossmont College OTA students up to their devices

Paula McVeagh’s “Pants Puller-Upper”
Sometimes, it’s the everyday problems that complicate the lives of the elderly and physically challenged.

Like the simple act of pulling up a pair of slacks when dressing. 

Students in a Grossmont College Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) class have become inventors, creating homemade adaptive devices, including Paula McVeagh’s “Pants Puller-Upper,” to help make life a little easier for friends and family members with physical impairments.

Shaun Goose's invention, the “Orthorod.”

The 23 students in instructor Darlene Cook’s assistive technology course demonstrated their projects during the OTA program’s Ninth Annual Assistive Technology Show Thursday night that drew a steady stream of visitors, including professionals in occupational therapy and rehab, as well as fieldwork educators, and the families and friends of the students.

As part of a semester project, the students created tabletop displays of their inventions and prepared short presentations, explaining the origins of their devices and how they work, the materials used, and the labor and cost of their handiwork.  The devices were to be under $25 and constructed with common household materials.

Ruth Apffel's "Telescoping Reacher"

For McVeagh, the inspiration for what she named a “Pants Puller-Upper” was her 58-year-old mother, a former florist and secretary whose carpal tunnel syndrome has made dressing a big challenge. For $14.97, McVeagh created a device using wire hangers wrapped with duct tape that attach to a pair of pants with clasps, much like suspenders. To address the difficulty of using the clasps that someone like her mother would have, McVeagh modified them with Popsicle sticks so they could easily opened and closed, similar to the flipping of a light switch.

With aspirations of working in hand therapy at a skilled nursing facility, McVeagh is training in the two-year program, the only one in San Diego County and one of three throughout the state at a community college. There are three for-profit schools in California with OTA programs, costing between $50,000-$60,000, said Christi Vicino, a professor and program director at Grossmont College.

OTAs 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.

With the aging of the baby-boom generation, employment of occupational therapy assistants is projected to grow 43 percent from 2014-2024, Vicino said, citing the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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. In the past three years, 98 percent of the students in Grossmont’s program have passed the exam to earn the title of certified occupational therapy assistant, or COTA. The employment rate over the past three years has been 100 percent, Vicino added. 

Marielle Bardos' "Rock in Chair" is an assistive guitar stand.

Marielle Bardos, whose “Rock in Chair” device is an assistive guitar stand she created to help a 14-year-old with a spinal cord injury get back to playing music, aspires to work with children when she finishes the OTA program. Like the rest of the cohort of students in the assistive technology class, she is in her second year of the program. Meeting four times week for three or four hours each night, the course is demanding, Bardos said, adding that the students next semester have two 10-week clinical rotations to complete the field work required of the program.

“It’s really intensive, but it’s great – everything you learn can be applied to the real world,” she said. 

For those interested in learning more about OTA, a program preview for prospective students is set for 9-10 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 6, in Room 34-251 in Grossmont College’s Health and Sciences Complex.

Additional information is posted online about the OTA program. Or go to www.grossmont.edu , and click on the Academics link in the green bar near the top of the page.

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