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Occupational Therapy Assistive Technology

Instructor: April Gwen Ellsworth

April has a master's degree in psychology and has experience teaching special populations from preschoolers to adults.

Assistive technology for occupational therapy purposes provides more autonomous living for persons with disabilities at home, school, work, and in the community. Find out about some specific devices and adaptations by reading on.

Occupational Therapy Assistive Technology

Sarah has limited movement in her hands due to a stroke, so she uses pump style lotion and shampoo containers to eliminate the barriers of unscrewing, grabbing, and squeezing bottles. Renaldo is an amputee from his service in Afghanistan, so he uses a 1-legged ski and poles to keep up with his love for the outdoors. Both Sarah and Renaldo are using occupational therapy assistive technology.

Assistive technology for occupational therapy purposes is any device or adaptation that gives a person improved ability to complete tasks and function independently. Assistive technology ranges from very simple to complex. For example, a simple device that aids in getting from one place to the next is a cane, while a complex device is a motorized wheelchair.

Occupational therapists play an essential role in assessing, recommending, providing, and training clients to use assistive technology to promote greater independence and health for a person at home, school, work, and in the community. To make accurate recommendations, an occupational therapist observes and evaluates a person's needs and considers their abilities, likes and dislikes, environment, and any barriers that an assistive technology device or adaptation might impose.

As you can imagine, this covers a vast array of specific scenarios, individually geared toward each person's particular needs. Let's look at a few examples of occupational therapy assistive technology in the four general environments a person finds him/herself in. Keep in mind, these lists only scratch the surface of the devices and adaptations available to improve functioning for individuals.

Assistive Technology at Home

We often take for granted how easy it is to cook some eggs. You have to bend over to get a pan from the cupboard, and get a bowl from the upper cupboard. After getting the egg container from the fridge, you crack the eggs and whisk them. Once they are in the pan, you need to use a spatula to stir them and flip them as they cook. Now imagine if you have had a stroke and the use of only one arm. You also need to use a cane because you have difficulty walking. How has this process become difficult? Take a look at some of the assistive technology that can make this and other tasks easier:

Eating and Drinking

  • Nonslip materials to hold place settings, mixing bowls, and other items in place
  • Materials to build up handles for easier grabbing
  • Motorized eating aids activated by a simple switch
  • Adapted drinking cups such as weighted, wide-based, two-handled, and anti-tip

Preparing Meals

  • 1-handed jar opener
  • Wheelchair accessible counters and sinks
  • Talking or large display timers
  • Picture supported directions for cooking, safety, and cleanup

Self-Care

  • Clothing with elastic waistbands, side closures, large buttons, pull over tops, etc.
  • Dressing assistive tools like button hooks, large zipper pulls, and dressing sticks
  • Toothbrushes, hair brushes, and combs with large handles
  • Bath chair or walk-in tub

Assistive Technology at School

In the school environment, developmental delays and physical disabilities have an impact on academic and social progress. The child with poor fine motor coordination has trouble gripping a pencil correctly and is easily fatigued after just a few minutes. This causes him to fall behind in completing assignments, which inevitably leads to frustration and slows the learning process down. With assistive technology, hindrances for students at all levels - including university - can be decreased or eliminated.

Low Tech Helps

  • Lap trays, adapted desks, book holders, and slant boards
  • Pencil grips, typing aids, handheld magnifiers, and splints
  • Reachers, mouthsticks, and head or chin pointers
  • Raised line paper, bold line paper, and writing guides

Learning Aids

  • Educational apps for iOS and Android devices
  • Digital voice recorders, MP3 players, and playback equipment
  • An abacus and manipulatives for learning math concepts
  • Curricula for dyslexia, disgraphia, and dyscalculia

Assistive Technology at Work

Frank is an IT specialist who became a paraplegic after a car accident. Over time, he had a great desire to return to work. He now functions fully in his position, using a curve-topped work desk that accommodates his wheelchair and places his phone, computer, printer, and other necessities within easy reach. He uses a standing wheelchair for a few hours a day, adjusting the motorized desktop to move up and down. Additionally, since he has found talking on the phone for long periods of time can leave him winded due to no longer having control in his abdominal muscles, he wears a compression T-shirt to supports the muscles, which thereby support the lungs. Occupational therapy assistive technology like these and the following examples can allow individuals be productive, earn income, and make valuable contributions at work.

Computer Use

  • Tactile, low-vision, and left-handed keyboards
  • Infrared products like eye gaze systems for navigating the computer screen
  • Talking word processors and text to voice software programs
  • Video magnifiers and portable note takers

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