Clients are the Inspiration behind OT Inventions

Appeared in: Put Me Back Together

By: Elizabeth Valente

Every spring the Lab in Peralta Pavilion at Samuel Merritt University (SMU) is abuzz with activity as students from the Master of Occupational Therapy (MOT)  program are tasked to design a tool, gadget, or a piece of equipment for clients with disabilities who struggle with mobility problems, like zipping a jacket, buttering their bread, or even making the bed. 

"Every spring students come up with a concept that would allow people to function normally with the use of specialized adaptive equipment and positioning device," said Ginny Gibson, MS, OTR/L, CHT, Assistant Professor.  The spring project is the required course work in Professor Gibson’s Occupational Adaptations and Introduction to Modalities class.

According to Professor Gibson, in order for occupational therapists to help clients (patients) become independent in a task, therapists sometimes need to invent a tool or machine.   "There are many commercially available assistive devices out on the market, however, people and the limitations they have are often highly unique and not all adaptive devices work for everyone," said Professor Gibson.  "That is why OTs need to invent something original or modify a commercially available device."

Many of the innovative designs demonstrated last semester were inspired by adult and child clients who SMU students work with at the free clinics.  OT students Jill Parmele and Rachel Reynolds came up with a concept to create a child-size "Dressing Stick."   Currently, there is an adult-size dressing stick for adults in the market. 

"We have a two-year old client who has short forearms and limited grip strength," explains Parmele.  "We adjusted the stick and hook by making it smaller and easier to grip.   The child-size dressing stick would then extend the length of her arm so she can reach and pull her pants all the way down, zip up sweaters, stuff like that."   

Students Beverly Jenkins and Kaitlyn Rouzis have come up with the "Super Steer," a tricycle crafted for a child with bilateral, above elbow amputation.   "Redesigning this bike to suit my clients need  helped me move into my career as an OT because I can now appreciate the amount of effort that goes into simple objects, but also realize how to create specific equipment with the right knowledge and experience," said Jenkins.  "The only problem we faced was testing the tricycle since we are too big to ride one, but we made it work." 

Brook Stainton, another SMU student, built a wooden adaptive equipment for the crafty person who likes to design with ribbon, but only has one arm.  "The Bow Maker is designed for someone who loves to gift wrap.  There’s a table clamp that stabilizes the wood board and two round columns that will hold the ribbon in place so you can pull it tight with the use of one arm." 

Some of the other devices include:

  • Captain Kite, a belt that allows a person with one arm to fasten the kite handle to his/her waist using a rock climber’s harness and a belt made out of a backpack strap 
  • Grip-A-Fish, an eight-pound stand that holds a fish in place while a person with one arm unties or unhooks a fish from the fishing rod
  • Kitchen Energy Saver, a tray on wheels for sliding a heavy pot to and from a counter or stove top
  • Funnel Pet Feeder, a cone-shaped stand designed for a person who has problems bending
  • Stabilizer 2010,  a laptop opener designed for someone who has limited mobility strength

Each team came up with an original model or was guided in developing a concept by Professor Gibson.  The clients ranged from children to older adults with mobility, vision, and cognitive impairments. 


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