Occupational Therapy Leadership

Last Update:June, 2007

Assistive Technology Center Proposal

Julie Hadden, Danielle Scott, Julie Ritsema
Saginaw Valley State University

Assistive Technology Center Proposal

The 21st century has brought technological advances that years ago could never have been imagined. Included in these advances are automobiles operated by joystick, remotely operated surgical instruments, and “smart” classrooms. In addition, the assistive technologies available to people with disabilities are growing by leaps and bounds. Occupational therapists are in the unique position to bridge the gap between assistive technology, physical context, and the human component. This paper will outline the unique skills of the occupational therapist that enables them to employ the emerging technologies in adapting environments through the use of smart spaces. This role can be further developed through the installation of an Assistive Technology Center on the campus of Saginaw Valley State University.

The domain of occupational therapy stems from the profession’s interest in human beings’ ability to engage in everyday life activities (AOTA, 2002). For many people with disabilities, engagement in activity requires the use of assistive technologies. In keeping with the Occupational Therapy Code of Ethics, under the principle of beneficence, it is the duty of the occupational therapist to advocate for individuals to obtain needed services through all available means (Slater, 2006). This includes technological advances such as those that would be found in the Assistive Technology Center.

The spectrum of occupational therapy covers individuals of all ages and diagnoses. Occupational therapists are already hard at work modifying homes, schools, the work place, and any other environment through the use of assistive technologies to promote the highest level of participation and independence for their clients. The relationships between the person, environment, and successful participation should be understood in order to enhance performance (Ivanoff, et al, 2006). Occupational therapists are trained to understand the implications of the environmental context on performance and how to modify this context to achieve successful participation. “In occupational therapy practice, the provision of assistive technology and physical environmental interventions represent important strategies to promote occupational performance. There is a long tradition of using assistive technology in occupational therapy practice and during the last few decades rapid technological advancements have been seen” (Ivanoff, et al, 2006).

Technological advancements have made their way into classrooms and other living spaces. The use of technology in these rooms has led to the coin phrase “smart space.” These smart spaces communicate and cooperate with humans through the use of various networks. The goal of developing a smart space is to take a standard space and digitalize it, making it adapt to the user rather than the user adapting to the space. With smart spaces, it is possible to use sensors attached to clothing or use cards that you swipe when you enter a room and the room immediately adjusts to fit the user’s needs. Adjustments may range from lighting to temperature to even noise level within the room (Baldwin, 2007). Steelcase University Learning Center located in Grand Rapids Michigan currently has a working prototype of a smart educational facility. “The 63,000-square-foot center promotes knowledge sharing through a variety of carefully engineered "information zones." It makes knowledge work visible by encouraging information persistence with whiteboards and tack boards throughout the space. And it adapts to change with flexible furnishings that permit spontaneous rearrangement and an infrastructure designed to accommodate emerging technologies. Companies from all over the world visit the site regularly to better understand how environment can nurture the individual, cultivate interaction, and propagate knowledge, playing a key role in knowledge sharing” (Wolfe, 2005).

The ways in which humans share knowledge has changed dramatically through the use of digital communication. Knowledge is gained formally through the classroom; however, the classroom environment has not kept up with technological advances. With the vast amount of technology available, classrooms of today have the potential to become smart spaces. A smart classroom may have flexible space with controls for mobile furniture and digital whiteboards that allow text modifications for individuals with visual impairments. The desks and other objects in the classroom may have microprocessors that allow the child to interact with their environment through sensory feedback rather than relying on vision alone. Smart classrooms are ideally suited for children with disabilities but may benefit all students.

There is a need for the research, development, and adaptation of technologies that are incorporated in a smart classroom. For technologies to be effective, they must be adapted to individual children. An Assistive Technology Center on campus would allow the student body from multiple disciplines to facilitate the use of such technologies for the purpose of research. Occupational therapists are in the prime position to lead a multidisciplinary team in the development of an Assistive Technology Center at SVSU. This team would include the following:

* Crystal M. Lange College of Nursing & Health Science
o Occupational Therapy
o Nursing

* College of Science, Engineering & Technology
o Computer Science & Information Systems
o Electrical & Computer Engineering
o Mechanical Engineering

* College of Arts & Behavioral Science
o Psychology
o Communication & Multimedia

* College of Education
o Elementary Education
o Secondary Education

* Disability Services

The Assistive Technology Center will bring together students from a variety of disciplines in the name of research and development of assistive technologies, as well as the application of those technologies to the disabled population in the tri-city area and beyond. Universities are mandated to conduct research and development and to train their students to utilize the most recent technological developments in their fields. The University setting offers the advantage of interdisciplinary cooperation in a safe learning environment. The resources that a University setting can provide, both human and material, are unmatched.


AOTA. (2002). Occupational therapy practice framework: Domain & Process (pp. 610). Bethesda, MD: The American Occupational Therapy Association.

Baldwin, D. (2007). Assistive technology: what is it? Retrieved March 30, 2007 from http://www.wayfinding.net/AT.htm

Ivanoff, S., et al. (2006). Occupational therapy research on assistive technology and physical environmental issues: a literature review. The Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 73 (2), 109-120.

Slater (2006). Reference guide to the occupational therapy code of ethics (pp. 15-21).

Bethesda, MD: The American Occupational Therapy Association.

Wolfe, G. (2005). A recipe for sharing knowledge. OD/Leadership Network News.

Retrieved March, 30, 2007 from www.steelcase.com/ap/knowledgedesign.aspx?f=10253&c=21668


Contribution from the digital vision team:

Why OT's?

Jennifer Krieger, Nicole Nikolai, Kristi Prieur
Saginaw Valley State University

It makes sense to pair digital vision and occupational therapy together. Occupational therapy is about helping individuals become independent with everyday living tasks. Digital vision has the same goal in mind specific to a certain population. Digital vision could benefit individuals who are blind or visually impaired, individuals with autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, just to name a few. Occupational therapists could easily use digital vision as assistive technology for many clients to aid in becoming independent.

Occupational therapy does already, however, use some kinds of digital vision for the low vision clients; for example, analog telescopes and different kinds of electronic magnifiers. However, there are much more sophisticated systems we could gain knowledge on and use. Occupational therapists’ goal with digital vision should not be to enhance the client’s vision but to alter the client’s perceptions. As Dr. Doug Baldwin said, “Digital vision goes well beyond vision. We are really talking about digital perception which will allow us to manipulate many sensory variables that would benefit all categories of people with disabilities.” As occupational therapists, we should be ecstatic with this kind of technology.


Perspective from Blind Rehabilitation

My (Doug Baldwin, 2007) background is optometry and orientation and mobility. I have worked since 1980 with children in special education, mostly blind and visually impaired kids. Along the way, I met several very talented and interesting human beings who also happened to be blind. One of these remarkable individuals was Dan Kish.

When I met Dan, he had already gotten a masters degree in human perception and a second masters in blind rehabilitation, orientation and mobility; so Dan was an expert in human navigation as well as human perception. Dan also had a close associate in Los Angeles, Suzanne Smith Roley, who was a pediatric occupational therapist with experience working with blind children. This relationship with Suzanne led Dan to an understanding of how important occupational therapy was to his interests.

Dan set up a non-profit agency called World Access for the Blind. One of the new agencies goals was to explore alternative ways to perceive, especially the use of sound patterns to develop what several pioneering inventors call "seeing with sound".

Dan soon discovered that the blind rehabilitation field was not equipped historically nor philosophically to help him in his quest for alternative perception. Blind rehabilitation did not have the knowledge base to seriously research and develop technologies to allow the blind to see with sound. Furthermore, blind consumers did not understand the significance of Dan's vision; he received scant support from fellow blind individuals. It should be noted that it takes a unique blend of understanding of the human brain, blindness (the vision/perceptual system), and technology, to come to the conclusions that Dan acquired from his experience and education.

At the Institute for Innovative Blind Navigation we understand and support Dan Kish's efforts to bring alternative perception to the blind. We believe his theories are basically correct and that technologies already exist that could enable blind kids to navigate as fluidly as they read braille. The problem is that there is no profession that so far has embraced alternative perception. What is needed is a research and development lab that brings Dan's vision to reality.

Dan and I agree that it is the profession of occupational therapy that has the best knowledge base and university structure to bring alternative perception off the science fiction shelves and into practice. We also believe that alternative perception and digital vision are closely linked and that research and development in one area will serve the second. Blind children deserve alternative perception in the same way they deserve training in braille and cane skills. The blind kids await a profession that champions their cause.


In October, 2005, a world congress was convened at the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, USA. The purpose of the congress was to discuss sophisticated wayfinding technologies, those in existence, inventions emerging from the lab, and speculative developments. The following discussion fragment occurred at the conference.

Dan: "Do not think that someone who is blind is in need of alternative perception; think instead that blind brains need input appropriate to blind brains."

Dan: "What does the brain want? It wants a central focal point for its attention systems. It wants to map acoustic and optical flow. It wants information primarily at head level. It wants to filter out most of what comes in so it can get salient information."

Suzanne (Pediatric OT perspective): It seems to me (referring to O&M training) that "your intervention is applied without a working knowledge of the human perceptual system; without knowing how the brain adapts to impairment." (My comment: Do we even have the right knowledge base to work with blind children?)

Suzanne (Pediatric OT perspective): "We need to optimize the perceptual strengths of blind children."

Terrie: "I don't want a perception device. I want something I can turn on when I need it, like a remote that turns the environment off and on. I want to know where there is an empty seat in a row. I want to push a button that gives me the answer to questions like these."

Brunhilde: The most important gap in this whole discussion is parent training. Parents care the most about their child's development and well being, and they are with their kids more than anyone else. But this is not even on the "trainers' agenda". This is a huge and important problem that is in no way addressed adequately.

Nik: "The top 100 universities are working on face recognition. The face is "always on", "always sending".