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Grossmont College OTA students have designs on assisting those with disabilities

Posted on: Nov 4, 2019 12:00:00 AM
In: District, Grossmont
Academics, Campus Life
Contact: Della Elliott

What can $25 do to help make life a little easier for the physically challenged?

Students in Grossmont College’s Occupational Therapy Assistant program have grappled with this question for the past two months and on Nov. 7, the public is invited to the 12th annual Assistive Technology Show, where dozens of low-cost contraptions designed and built by second-year students will be demonstrated. The free event is from 6:30-9 p.m. in the first- and second-floor lounges of Building 34, the Health Science Center.

Independence Through Innovation is the motto of the 23 students enrolled in instructor Darlene Cook’s class, Assistive Technology in Occupational Therapy, which introduces the OTAs-in-training to a broad range of assistive devices, from low- to high-tech.

Occupational therapy assistants 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. They are employed in hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, skilled nursing facilities, schools, day treatment centers, outpatient clinics and other community agencies.

Limited to a $25 budget and commonly used materials, the devices the students create are simple in design, but often ingenious. The annual fair is an opportunity for students to demonstrate the devices they’ve designed to make everyday tasks easier for family members and others with physical impairments.

The homemade adaptive devices like Lor Yaldo’s “Golden Phone Holder” – a portable cell phone stand equipped with a magnifying glass – and Katelyn Farr’s “Load-n-Go” – a laundry basket that attaches to a walker -- are the kind of inventions so simple and practical it’s a wonder they aren’t already in existence.

Sometimes, students are disappointed to discover late in the process that their devices have already been invented, Cook said, but she points out that assistive devices already on the market are often too expensive or not accessible to home-bound patients.

“That’s where the OTA’s come in – it’s part of their duties to come up with inexpensive, easy-to-use tools to help with everyday activities like dressing, laundry and the like,” said Cook, an adjunct instructor who was among the college’s first OTA graduates in 1997. She continued on to receive her master’s degree and also works as a licensed occupational therapist.  

The annual assistive technology show is Cook’s pet project for Grossmont College’s OTA program -- the only one fully accredited in San Diego County and one of three offered by a California community college. The for-profit schools in California that offer occupational therapy assistant programs cost between $50,000-$60,000, compared to about $5,000 at Grossmont College, said Christi Vicino, a professor and program director at the college.

The first shows were held in the OTA class, but as more people started attending – OTA graduates, faculty, fieldwork staff, family and the public – the venue switched to the student center and the Health Science Center. With table-clothed stations, presentation boards and smiling students demonstrating their devices to passers-by, the event has taken on a conference exhibit vibe

At a rehearsal for the event, students had seven minutes to demonstrate their devices and provide a case study of the intended user, including the underlying problem, the solution and cost of the device.

Cook said she was especially impressed by Farr’s rolling laundry cart – a simple, mesh laundry basket on PVC pipes and caster wheels built to easily attach to a four-wheeled walker. The basket can be removed and replaced by a tray for transporting food and drinks from room to room.

Other contraptions included:

  • Maricel Yapp’s “Twist-n-Break,” a gripping device she created for her father to be able to more easily assemble his pool cue
  • Christina Davies’ “Grout-a-Bout,” a grout cleaner on a pole for her mother who could no longer get on her hands and knees to scrub her tile floors
  • Heather Deen’s “Corking Clip,” a nail clipper attached to a holder made of cork for her 74-year-old father
  • Denise Espinoza’s “Handy Auto Grab Bar,” a blow torch tip on a pinewood handle that attaches to a car door latch and is used to pull on when exiting a car.

Meeting four times week for three or four hours each night, the two-year Grossmont program is demanding, Cook said. The students have two 10-week clinical rotations next semester to complete the field work required of the program.

While challenging, the job prospects in OTA are promising. With the aging of the baby-boom generation, employment of occupational therapy assistants is projected to grow 29 percent from 2016 to 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, much faster than the average for other occupations. The BLS lists the average pay for OTAs in 2018 at $60,220 and $28.95 respectively, as of May 2018.

Accreditation by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education allows Grossmont College graduates to take the certification exam administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy. For the past several years, 93 percent of the students in Grossmont’s program have passed the exam to earn the title of certified occupational therapy assistant.

For more information, an OTA program informational meeting is set for 9-10:30 a.m. Wednesday, Nov 6, in Building 34, Room 250. Parking is $2.

OTA student assembling pool cueMaricel Yap invented hand grips to help her father more easily assemble his pool cue.

ota student rehearsing for ota assistive technology showKarina Vela adapted a mop bucket that makes it possible to wring the mop by using one's foot. gc ota student rehearsing for assistive technology showJessica Kole created a wearable device to support the back that also has pockets in which to insert body warmers.

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