Occupational Therapy students’ experience of an observation placement in Assistive Technology

Barnsley Hospital’s Assistive Technology team have recently given two first year student Occupational Therapists from Sheffield Hallam University the opportunity to join the team on a week long observational placement. In terms of this Assistive Technology team, OTs are a fairly new introduction. There are currently two OTs working here, Stewart Barnes and Jenny Scott, however as the team is expanding, recruitment for another OT is ongoing. Here are their reflections:

Our names are Chloe Tivendale and Ellie Rodd, we have been studying OT for a little over a month now, In terms of what OT is, generally I would explain it as enabling individuals, no matter what their circumstances to participate in the activities of every day life. In terms of this placement, that would mean providing Environmental Controls, Augmentative & Alternative Communication and Computer access devices, to enable clients to live as independently as possible.

During our time here, we attended training on Environmental controls and Computer access- in depth. This was delivered to various professionals from around the local region in order to increase awareness of Environmental controls and Computer access as well as informing people about the role of the team as they expand.This was great as it gave us an understanding of assistive technology before we went out and visited clients within their own homes. We also got the opportunity to try out various pieces of equipment, such as computers which could be controlled by almost any part of your body, including Eyegaze. We also learnt about the various models and principles used within AT such as ‘Matching Person and Technology Model’ and the ‘Universal Principles of Assistive Technology’ and how this differs to “traditional” OT models.
When using such models, an OT must look at the person, their environment and their technology and how these affect each other, in order to decide which device would be best suited to the client. What surprised us personally was how much the OT must consider the prognosis of the client, as the client may be able to use a piece of equipment now but not in the near future, due to the effects of their condition. One example of this may be a client with Motor-Neurone disease who uses a voice controlled switch to access their device, however if the individual was to lose their voice, the device would no longer be of use. This means the client would need to learn how to use a completely new method, which as you can imagine may be difficult.

As students with no prior knowledge or experience of AT, we were surprised at just how sophisticated the equipment used was, which was great to see. For example, we watched a video previously filmed by the Barnsley AT team, of a client with MS using a Sip and Puff switch method to access her device, as well as headmouse being used as a cursor, which was particularly interesting.

This placement gave us the opportunity to meet clients with a variety of conditions such as Motor Neurone Disease and Wernickes Asphasia, seeing the equipment applied within a real life situation, within the home, made us realise just how important and life changing AT can be. We found that the way in which the AT team approach their work was very client centred and everyone was very willing to adapt the AT to suit the individual’s lifestyle and needs.

We would like to thank Jenny, Stewart and the rest of the AT team at Barnsley Hospital for the opportunity to join them on placement as well as being so welcoming, we had a brilliant time and it really opened our eyes to OT in a non-traditional setting. We would like to wish the AT team the best as they expand to cover the rest of Yorkshire and Humber.