5 Useful OT Skill Sets in Technology Design and development

Occupational Therapy is the Profession of Function.

Occupational therapists (OTs) improve client function through facilitating meaningful occupations and activities. The tools that an occupational therapist may use to shape the end goal of achieving client function will vary greatly between different practice areas, but OTs will typically treat factors affecting human occupation such as...

Physical factors (associated with the body),

Cognitive factors (associated with thinking and processing)

Sensory factors (such as touch, visual or auditory feedback) 

Visual-perceptual factors (The way that the mind interprets what it sees)  

Is Technology An Area of Emerging Practice?

While occupational therapists are traditionally seen in settings such as hospitals, clinics, schools, skilled nursing facilities and home care, new niche roles are beginning to emerge in the profession.

The Collins dictionary defines technology as "methods, systems, and devices which are the result of scientific knowledge being used for practical purposes."

While not traditionally considered to be a part of human occupation, technology itself is becoming more prominent in the lives of 21st century Americans. For instance, in 1984 only 8% of US households owned a computer while 56% of spending for home entertainment fell into the digital category in 2016 (Washington Post, 2017). Be sure to check out the Washington Post's interactive graph on how everyday technology has changed through the years.

Although the Occupational Therapy Practice Framework: Domain and Process (3rd Edition) recently published in 2017 acknowledges technology as an aspect of the virtual environment, technology has become a much bigger player in the average person’s daily life. Many everyday technologies may be considered meaningful, and require the integration of physical, cognitive, sensory, or even visual perceptual factors for successful use and performance. From computers to online communications and household gadgets, technology has become a staple in the modern lifestyle and it is changing our understanding of human occupation.

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So, OT knows Function...What Role Can the Profession Have in Technology?

AOTA defines a piece of assistive technology as “any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities" (Goodrich, 2015). These technologies can range from low-tech devices such as adaptive feeding utensils to high-tech devices such as tablets and augmentative communication devices.

Advanced Rehabilitation technology such as robotic therapy, deep brain stimulation, functional electrical stimulation (FES), gaming systems and applications (apps), are typically designed for in-clinic use during traditional therapy sessions or at home use supervised by a therapist.These systems are designed to promote client function by maximizing outcomes in therapy. The BURT, for instance, is an active-assistive therapy tool for upper extremity motor learning that is designed to be integrated easily into the clinical setting.

OT is primed for a niche role in the development and design of new technologies such as these. To assess the role of OT in traditional and emerging areas of technology, let’s establishing five valuable skill sets.

Pinpointing Five Valuable OT Skill Sets in Technology design and development

1. First-hand Knowledge of our clients and their goals

Achieving our client’s goals is always our first priority.  No matter what our career setting, from physical rehabilitation to pediatrics, we often times spend the most time with our clients.

2. Inclusive Design and Ergonomic Assessment

OTs can apply their knowledge of the clinical environment and ergonomic positioning to technology. for example, How can we meet our client’s needs most effectively? Can the device or aid provide necessary support for the client?

3. Usability and Functionality

OTs are trained to analyze innovative solutions to support the daily routine of individual clients. Simplicity as far as ease of use and functionality are cornerstones to creating the best technology solution whether it be a high-tech or low-tech device.

4. Task Grading and Activity Analysis

Looking at a piece of adaptive equipment or rehabilitation technology, is it associated directly or indirectly with a meaningful activity? To achieve your client’s goals (for example reaching a kitchen shelf to cook a meal, donning a shirt, etc.) what body functions, anatomical structures and associated motor and processing skills are required?

5. Anatomical and Physiological Knowledge

OTs are educated in the fields of human anatomy, cognition, and integrated physiology. They can assess the needs and abilities of an individual client or population to help design a great piece of technology.

All of these factors are necessary in designing an effective piece of technology that is both innovative and effective. OTs can apply these skill sets to aid in the design and development of new rehabilitation and assistive technologies, working together with other professionals such as engineers, designers, and product managers to integrate 'function' and 'usability' into a piece of rehabilitation technology.

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Is Technology the Missing Piece in Occupational Therapy Practice?

The World Federation of Occupational Therapists (WFOT) define occupation as "the everyday activities that people do as individuals, in families and with communities to occupy time and bring meaning and purpose to life."

Not only is technology changing the world of healthcare and medicine, It is quickly becoming a valued part of human occupation in modern day society. On the one hand a piece of technology might serve as a meaningful activity, on the other hand a valuable treatment tool. 

 

Check Out the References Below!

Article by Holly Mitchell, MOT, OTR/L

 

References

Goodrich, B. (2015). The Role of Occupational Therapy in Providing Assistive Technology Devices and Services. Retrieved from https://www.aota.org/About-Occupational-Therapy/Professionals/RDP/assistive-technology.aspx

Occupational Therapy Practice Framework: Domain and Process (3rd Edition). (2017). American Journal Of Occupational Therapy68. doi: 10.5014/ajot.2014.682006

What 'tech world' did you grow up in? (2017). Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2017/entertainment/tech-generations/?utm_term=.f18ce9f27e30

Definition of Technology. Retrieved from https://www.collinsdictionary.com/us/dictionary/english/technology

Definition of Occupational Therapy (2010). Retrieved from http://www.wfot.org/AboutUs/AboutOccupationalTherapy/DefinitionofOccupationalTherapy.aspx

Holly Mitchell