Dr. Glenn Goodman, Director of Occupation Therapy and Jeff Dell, Assistive Technology Specialist, work at Cleveland State University in Cleveland, Ohio.
What is occupational therapy?
Goodman: We help people with disabilities participate in everyday activities. The key word is occupation. So if I ask you what you do you’d probably tell me about your job. But if I asked you how you spent your time each day you would probably identify several occupations, such as what you do in the morning when you wake up, how you get to work, what type of work you do, and what you like to do as a hobby or recreational activity. Imagine all the things you do in your everyday life and then imagine doing those things if you were confined to a wheelchair. I help people perform daily life activities that others take for granted such as brushing your teeth or making breakfast.
For college students, my job is to help understand what they want to do here at the university and then help them succeed at doing it.
How do the two offices of Occupational Therapy and Technology collaborate?
Goodman: I had some interest in computer access and noticed in 1995 that we didn’t have good services for our students with disabilities in the area of computer access. So we developed a lab to help people with motor disabilities and perceptual disabilities. From there the technology started booming and there were about 300 students with disabilities on campus [being helped].
In 2008, one of the best programs I was part of brought high school students with disabilities on campus to get them excited about college and help them with career planning. We matched them with an occupational therapy student who helped them get acquainted with some of the programs we have available and to improve their skills. Jeff Dell was instrumental in training these students in the lab, which he now runs.
Do students with disabilities express concerns about what the job market is going to be like for them?
Dell: Yes. They are worried about it. I always tell them to participate in informational interviews and talk to people who are in the field that they want to get in to. They need to get an honest perspective of what the job is and what it takes to be successful at it. Every student needs a realistic expectation of the environment they want to work in.
For people with disabilities to be marketable and have a decent paying job, they have to be fairly exceptional and above average to be competitive, because there are some things they’re not going to be able to do. They have to find ways to accommodate [their disability] and persuade people and companies to employ them. So the difference between people who succeed and people who don’t is how well they can adapt. If they don’t adapt they’re not going to succeed in the job market.