2002 Conference Proceedings

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Lynn Gitlow, Ph.D., OTR/L, ATP
Associate Professor of OT
Husson College
One College Circle
Bangor, Maine 04401

This presentation reports the results of a research study investigating AT educational training needs of health care professionals and consumers, in the state of Maine. The characteristics and perceived competence in AT of the respondents and the preferred methods of education delivery are included A pilot study, which was conducted by this researcher in fall, 2000, laid the foundation for the study. In the pilot study, the perceived AT competence of allied health professionals and the extent to which they want AT educational training was investigated and revealed important findings for the design and development of theory based AT education. In this study, the participant pool for the study was expanded to include both AT consumers and other health practitioners who are critically involved in identifying and documenting clients needs for AT.

The Census Bureau reports that there are 54 million people with disabilities in the United States (McNeil, 1997). This represents a significant percentage of the total population of the people in the United States. Although people with disabilities are increasingly included in every day activities, many barriers to their full inclusion continue to exist. Although there are many reasons cited in the literature for the barriers to inclusion for people with disabilities including physical barriers and attitudinal barriers, one of the most important obstacles that are consistently identified is lack of access to technology (Gitlow, 1999; Presidents Task Force, 1999). "For people with disabilities... assistive technology can change the most ordinary of daily activities from impossible to possible" (O'Day, et al., 2000, pg2). Although our federal government has formulated legislation to ensure the provision of AT, one of the most significant reasons AT is not utilized is that " expertise needs to be cultivated and expanded in pre-service preparation programs and other training venues" in order to educate expert practitioners in this area (O'Day et. al., 2000. pg 3). If this education is not provided, "expertise to assist in obtaining such technology ... will continue to fall further and further behind the need" (O'Day, 2000 pg 3). This is a serious problem given that the numbers of people with disabilities who can benefit from AT will continue to rise as the population ages and medical advances contribute to the growing number of people with disabilities.

Practitioners who provide AT services come from a variety of professions including but not limited to occupational and physical therapy, speech and language pathology, education, vocational rehabilitation, and engineering. Additionally, physicians and practitioners who provide case management services, including social workers and nurses, are critical in enabling consumers to obtain AT. These are the professionals who write the prescriptions or referrals for AT and provide reviews for approval of funding. Without these prescriptions, referrals, or positive reviews, funding for AT may be limited or even denied. During the year 1999-2000, an AT higher education consortium was formed by Maine Cite (the state's AT coordinating body) to address the lack of AT education for health care providers, other rehabilitation providers, and educators. The consortium discovered that although there are some courses embedded in professional education programs that may include or be devoted to AT content, presently there is no location where one can obtain AT skills and knowledge and apply this education in a practical setting as recommended in the literature by Lenker (1998) and others (Mott, V., Daley, B., 2000; Scribner, J. 1999). Additionally, there is no formalized network of AT practitioners in this rural state that can provide collaboration and support to those who are in the field. Of over 300 credentialed AT practitioners named on a national database of AT practitioners, only five of these credentialed therapists are from Maine (RESNA, 2000). Clearly, as identified by the AT higher education consortium, increased access to AT education in the rural state of Maine is a priority. Thus this study continues a research agenda designed to investigate the needs for and delivery of AT education for practitioners who are critical in enabling people with disabilities to access obtain and use AT.

A review of the literature regarding the delivery of AT education was considered in developing a survey (Thompson, Siegal, Kouzoukas, 2000; Lenker, 1998) to answer the following research questions.

* How many consumers or practitioners are interested in attending an AT certificate program?
* What are the characteristics of the consumers or practitioners who would like to receive AT education?
* What level of AT skills and knowledge do consumers or health practitioners perceive that they have presently?
* What AT skills and knowledge would health practitioners like to obtain?
* How would practitioners in the state of Maine like to have AT education provided?

A single stage sampling survey design using a mailed questionnaire will be used to answer the research questions stated above. The population for this study will consist of family practice physicians, case managers (nurses, social workers) vocational rehabilitation counselors and consumers throughout Maine. The surveys will be mailed with a cover letter explaining the purpose of the study and assuring that anonymity of the informants would be preserved and confidentiality will be maintained at all times. Data will be entered, cleaned and coded. Descriptive statistics will be used to summarize the survey results using the Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS, 1999).


Creswell, J. (1994). Research design: Qualitative & quantitative approaches. California: Sage Publications.

Gitlow, L. (1999). Individuals with disabilities and professional education programs: An analysis of legislation, court rulings and policy. Disability and Society, 14 (2) 239-248.

Harris, L (2000). The 2000 N.O.D./Harris survey of Americans with disabilities. [On-line] Available: http://www.nod.org/attitudes.html

Lenker, J. (1998). Professional education programs in rehabilitation engineering and assistive technology. Technology & Disability 9(1/2): 37-48.)

McNeil, J. (1997). Current population reports: American with disabilities: 1994-95. Census Bureau [On-line]. Available: http://www.census.gov/prod/3/97pubs/p70-61.pdf.

Mott, V. & Daley, B. (Eds.) (2000). Charting a course for continuing professional education: Reframing professional practice. San Francisco: Josey- Bass.

O'Day, B., Brewer, J., Cook, D., King, C., Mendelsohn, S., Pierce, K., & Vanderheiden, G. (2000) Federal policy barriers to assistive technology. National Council on Disability: Washington, DC [On-line]. Available: http://www.ncd.gov/newsroom/publications/assisttechnology.html

Presidents Task Force on Employment of Adults with Disabilities (1999). Recharting the course: If not now when? The second report of the presidential task force on employment of adults with disabilities [On-line]. Available: http://www.dol.gov/dol/_sec/public/programs/ptfead/ifnotnow.htm

RESNA (2000). Directory of Certified ATP/ATSs. [On-line] Available: http://www.resna.org/cert/atpdata/atpsearch.html.

SPSS for Windows (1999). Statistical Package for the Social Sciences, Chicago.

Thompson, J., Seigal, J. & Kouzoulkas, S. (2000). Assistive technology at the dawn of the 21st Century: teachers' perceptions. Special Education and Technology Practice. May/June Issue 2.3, 12-21

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