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Abled, Disabled, or Differently Abled?

I have to admit, I came into the OT program thinking that I knew the “right” way, the “respectful” way to talk about people with disabilities. I would’ve cringed if I had read or heard the third sentence below; and likely rolled my eyes or fumed inside about inappropriate language.

“Nathan is a 5-year old boy with autism. He attends OT twice a week.”

“Nathan is an autistic boy who attends OT twice a week. He is 5 years old…”

“Nathan is a 5-year old boy who attends OT twice a week. He is differently abled.”

I had learned in one of my classes that person-first language is more respectful to our clients as it allows for the person to be defined by other factors (eg. age, interests, strengths) before being defined by their disability. It made sense. I internalized it. And I took it for granted.

Our professor instilled self-doubt on the first day of classes. She said that she would use person-first language …but that there was a heavy debate on the matter. She also made sure to point out how clients of this class introduced their disability and themselves. Some chose to point out several facts about themselves before bringing up their disability, and others laid out their disability right after their name.

My daughter doesn’t have ‘special’ needs. She’s disabled. This is an eye-opening article written by a mother of child with autism. In brief, the article makes a case for her child’s needs not being “special” at all and rather basic and ordinary. The mother also shares that autism has set her child’s life on a certain trajectory and has become an integral part of the child’s identity.

It seems that we are trending towards euphemisms to replace words we consider ugly…moving from “handicapped” to “disabled” to “with disability” to “differently abled”. But with time, the new words can also become somewhat ugly. (more…)

Diving Deep into the Layers of Reflexivity

My daily commute on Montreal’s underground transit system got a whole lot more reflective last Friday, as I read Barbra Gibson’s fresh take on everyone’s dependence on technology, and the tendency to “normalize” people when it comes to universal design and rehabilitation. Her arguments took me through various stages of bargaining, discomfort and ultimately reflection that things need to change in our practice as Occupational Therapists (OT’s), all in the 45 minutes it took me to get to the McGill campus. What follows are my opinions on a few of her points.

Challenging ideas of dependency and disability

A form of person-technology assemblage that resonates with many, author in photo.

The article challenges the idea that dependency on technology is just for rehabilitation clients, and argues that we are all in someway dependent on it. We are all part of assemblages, or a whole that consists of technology, our physical bodies and others in our social circle. These assemblages change depending on the technology we are currently using, with whom we are interacting and in what environment. This notion fits well into an occupational therapist’s mentality; our end goal does not necessarily need to be technology-free, we simply want to enable our clients to function in the best way possible. I spent most of my summer in my second placement trying to find technology that best fit both my client’s and their family members’ needs and ultimately making their assemblages work for them, even if it involved using the technology non-conventionally. I credit my supervisor for pushing me to think outside the box in my solutions, and really listen to what my client needed. As such, I whole heartedly agreed with Gibson’s take on this which made me bargain, or argue that my profession’s focus on function, with or without technology, still embodies this ideal.

Challenging the notion of universal design and normalization

Gibson also demonstrates how universal design, although innocent enough in theory, is essentially trying to design towards a universal human or an average person. Coming from Montreal, I feel like any strides towards accessibility are much needed, (I have seen WAY too many accessibility features that require one to use a staircase to reach them). However, Gibson made me question this ideal; (more…)

Is the Cochlear Implant a Cure or a Cultural Cleansing?

The market of assistive technologies has expanded dramatically in recent years. More and more researchers, engineers, and rehabilitation experts collaborate to build technologies that help enable people with disabilities. However, when we look at the statistics, 70% of all assistive technologies are not being used at all, or being used for a very short time. Why is that? Would disabled people not want to use devices that supposedly help them to overcome their disabilities? The answer to these questions is more complex than one might think, as the case of the ongoing debate over the use of cochlear implant demonstrates.

The Controversy

The cochlear implant is a small electronic device that is surgically implanted into the skull and inner ear,  substituting for the damaged parts of the inner ear, with an external piece worn behind the ear. In contrast to hearing aids that amplify sounds in the environment, the cochlear implant functions as an integral part of the inner ear, by sending signals to the brain (see picture).

For the enabled person, it is easy to see the advantages of a cochlear implant. This device can help deaf people to communicate with others, which eventually may lead to a better and easier integration into society. However, many people in the deaf community reject this product for several reasons. First, the Deaf community believes that there is nothing wrong with being deaf, so we should not try to “fix something that isn’t broken.” Second, some deaf people consider their hearing disability to be an integral and important part of their identity, so taking away their deafness will take away an important part of who they are. Third, some deaf people see themselves as a subculture in society, with their own language (sign language), and set of beliefs and values. Many people in the deaf community believe that implementing the device, especially in the younger generation, will eventually cause their unique culture to disappear, as young people will not learn or use sign language as a means of communication. Watch and learn more about the different sides of the Cochlear Implant Debate.

What I have learned

When I first heard about the cochlear implant, I thought that it was a great idea and that every deaf person would love to have this device, but I was wrong. (more…)

Giving a Voice to Children Who Don’t Have One

What follows is Vi Ma’s perspective about the 8th Edition of the Edith Aston-McCrimmon Lecture Series 2017 with guest speaker Dr. Tom Chau, PhD, PEng

As a future health care professional, I often think to myself,  How will I help patients as best as possible?  It never occurred to me that our contribution as physiotherapists can be more than simply providing one-on-one or hands-on assessment, education and treatment. I have recently learned that we can go further, and help, by working with other disciplines such as engineering. Together, we can create assistive devices to meet the needs of the patients we treat.

I first learned of our greater role with disability through technology when Dr. Stefanie Blain-Moraes presented the topic in one of my undergraduate classes. She spoke of the rewards and barriers of working on assistive devices. I was captivated by how she spoke of challenging our perception of disability and encouraging us to think outside the box. I was hooked. In our classes, we got to design our own assistive design in collaboration with a client.

Vi Ma, Physical Therapy Student, and Dr. Tom Chau, PEng Edith Aston-McCrimmon Lecture 2017

This year, Dr. Tom Chau was the School’s Edith Aston-McCrimmon Lecturer. He presented his innovative research on designing devices for children who are unable to communicate in conventional ways. The children, trapped in their bodies have no means of expressing themselves. Needless to say this affects their socialization and overall development.

Dr. Chau’s team has developed many communication devices that detect muscle activation, brain activity or vibrations of the vocal cords. His presentation incorporated clips of children overjoyed when they communicated for the first time with these devices and of the parents’ emotional response. I was deeply moved and may or may not have had tears at the corner of my eyes. I hope to have such an impact on my future patients and their families.

One of the main challenges that Dr. Chau underlines while designing technology is the wide range of the children’s diseases and conditions. With so many individual situations, each with their own unique conditions and experiences, no one device can solve all problems; there is always room to imagine and create new devices.

So, what can we do going forward? (more…)

Taking action: My journey to Pivot International

Marie-Kim McFetridge, McGill M.Sc.(OT) 2011, in Nicaragua, offering occupational therapy services to disabled children in need.

Veuillez lire la version française ci-dessous

Many of us who choose a career in the health professions do so because we want to make a positive impact on the lives of others.  I most certainly did, and in December 2012, I jumped at the chance to participate in a rehabilitation project that brought me to the little village of Santa Julia in Nicaragua to help Milton, a 5-year-old boy with cerebral palsy.  This project was the brainchild of then-student Simone Cavanaugh, now a McGill law graduate, who met Milton and his family while participating in a humanitarian project the previous year.  Profoundly touched by Milton’s situation, Simone returned home to Canada determined to help him obtain the necessary adaptive equipment to realize his full potential.

This project was for me, the beginning of a life-changing adventure.  In this first trip, we helped young Milton, who was housebound and required full time care provided by his mother.  Milton received a specially adapted wheelchair, as well as training on its use and proper body positioning.  You can imagine the impact we had on Milton’s quality of life, as well as his mother’s.  By allowing him to sit upright in a chair, Milton could better interact with his environment and work towards achieving more developmental milestones, such as improving his motor and communication skills.  Just as compelling, this allowed Milton and his mother to better integrate into the community, with more opportunities to learn, play and socialize with peers.

There is a great need for more awareness and access to rehabilitation services in rural Nicaragua.  In 2014, Simone and I co-founded Pivot International, a non-profit organization committed to improving the independence, mobility, and quality of life of physically disabled children in developing countries, starting with Nicaragua.  Working closely with local rehabilitation specialists, we discuss and plan the care needs of affected children and their families.  Over the years, we have been able to raise enough funds to provide equipment to assist many such families in Nicaragua.

As the Paramedical Director, I oversee volunteer recruitment and manage the healthcare professionals who travel on-site and develop care plans for the children.  We are all 100% volunteers at Pivot International, and we are growing and expanding our reach.  Our next trip to Nicaragua is scheduled for the first quarter of 2018, and we will have two rehabilitation teams to work with families in different regions, providing assistance to new children and follow-ups for those we have helped in the past.  We have also started an internship program at Pivot for two McGill Occupational Therapy students to join us in Nicaragua next year.

Every step of this adventure has been stimulating and rewarding for me.  Doing volunteer work not only brings joy and hope to others, it also brings a sense of purpose and meaning into our lives.

To learn more about Pivot International, visit pivotinternational.org and/or follow us on Facebook and Instagram.

Interested in volunteering?  Please contact: marie-kim.mcfetridge@mail.mcgill.ca

Marie-Kim McFetridge, M.Sc.OT

Prendre part: Mon parcours vers Pivot International

Marie-Kim McFetridge, McGill M.Sc (Erg.) 2011, offrant des services d’ergothérapie à des enfants atteints d’un handicap physique au Nicaragua.

La majorité d’entre nous qui choisissons une carrière dans le domaine de la santé espérons avoir un impact positif dans la vie des autres.  C’est toujours ce que j’ai souhaité et c’est ainsi qu’en décembre 2012 j’ai décidé de participer à un projet de réadaptation qui m’a conduit dans le petit village de Santa Julia au Nicaragua afin d’aider Milton un jeune garçon de 5 ans atteint de paralysie cérébrale.  Ce projet était l’initiative de l’étudiante Simone Cavanaugh, maintenant graduée en droit de l’Université McGill, qui avait rencontré Milton et sa famille alors qu’elle participait à un projet humanitaire l’année précédente.  Profondément touchée par Milton, Simone est revenue au Canada avec la ferme intention de lui fournir les outils nécessaires à la réalisation de son plein potentiel.

Ce projet a été pour moi le début d’une aventure qui a changé ma vie.  Lors de notre premier voyage, nous avons aidé le jeune Milton qui était presque constamment alité et requérait des soins continuels de sa mère, à lui fournir une chaise roulante adaptée à ses besoins, à leur montrer comment bien l’utiliser et à le positionner adéquatement dans son fauteuil.  Vous pouvez vous imaginer l’impact que nous avons eu sur la qualité de vie de Milton et de sa mère.  En lui permettant de s’assoir correctement, Milton peut dorénavant mieux interagir avec son entourage et travailler à l’amélioration de son développement moteur de même qu’à ses capacités de communication.  De plus, ces outils favorisent pour lui et sa mère une meilleure intégration dans la communauté facilitant ainsi les opportunités d’apprentissage, de socialisation de même que les possibilités de jouer avec d’autres jeunes de son entourage.

Il existe un réel besoin pour la sensibilisation et l’amélioration de l’accessibilité aux services de réadaptation dans les régions rurales du Nicaragua.  Et c’est pourquoi qu’en 2014 Simone et moi avons fondé Pivot International, un organisme à but non lucratif qui a pour objectif principal d’améliorer l’indépendance, la mobilité et la qualité de vie des enfants handicapés des pays en voie de développement, en débutant par le Nicaragua.  En œuvrant conjointement avec les spécialistes locaux en réadaptation, nous discutons des plans de soins des enfants et de leurs familles.  C’est ainsi qu’au cours des dernières années, et grâce à différentes levées de fonds, que nous avons été capables de recueillir les fonds pour assister plusieurs familles dans le besoin au Nicaragua.

Comme directrice paramédicale ma tâche consiste entre autres au recrutement et à la coordination des professionnels de la santé qui se rendent sur les différents sites et qui contribuent au développement des plans de soins pour les enfants handicapés.  Nous sommes tous bénévoles à 100% chez Pivot International et notre organisme est en voie d’expansion dans le but d’élargir nos horizons.  Notre prochain voyage au Nicaragua est prévu pour le début 2018. Nous aurons alors deux équipes d’ergothérapeutes qui travailleront avec les familles de différentes régions afin d’offrir l’assistance nécessaire aux nouveaux jeunes qui ont été sélectionnés par nos professionnels et assurer le suivi à ceux qui ont déjà reçu de l’aide dans le passé.  Nous avons aussi débuté un programme de stage chez Pivot International pour deux étudiantes en ergothérapie de l’Université McGill qui se joindront à nous l’hiver prochain.

Chaque étape de cette aventure s’est avérée stimulante et enrichissante pour moi.  Faire du bénévolat n’apporte pas seulement de la joie et de l’espoir pour les autres, il nous offre aussi une motivation et un but dans la vie.

Pour en savoir plus sur Pivot International, venez nous visiter en consultant pivotinternational.org et/ou suivez-nous sur Facebook et Instagram.

Vous souhaitez devenir volontaires pour notre organisme? N’hésitez pas à communiquer avec : marie-kim.mcfetridge@mail.mcgill.ca

Marie-Kim McFetridge, McGill M.Sc (Erg.)


Seizing the Opportunity: A Placement in India

Brittany Myhre (left) with her supervisor, Harsha Babani, and others after a training seminar in Amar Seva Sangam, in Tamil Nadu, India.

As part of the Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy, each student is required to complete 4 clinical placements to gain clinical experience, and put our classroom knowledge into practical application.  When the opportunity to apply for an international placement came up, I seized it and  was fortunate to be granted a chance to participate in an 8-week stage in Tamil Nadu, India.

The host organization, Amar Seva Sangam (ASSA) is located in a very rural portion of Southern India and is a non-profit organization, serving children in its early intervention school, a special school for children with learning, intellectual or physical disabilities, an in-patient spinal cord rehabilitation unit, vocational training, in addition to an integrated school system, where children from the community can also attend. Most of the services are offered free of charge, which allows the families living within the surrounding communities to attend to their children’s needs without concern to their already often precarious financial situations.

I was nervous about how I would adapt to a setting that is low-resourced by Canadian standards, and ensuring that I would be culturally humble and sensitive to the needs of those I was working with. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in what “should” be, rather than what the situation or individual may desire or need. I was put to ease the first day after a conversation with my supervisor and my fellow students over differences in terminology; it was refreshing and challenging for me to address my own assumptions and I believe that helped set the trend for the rest of our stage.

I worked in the early intervention program with young children and traveled  into the surrounding rural villages to work with families who were unable to travel to the ASSA centre. I worked along side the Village-Based Rehabilitation Initiative workers (VBRI staff), a group of extremely intelligent and strong women, often who were special educators. These women visited the children each week and were invaluable to providing insights to the children’s condition and development, family dynamics and needs, and translation services. The families we visited were often living in extreme poverty and unable to afford the bus fare, and their children were sometimes too fragile to navigate public transit. Being confronted with an entirely different way of being was humbling, to say the least.

To ensure that our interventions were sustainable, a large point of reflection prior to, throughout and after my stage, ASSA and the head of VBRI engaged myself and my supervisor to train the VBRI staff to administer the Canadian Occupational Performance Measure (COPM), as a way of setting family goals and monitoring their child’s performance and their own satisfaction with the child’s progress.

It was inspiring to see how a measure we used in our first week of the program and endlessly throughout our classroom courses, could be applied in such a variety of contexts. Despite challenges of language and cultural practices, families were able to set goals for their children and it proved to be a success! Knowing that the COPM will be applied to ensure treatments are family focused and can be a self-sustaining initiative was so rewarding for us all.

My time in India was challenging, rewarding, heart-breaking and inspiring; everything and more than I could have imagined. I feel so honored to be a part of the projects, and realize that my privilege as a Western master’s student (among other privileges afforded to me) played a heavy role in my experience to go to India in the first place. I hope to honor the families, staff and those we met in passing by taking the lessons and growth I had during my time at ASSA and applying them to my future practice and life. I can’t wait to see what the future brings!

Brittany Myhre
Occupational Therapy Master’s Student





Keeping up with Anthony Teoli at Infophysiotherapy.com

I graduated from McGill University with a Professional Master’s in Physical Therapy in October 2016. I now work at a private clinic in Montreal and recently developed InfoPhysiotherapy.com, a free information resource for both patients and health professionals. All the content on this website is written by myself. Physiotherapy is an evidence-based profession, and knowledge translation is a crucial part of the advancement of the physiotherapy profession. It is something I have always been keen on.

Read recently posted article “What Is Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome & How Do I Manage It?”

Google allows patients to have access to all the information they could possibly want. However, it may not always be the “right” information. I wanted to provide them with legitimate and valid information that can be backed up by the scientific literature.

The mission of InfoPhysiotherapy.com is to promote evidence-based practice among health care professionals, and to inform the general population regarding injury prevention and management, exercise prescription and healthy living. As well, physiotherapists and patients can discuss any evidence I have presented, or even suggest a topic they would like to know more about. The website also features an online library with the latest publications from the scientific literature.

Infophysiotherapy.com has greatly evolved since it was launched last December. It now features 25 articles covering a large variety of topics and content is added weekly.  In March alone, the website has already received more than 6500 views!

Anthony Teoli, PT

My next step would be to begin collaborating with other physiotherapists, particularly those who specialize in different fields such as pelvic floor or paediatrics, among others. InfoPhysiotherapy.com is continuously in expansion. I look forward to what the future has to offer and please do not hesitate to get in touch with me if you are interested in helping me make a difference!

Anthony Teoli, MScPT

Website link : infophysiotherapy.com


Influence of Exercise on Patients with Guillain-Barré Syndrome: A Systematic Review

Two of the group members: N. Simatos Arsenault and P-O. Vincent. Photo: S.C. Marshall

Sometimes, a school assignment can become more than just an assignment.

While in our physiotherapy (PHTH 440) course, our group completed a literature review on the effects of exercise on patients with Guillain-Barré Syndrome as a class assignment.

Our professor, Dr. Marc Roig encouraged us to expand our horizons and attempt to have the assignment become a published article. After about a year and a half of constructive peer reviews from journal editors and having made various modifications, our article was finally published!

Our continued efforts throughout the entire writing and reviewing process paid off and we feel honored to now view our endeavor next to the work of distinguished writers, including some of our current and past professors.

We all appreciate that the SPOT faculty encourages its students to grow beyond conventional paths through diverse opportunities that enable the development of better clinicians.

We have learned a lot through this experience and  hope to continue to develop and grow our professional networks through such opportunities.

In September 2016, we received our final confirmation that our article would be published as part of Volume 68 Issue 4 of the Physiotherapy Canada journal. We were proud and thrilled to hear the news! Read the article here.

Our team,

Pierre-Olivier Vincent, Nicholas Simatos Arsenault, Bai He Shen Yu, Robin Bastien, Aaron Sweeney, and Sylvia Zhu
SPOT Physiotherapy Students

Link to article: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27904236


New Global Health Coordinator at McGill SPOT

AnikGHRIblogAnik Goulet, PT

My journey to the School of Physical & Occupational Therapy (SPOT) has not been a simple one but one that I’d like to share with you.

My story starts with the University of Ottawa, where I graduated with a BSc in Physiotherapy- was yet to be a Masters at that point!.  I returned to work in my hometown of Hamilton, Ontario, where I grounded my clinical skills working with an adult population in acute care hospitals, home care and a private clinic. Having enjoyed being a clinical preceptor for over 5 years, I chose to  return to school and complete a Master’s in Education at the University of Ottawa.

It was on January 10th, 2010, while I was teaching at la Cite Collegiale, that I was very emotionally affected by my Haitian students who were devastated  by an earthquake that was happening in their native country. That was the day I told myself that if I could do something to help, I would. And, I did.

My life changing adventure began soon after, in Haiti. I worked in Haiti as a physiotherapist, which eventually lead to working in Afghanistan as a Physiotherapy Supervisor, to Kenya as a Technical Advisor, back to Haiti as a Rehabilitation Coordinator and finally to Lebanon/Jordan to work as a Technical Unit Coordinator for the Syrian refugee situation.  I lived many humbling experiences on these adventures which have brought much insight and reflection to my work and personal life. The desire to continue contributing to the global health sector in my home country has brought me to SPOT to pursue a PhD in Global Health and Rehabilitation.

I am delighted to join the new Global Health Research Initiative (GHRI) at SPOT  in the position of SPOT Global Health Coordinator.  My tasks will include, organizing the monthly Global Health Forum to bring together those interested in rehabilitation and global health for stimulating presentations and dialogue sessions, supporting global health activities at SPOT and liaising with students, faculty, clinicians and other partners interested in the area of rehabilitation and global health.

If you are interested in the work of the GHRI or have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me at spotglobalhealth@mcgill.ca.

Keeping up with Olivier at myphysiothinks

After graduating from McGill University in 2013 with a master’s in physical therapy, Olivier continued to improve and broaden his practice skills by taking several continuing education courses. As a recent graduate, he quickly became aware of the dilemma some newly graduated therapists have when it comes to choosing their continuing education. This led him to create a blog summarizing his thought processes and giving his personal opinion on each continuing education opportunity he has completed. His goal was to help other therapists better their own skills and treatment approaches through an evidence-based approach to physiotherapy.

Physiotherapist, Olivier Lam

Olivier Lam, PT

His most popular blogpost, explaining in simple terms why some pain can be persistent and what can be done to manage it has been translated into  French and Danish by several therapists around the world and reached about 15 000 people across the globe. Read the pain post here.

Today, Olivier is working part time at a clinic in Montreal  and part time private practice while pursuing a master’s in research in health sciences with direct access to a PhD program in research at the University of Sherbrooke. His research at the Universiy of Sherbrooke focuses on neck pain (acute and chronic) and he continues to be involved in research on the efficacy of the McKenzie approach to treat low back pain at McGill University.

To read more about Olivier and his experiences, visit his blog, myphysiothinks, here.

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Blog authors are solely responsible for the content of the blogs listed in the directory. Neither the content of these blogs, nor the links to other web sites, are screened, approved, reviewed or endorsed by McGill University. The text and other material on these blogs are the opinion of the specific author and are not statements of advice, opinion, or information of McGill.