Training trainers in India

We are excited to announce a new project that is led by a joint team from Amar Seva Sangam (ASSA) in Tamil Nadu, India,  Handi-Care International and the School of Physical and Occupational Therapy , McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

ASSA and Handi-care Intl. are non-governmental organizations that focus on grass roots advocacy for persons with disabilities and on direct programs for rehabilitation, education, vocational training and livelihood promotion. Over the coming year, we will be working collaboratively to develop, implement and evaluate a train-the-trainer program that is tailored to the needs at ASSA. The project is funded by the Edith Strauss Rehabilitation Research Program.

One of the reasons we are excited about this project is that it builds on a growing collaboration between ASSA and SPOT. For the past six years, McGill occupational therapy and physiotherapy students have conducted clinical rotations at ASSA. In addition, SPOT students have recently undertaken two research projects at ASSA. SPOT faculty have also visited ASSA, and the ASSA team member who is co-project lead on the train-the-trainer grant, physiotherapist Ram Ponnusamy, will spend a month in Montreal this fall. In this sense, our newly launched project has a strong foundation. We’re hoping that it will continue to enrich these growing institutional ties. Listen to a podcast with occupational therapy students commenting on international fieldwork here.

So, what will we be doing?  The end goal of the new project is to design and implement a train-the-trainer program for ASSA. We aim to support and expand skills, knowledge and capacities of staff members at ASSA who are involved in training as part of their professional activities. These roles include providing training to other rehabilitation providers at ASSA, as well as education that is done with families and clients such as teaching home exercise programs. In creating the train-the-trainer program, we will draw on what is currently known as the most effective approaches for this sort of training, as well as experiences developing train-the-trainer resources in other settings.  (more…)

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…)

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.  (more…)

School Based Clinical Fieldwork in Ayukudi, India: Applying the Theory!

Sitara Khan seated with students of ASSA

As Occupational Therapy Masters students, we are required to complete 4 placements in a clinical setting, so when the opportunity to do one internationally arose, I couldn’t say no! Rural South India was a land as foreign to us as we imagined OT might be to it. To our amazement, in the little village with its limited resources and proportionally large population, an inspiring rehabilitation facility, spanning acres of land, had made its place. Amar Seva Sangam (ASSA), a non-profit organization catering to a lifespan of people with disabilities, with its early intervention center, special school, vocational training workshop and extensive spinal cord injury rehabilitation program, offered free services to its population.

Naturally, I worried about our interventions being culturally sensitive and our abilities matching the needs of the population, but I soon realized that the resemblances in the problems we faced, far exceeded the differences. Yes, the setting had fewer material resources than an equivalent center in Canada, but the lack of human resources was an issue that sounded all too familiar!

In our OCC1-617 class, we learned that very few OTs in Quebec practice in school-based settings. Often, a single OT is assigned to an entire school board, resulting in an area of great needs and no service providers. The same challenge presented itself at ASSA: the entire center relied on the services of a single part-time OT. Working at ASSA’s Special School, and quickly became aware that the needs exceeded what I could provide in my 2 month stage, but I wanted to make meaningful change. (more…)

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