Practitioners with Disabilities
Chris Daughtry, OTR/L, ATP
I became interested in occupational therapy in 1989 when I was a patient at Shepard Spinal Center in Atlanta, GA. As the result of an automobile accident I was forced to adapt to life with a T4 spinal cord injury. I have spent the last 17 years conquering barriers many patients face in the rehabilitation setting today. My unique position has proven to be an asset in working with patients I have treated in my career. I have a great understanding of the patients’ perspective. My success with a traumatic injury offers a positive role model for patients to relate with, and aids me in building a rapport with my patients. My personal experiences assist me in teaching the benefits of occupational therapy.
Laura Gramer, OTR/L
I grew up deaf in a hearing family, and my parents raised me with total communication (signing and speaking), encouraged me to try different things, and were supportive parents. Naturally, I learned to make the environment work for me in order to do the things I wanted to do in life (i.e., travel, scuba dive, etc.). It did take some part of me educating others to “work” with me so I could be included. In high school, I had the opportunity to meet different disciplines in a hospital setting. Occupational therapy attracted me the most because it was what I do in life—make the environment work for you using accommodations (pager), compensation techniques (heightened senses about my environment), and so on. I still had to educate people about accommodating me in school and work. I work in a state inpatient psychiatric hospital where my clients are both deaf and hearing and from all walks of life. Being assertive and getting [your] needs met is one of the skills I currently teach my clients in my current setting, to help them prepare for return into the community.
Sandy Hanebrink, OTR/L
I was first introduced to occupational therapy as a teenager when my brother was recovering from neurosurgery. Although I still really didn’t understand what occupational therapy was all about … I later became a quadriplegic and learned firsthand about occupational therapy. As I went through my rehab process, a therapist began asking me to be a peer counselor to motivate clients the staff was having trouble rehabbing. I also began sitting in on in-services and providing input from perspective of a person with a disability. I then began working on community and playground accessibility projects with an occupational therapy student and helped to start a youth disabled sports program. I was hooked and determined to become an occupational therapist. I now have my own practice and specialize in ADA and accessibility, assistive technology, seating and positioning, and advocacy. I believe occupational therapists with disabilities are among the best occupational therapists in the profession [because] they know firsthand how the clients feel and what is available in the community to help the clients achieve their goals. I encourage everyone who is interested in helping people do whatever it is they want to do in life to pursue an occupational therapy career—disabled or not.
Art Heinze, OTR/L
At age 19, after a power saw accident while cutting wood on my uncle's farm, I became an upper extremity bilateral arm amputee. I am a very successful user of my prostheses. My left arm has a below elbow prosthesis and my right has an above elbow prosthesis. Growing up on a farm, my life plan was to go into farming. While receiving occupational therapy, my first contact with OT was as an amputee patient and I was extremely impressed with how OT gave me back my life.
I started my freshman college career with a major in Agriculture Education but felt I could not do what was required of me as an agriculture teacher. I withdrew from that major and transferred into Occupational Therapy. The director of the OT school was very much opposed to my transfer and informed me that she did not feel my disability would allow me to be a successful OTR. Her statement greatly surprised me, as I felt that OT was a profession that took pride in making persons with a disability function independently within their limitations.
Fortunately, I was 1 of 36 of the pre-OT students who "got weeded out" and I transferred to another OT college where my disability was a non-issue. I continued to receive good grades, completed my internships without difficulties, and landed my first job at a facility where I had interned. They knew of my ability as well as my disability and they also realized my disability was more of an asset than a liability.
After a year at that job I was recruited to establish a new OT department in a regional hospital where I worked for 40 years and recently retired. Now I am doing Arm Amputee Consultation, peer counseling, motivational speaking, and lectures on "Upper Extremity Prosthetics" at several OT and PT (physical therapy) schools.
I have had a very successful and gratifying OT career and have supervised numerous OT and OTA students with disabilities. Sometimes accommodations needed to be made, and I have found that if the student is upfront about his or her disability concerns that accommodations can be made. I have also observed that a student's desire to succeed often needs the support and guidance of OT instructors, the internship placement staff, and the supervising therapist. (Having a pre-placement conference with the student, intern supervisor, and OT instructor was extremely beneficial.) I had my staff trained to do the procedures that I was unable to do and my administration, coworkers, and patients were okay with that. I learned to compensate in the areas where hands were needed. (Needless to say, I did not do scar massage or splinting.)Basically, OT gave me back MY LIFE and I have positively affected the lives of many students and thousands of patients and families.
Kylie Treen, MOT, OTR/L
I almost fell into occupational therapy by accident. A fellow high school student gave me some information about occupational therapy, even though I felt I was headed to a law profession. After a couple of years’ break from high school, I knew I was meant to sign up for occupational therapy school in Australia, and from the first week, I found I had come home. After graduation, I ended up in a case management job, but soon moved overseas to the USA, initially in nursing home jobs, and later, working in outpatient physical disability rehab. I loved what I was doing, until I received a wake-up call. Early in 1998, I developed odd neurological signs and later testing confirmed I had MS [multiple sclerosis].
I tried to follow the traditional patient model, including injecting the immunomodulating drugs. But my body couldn’t accept those drugs, and I couldn’t keep functioning this way. A co-worker introduced me to myofascial release (MFR) and I eventually realized, regardless of my diagnosis, my body needed help, and I loved my profession, and I wanted to continue practicing it.
I have, over the years, experienced extensive MFR and neuromuscular reeducation. I went from an occupational therapist headed for a wheelchair and disability to one who walks with a limp but works full time, incorporates MFR and all she‘s learned personally into her occupational therapy practice, and still loves her profession. I am very grateful for how MS has taught me to be more insightful and compassionate, and to value my profession. I honestly think that I still love being an OT today, because I have MS and I developed new areas for me to practice. It helps keep my passion alive. I’m a foreign therapist, working in a foreign world, with a foreign disease, and I wouldn’t do it any other way!
P.S. To explain the photo with this essay: I love cats and learned to love rescued tiger cubs, and I believe me, without MS, I wouldn’t have had the compassion to sponsor my three baby tigers!