Tells us how you became interested in the Occupational Therapy field:

Callie: I first became interested in working with individuals of differing ability levels as a high schooler giving soccer lessons to someone with a disability. While I did not know it at the time, this started me on the path to becoming an OT. After struggling with my own chronic illness throughout middle school and high school I began to notice how valuable my daily tasks and preferred activities were to my mental, physical, and overall emotional health. Once in college I knew I wanted to go into the medical field and after learning how OT uses daily tasks and creative methodologies to promote healing, advocate for others, and adapt to challenges I knew it would be a perfect fit.

Chloe: During my freshman year at The University of Tennessee I was speaking with my guidance counselor about my personal and professional interests when she recommended I look into OT. I went home to do my own research and scheduled to shadow an OT in my area. I fell in love with the profession after shadowing an OT in a hospital. I loved that it combined my interest in anatomy/psychology with assisting individuals from various backgrounds in accomplishing their own personal goals. OT also has many different career paths such as pediatrics, geriatrics, mental health, physical/cognitive disabilities, brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, and school system, and this aspect gave me reassurance that I have many different opportunities to pursue making the time and money invested worthwhile to me.

Your OT program at Belmont concluded with a capstone project, share more about this experience and how it enhanced your learning. 

The capstone project is a minimum of 14 weeks and 560 hours long, and is designed to develop an advanced skill set in a variety of clinical areas prior to graduation. After expressing interest in several different agencies all focusing on a different population, each student is paired with a specific agency. Each student has a faculty mentor from Belmont and an expert mentor from the agency they are placed with to help direct their project, though it is heavily student driven. Once a student is placed with an agency they will do extensive background research regarding the population and agency to better understand how they can serve this agency and population. This process begins a year prior to actually partnering with the agency and actively working with them. Once the capstone semester begins, meetings with the agency and expert mentor more clearly detail the project and communicate the agency’s needs. After this the student works with the expert mentor and faculty mentor to  create and carry out a project that will meet the agency’s needs and is related to OT. As the capstone semester winds down, the student creates a poster detailing their project and how they reached the goals they set in previous semesters. The capstone semester is completed after the student presents their poster to faculty and peers, answering questions about their projects.

 Introduce us to your capstone project – Ability App:

We collaborated to educate students, professors, professionals, business owners and non-profit organizations on the goals and features of Ability App. We have collected data and encouraged others to do so through in depth presentations explaining how to use Ability App. Our ultimate goal is to make communities more accessible to individuals with a variety of disabilities through the use of Ability App.

Explain to us how the Ability App works and information collected in the platform:

Ability App is a web-based and crowd-sourced app that provides information on accessibility regarding businesses and public spaces. Ability App has four domains (mobility, vision, hearing, and cognition) that allow the information to be customized to an individual’s needs. People can leave reviews for any of, or all four domains based on criteria listed that is specific to each domain. There is also a location to upload photos and comments to provide a more accurate description.

Provide an overview of who might access Ability App and find the information valuable:

Many people can benefit from the use of Ability App including but not limited to: individuals with physical impairments, cognitive impairments, hearing impairments, visual impairments, aging adults, caregivers of those with disabilities, individuals with temporary disabilities (following surgery or an accident), business owners and more.

Why is it important for future healthcare and wellness professionals to be aware of and engage in initiative such as Ability App

 There are a wide variety of reasons that future healthcare and wellness professionals should care to be involved with Ability App and the initiatives the agency promotes. One of the largest is the need for enhanced accessibility. Many businesses do the bare minimum required by ADA, unfortunately this often does not mean that the space is inclusive and readily accessible to individuals with diverse abilities. We need people who are educated on the issues to take up advocacy efforts and educate business owners on big and little things that their business can do to be more accessible. We also care that these future professionals get involved because the Ability App is a resource that will likely be beneficial to a number of future patients, clients, peers, and family members. Future professionals in these fields are also better equipped and more likely to have productive conversations with business owners that can educate them on how to increase the accessibility of their business.

What can students do NOW to support accessibility in their campus and hometown communities: 

 Create an account with Ability App and leave reviews. Educate friends, family and business owners on potential barriers to those with disabilities. Become familiar with ADA requirements and needs that may not be met by such requirements. Speak with individuals who have disabilities and follow social media accounts of those with disabilities to better understand their lived experiences. Join clubs and volunteer organizations that work with individuals with disabilities and promote community accessibility.

How can student learn more about Ability App and further engage in advocacy and networking activities:

Follow Ability App on social media, we have a Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube channel that provide more information about Ability App and its’ mission. We also want to encourage everyone to observe, listen, learn, educate and speak up about accessibility.