OTs: the ultimate problem solvers

By Kate Reid, 22 October 2018 , Comments

Occupational therapists (OTs) may not wear capes, but to many of our customers they sure do have super powers.

To celebrate OT Week, we spoke to OT and head of Northcott Innovation Sam Frain, to find out how OTs leap tall disability barriers in sometimes multiple, problem-solving bounds.

How did you get into OT?

I did my Year 10 work experience as an OT in a special school and absolutely loved it.

What does an OT do?

Everything! Just kidding, we work alongside people to identify what are the things that they want to do (we call those occupations) and what are the barriers preventing them from doing those things. We then work alongside the individual to either break down those barriers, or work around them.

What might people be surprised to know about OTs?

OTs are everywhere. Everyone knows we are in the disability, health and education sectors. But we also work in the mental health, innovation, and international health promotion space.

You’ve had experience accessing OT services for your child, what was that like being on the other side?

Once I realised I wasn’t going to be de-registered for being an OT whose child needed OT support it was great!

My child has so much fun with their OT. The OT is able to encourage them to do all sorts of things that they would never ever do for me.

Do you have any interesting case studies from your time as an OT?

I love working alongside people with complex and multiple disabilities, I find it really challenging and exceptionally rewarding.

One of my favourite customers was a young child who had a dual sensory impairment, alongside a physical and intellectual disability. I would approach her classroom and see through the window that she was alert and engaged.

Then I would enter the classroom, and greet her using tactile signs. Every single session she would smile after I had greeted her, turn off her cochlear implants, close her eyes, cross her arms and put herself to sleep! She was great to work with, and really pushed my creativity to the extreme. 

I also love working in the sexuality space – any chance to talk adaptive sexual positions or alternate sex toys and I’m there!

How does your background as an OT inform your work with Northcott Innovation (NI)?

Innovation is just a fancy way of saying problem solving, and OTs are some of the best problem solvers around.

OTs learn to see an issue from all sides, but keeps the individual person at the forefront. OT also teaches us to look at all the possible solutions … from simple, to practical, to expensive and the extreme.

There isn’t a single day in my work with NI that I don’t use my OT skills, although to be fair, I rarely whip out my tape measure anymore. 

Can you tell us about some of the NI projects that are informed by OT?

Nest (www.gonest.com.au) enables us to connect people with disability to the housing they want and need. Using a simple technology interface to improve transparency, knowledge and choice for individuals, is very OT.

We worked alongside the UTS engineering faculty for the ‘Step Climber’ project, to adapt powerdrive wheelchairs so they could climb a single step. Improved access and wheelchairs – that’s OT 101.

For the ‘Hack-a-Home’ project, we created assistive technology devices for our customers in supported living environments using 3D printing, using OT driven assistive technology, person centred planning and staff training.

We created an app for the ‘Guide Dots’ project to support people with vision impairment navigate their physical and social environments, which was informed by OT inclusive orientation and mobility.

And our work in sexuality and sex toys is just one big ball of OT fun.

Anything else you’d like people to know about OTs?

OTs are wonderful human beings that lurk in all sorts of places within Northcott, not just Northcott’s Therapy services. If you are unsure who we are, you’ll be able to spot us by our sensible flat shoes (no one can script a wheelchair in heels) and our practical clothes (no crazy dangly earrings for OTs).

Related Content

Read about how our speech pathologist Candice is supporting Northcott customer James with her creative approach to therapy.

Find out more about how assistive technology can support people with disability.



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