Assistive technology’s unicorn

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Tuesday, September 3, 2019

ARVADA, Colo. – Michelle Lange, OTR, ATP/SMS, realized she wanted to focus her occupational therapy career on assistive technology during her first job out of college more than 30 years ago. Here’s what Lange, who was recently named a RESNA Fellow and who has a private practice, Access to Independence, had to say about AT in the early years—hint, it involved a “Unicorn expanded keyboard”—and why, despite the challenges of the field, she’s made if her professional life’s work.

HME News: How did you decide to specialize in AT?

Michelle Lange: The first job I had—and even during my internship—the clients I was seeing were children with significant and multiple disabilities. We did the traditional bent metal therapy with them and as much as we wanted to do all these therapies it wasn’t going to make much of a difference on their development test scores.

HME: How were you introduced to AT?

Lange: I saw it and got to play with it in my internship at California Children’s Services. It was the very early days. They had a computer, an Adaptive Firmware Card and a Unicorn expanded keyboard. I was able to bring this technology to my first job, also with CCS. That’s where I also learned about seating and mobility, augmentative communication and what’s now called electronic aids to daily living.

HME: Why did you get involved in RESNA? You’ve been a long-time member, a past secretary, board member, vice chair of the Wheelchair Seating and Mobility Specialty Group—the list goes on.

Lange: There’s an old saying at RESNA: If you sit in a meeting and raise your hand, before you know it, you’re involved. But education has always been a passion of mine.

HME: You have done a lot of education, whether it be conference presentations, webinars, articles, even a 440-page clinical resource guide on seating and mobility that you authored with Jean Minkel.

Lange: I can see a client and try to meet their needs, but for every client I see, there are many more out there whose needs are not being met. That’s not because I have a corner on anything. There’s just not enough people looking at this stuff and education is a way I can help with that.

HME: By naming you a Fellow, RESNA is recognizing you for your significant contributions to the field. What do you view as your most significant contribution?

Lange: I hope I’ve made a difference—and not just in how they function in their life. Because you get to know these families and you work with them for years. I see these families struggling when they get a diagnosis—they’re in denial, they’re overwhelmed. I remember sitting down with a mom who had twins with cerebral palsy. I asked her, how are you tracking all the stuff you need to do, and she said, I’m trying to remember everything. We created a spreadsheet on her computer of things that needed to be done every day, like feeding, skin checks. You’re more than, here’s your wheelchair, see you later.

HME: This is an intense career. How have you stayed motivated?

Lange: One reason I’m not burnt out is, since my oldest son was born, I’ve only worked part time, thought it’s gotten closer to 40 hours as I’ve gotten older. I also do a variety of things within the field. But a lot of my passion comes from knowing the value I provide to the client.