Students Learn About Disabilities from
Patient's Point of View
N.J. - There
is no better preparation for assisting people with disabilities
than knowing what it feels like. That, according to Physical
Therapist Assistant (PTA) Program Coordinator Barbara Behrens,
was the goal of "Disability Day," which students
in one of their final PTA seminar classes carried out in early
"The class was really exhausted when they returned to
campus and that's just after 'staying in their disability'
for approximately four hours," Behrens reported. "They
were amazed at the amount of energy they expended during that
Twenty-one students were assigned different types of assistive
devices - wheelchairs, walkers, crutches, or a sling/leg/neck
brace combination. Traveling in teams of three or four, they
headed for Quakerbridge Mall to learn what a simple shopping
trip is like when "disabled."
After navigating the relatively smooth trek out of the MS
building to the East parking lot, transfering into their cars,
and then determining how to get each other out of their cars
using transfer skills they had learned in class, students
quickly became aware of impediments to their expedition.
One of the major department stores had a sign posted that
it was handicapped accessible, but it turned out that only
the inside door could be opened automatically. A disabled
person would be forced to wait until someone came along to
help them open the outside door.
In another big department store, the jounry to the elevator
proved full of obstacles. The wheelchair-using students had
to squeeze their way through the aisles of the appliance department
and, to make matters worse, the area was carpeted, which is
harder to roll on.
Other findings: handicapped parking spaces were too far away;
the vinyl material of wheelchairs doesn't breathe; the action
of rolling wheelchairs causes sore shoulders; and travelling
on crutches is slow and tiring.
There were psychological components to the exercise as well.
A disabled Iraqi war veteran approached the students to ask
what was going on. They explained they were participating
in a class activity, but came away from the conversation feeling
guilty. "He has to live it every day," said one
Behrens is clearly satisfied with the results. "No amount
of preparation can make students fully ready to deal with
everything, but this is significant attempt. They saw it through
new eyes," Behrens said.
This class will complete its last clinical rotation over the
summer and graduate in August. Students will take their national
licensure exam in the fall.
According to Associate Professor Behrens, the demand for PTAs
is strong and new job postings are coming in on a daily basis.
"This class should have no difficulty securing employment
in the field," she said.
for shopping, from left, are PTA students Jennifer Foley,
Amy Hoyer, Adrienne Bini, Jamie Czyzewski and Nolan Biron
the move, from left, Oriana Szufa, Linda Black and Missy Pittenger.
students try out a variety of assistive devices as they head
for the campus parking lot. Pictured from left are Sarah Bahr-Gordon,
Yoke Loo, Paola Risha, Barbara Vees and Bill Rhodes.
left, PTA students Melissa Nelson,
Roxanne Undercuffler, Janeane Jackson and Diane Sinnott.