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MCCC's PTA Students Learn About Disabilities from
Patient's Point of View


West Windsor, 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 May.

"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 time."

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 student.

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.

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Ready for shopping, from left, are PTA students Jennifer Foley, Amy Hoyer, Adrienne Bini, Jamie Czyzewski and Nolan Biron (in wheelchair.)
On the move, from left, Oriana Szufa, Linda Black and Missy Pittenger.
PTA 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.

From left, PTA students Melissa Nelson,
Roxanne Undercuffler, Janeane Jackson and Diane Sinnott.