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Physical Therapist Assistant Students
Get Firsthand Perspective of Life with Disabilities


West Windsor, N.J. – Before they graduate, students who study to be physical therapist assistants at Mercer County Community College have an opportunity to experience their field from a different vantage point– the patient’s.

That, according to Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) Program Coordinator Barbara Behrens, PTA, MS, is the goal of "Disability Day," a rite of passage for graduating PTA students.  Behrens explains, “We want students to head off into their jobs with a true awareness of what patients tackle as they go about the tasks of their day.”

Teaming up in groups of three and four, 25 students donned a variety of assistive devices – wheelchairs, walkers, crutches, or a sling/leg/neck brace combination – and headed for Quakerbridge Mall from the their academic building on the college’s West Windsor campus on May 3.

According to students, their assistive devices made their three-hour outing a lot more challenging, starting with getting in and out of their cars using the transfer skills they have learned in the PTA lab.  That was just the beginning, as they then turned their attention to entrances, aisles and restrooms.

Behrens reports that students found navigation difficult just about everywhere.  “In most locations, the shopping aisles were too narrow to accommodate wheelchairs.  Only the main mall entrances had power doors,” she noted.

Physical difficulties were not the only negatives students encountered.  “Those in wheelchairs found that people did not make eye contact or they were overly friendly.  In either case, the students did not feel like they were being treated ‘normally,’” Behrens said.

The outing also proved extremely tiring and resulted in unexpected after-effects.  “Students found that walking with a walker is really hard work. They were surprised at how stiff their limbs got after being splinted or put in slings, even for such a short time,” Behrens said. She adds that those who wore braces developed a limp from walking with assistive devices for just those few hours. “This amazed them,” she said.

According to Behrens, PTA grads will take the National Physical Therapy Exam this fall and most will be weighing multiple job offers. Graduates of the program work under the supervision of physical therapists in settings ranging from skilled nursing facilities to hospitals and outpatient physical therapy clinics.


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Fitted with their assistive devices are, from left, Pasquale Belardo, Chris Schultz, Kevin Roberts, Yuliya Mutsa and Ryan Harkins.
Navigating walkers, wheelchairs and crutches is the challenging task at hand for PTA students, from left, Jennifer Schore, Cindy Pirog and Kathy DeMarco.
From left, Kevin Mosley, Youngmee Park, Martha Moser, Danielle Wolk, Yarema Boskyy (background with head down), Jenna Berger, Jackie Davis and Greg Heim are ready for their outing.
And they're off to Quakerbridge Mall.