My name is Michelle Kuchinskas and I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to complete my specialty fieldwork rotation for occupational therapy school at Adaptive Design Association. When Alex first proposed working with young adults in a pre-vocational pilot program, I was initially nervous. However, she assured me that as an occupational therapy student, I had the skills required to make the group a success. The purpose of this pre-vocational program is to prepare high school students for employment after graduating high school, with an overarching goal of proving that all individuals can contribute to society and changing stigmas about disabilities. The first two students in this program were Taaj and Carey from Park West High School, which is part of District 75, the special education system in New York City. Each week, both students arrived with a job coach, eager to begin their day at Adaptive Design Association.
The tasks that they completed each week all related to production of tangible cue symbols (cues), which are used as a communication device for children who are deaf-blind. Specifically, Taaj and Carey went through the process of building cues that represented “bathroom.” This specific cue uses two small tiles to represent bathroom. It is our goal that these bathroom cues will be used to demarcate the bathrooms in schools throughout District 75. First, Taaj and Carey learned to prime the cues with white paint. This task requires many skills that can be transferred to a variety of environments, including neatness and attention to the task at hand. Next, the students learned how to use masking tape to “edge” the cue cards. Edging is a process that is integral to our building process, as it helps to maintain the integrity of the tri-wall cardboard. This task involved judgment for sizes of masking tape, as well as problem-solving. After edging, the cues were painted with white gloss paint. Additional steps in the production process included using a stencil to trace a rectangle on each painted cue, and then removing one layer of tri-wall of said rectangle. Once the layer was removed, the rectangle was outlined with black paint. The final step involved using hot glue to embed small tiles in the cardboard. Each new step was introduced after I felt that they had mastered the previous step
Taaj and Carey also had the opportunity to build reading easels out of double-wall cardboard. This project involved all basic cardboard carpentry skills, including measuring, scoring, cutting, and using hot glue. After construction, the students and their job coach used APT, appropriate paper-based technology, to edge and decorate the easels. The excitement that they portrayed after completing the easels cannot be expressed with words alone. Seeing their pride in their accomplishments each week merely affirmed my role as program facilitator. Throughout all tasks during their internship here, Taaj and Carey were expected to arrive on time, maintain an intern log-in sheet, treat all employees/interns and visitors with respect, and to keep a clean workspace.
Since this was the first pre-vocational program at ADA, there was no set template or schedule for me to follow with the students. Each week, I was challenged to design an agenda and appropriately engage both students. I found that it was initially challenging to gage their skills, but as time went on, I was able to identify strengths and weaknesses of the individuals and then subsequently grade the activities. I found that it was always good to have a back-up plan in case tasks went quicker than expected, and to also allow the students to choose from several tasks. Client-centered practice is at the heart of the profession of occupational therapy, so I tried to give Taaj and Carey several options, when possible. Overall, this pilot program was a success and I look forward to seeing what the future brings for the pre-vocational program at Adaptive Design Association!