“Equal access is a basic human right.” What drew this pediatric OT to the field of AT

Stephanie Hui is an Assistive Technology Specialist for Pittsburgh Public Schools in Pennsylvania who used to work as a pediatric occupational therapist. 

In this interview, we talked about what assistive technology is, exactly, what drew her to the field as an OT, and how access is a basic human right.

What is Assistive Technology? 

Assistive technology is any type of equipment or software that helps individuals gain access to their everyday environment, and allows them to participate, despite any permanent or temporary disability. 

Mary: How and why did you come to work in Assistive Technology?

Stephanie: As a pediatric occupational therapist, I worked with kids with cerebral palsy, multiple disabilities, and brain injury with very limited physical mobility function. 

Assistive technology was one of the ways where we would be able to see progress. It allowed us to gauge their engagement, to see communication. 

When this happens, people start interacting with them differently. They start presuming competence. 

For example, instead of giving a 13-year-old bubbles, they’ll provide more age appropriate activities. They’re more cognizant about what they say about them in front of them. They are more likely to expose them to more age-appropriate content. 

When I saw my students progress in that way through assistive technology, that's when I was hooked. 

Mary: What is your job as an Assistive Technology Specialist for a school district like? 

Stephanie: Since moving to Pittsburgh, I've been an AT Specialist for the past four years. 

In this role I do one-on-one consultations, classroom and group trainings, as well as teacher and parent trainings. With administrators, I share what products are out there and how they can help students. 

I also work to spread awareness of our UDL software’s availability so that more people can have access to it. 

Mary: What do you mean by UDL software? 

(Author’s note: Universal Design for Learning is a framework for designing learning to reduce any barriers students might encounter, like accessibility, but also things like motivation and engagement. You can learn more about it by exploring the website of CAST, the creators of UDL.)

Stephanie: Our UDL tools are software programs that are available district wide for everybody to use, that can allow students to participate in the classroom environment a little bit better. The way they use it is very individualized; they make it their own. 

There are many benefits for students without an IEP or a 504 plan.

Mary: How does giving every student access to UDL tools help?

Stephanie: In Pittsburgh, the literacy rate is very low. Some students might not be identified [with a learning disability] or go through the MTSS process, but they still need some kind of intervention. 

For example, text-to-speech helps not only students with dyslexia, but it also helps students with low attention span or emotional disturbances. It helps them engage, feel a sense of mastery, and develop a love of learning. It’s one less battle because if they don’t feel proficient, they won’t want to do the activity.  

For a lot of our students, spelling is a huge issue, and they experience a barrier to getting words onto paper. Speech-to-text for writing is a game changer in terms of assignment completion and showing what they know.

Our students with multiple disabilities that use communication devices are able to turn in written work with speech-to-text features. And the executive function support has been so helpful to our high school students, specifically the Read&Write feature that removes distractions. 

ESL students use it for translation. It's hard to assess their reading level and writing levels. When they see it in their own language, they get very, very excited and have a little bit more motivation.

Mary: Why is inclusion important to you? 

Stephanie: My passion and my background is working with students with physical disabilities, and oftentimes, they are overlooked in terms of access to activities and reading materials.

I’ve always had a strong belief that these students have a right to participate in the same activities and be given the same content as their peers. It's not about their ability, but how they access the activity.

We don't know what they know. And we don't know how they interpret it. But if we don’t provide equal access to their peers, oftentimes our expectations of them don’t reflect their true abilities. 

I think the ability to have equal access as everybody else is a basic human right.

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