Date: Monday, May 4, 2020
Category: Member News
Alisa Brownlee: My “Aha Moment” that Assistive Technology was My Calling
Alisa Brownlee, ATP, is the Clinical Manager of Assistive Technology Services at the ALS Association, based in Philadelphia.
Tell us about your area of focus within Assistive Technology.
I work with clients diagnosed with ALS and my specialty areas are AAC, computer access, environmental controls, and home modifications.
How did you get into the field of AT?
Assistive Technology is my second career. I worked in the hotel and restaurant industry for eight years before transitioning into working for a social service agency – the ALS Association Greater Philadelphia Chapter. I was originally hired for program coordination and meeting planning, but I wasn’t satisfied in that role. Luckily, my boss understood, and my focus was redirected to helping with assistive technology loaner equipment. I had no experience in assistive technology but I did understand computers and programming, and I was interested and eager to learn. A few months later, our nurse forwarded me a brochure about a local RESNA meeting. I will never forget the day I went as it was life altering. I sat in a class taught by Karen Kangas and had an “aha” moment that this industry was my calling.
After attending that local RESNA conference in 1996, I immediately joined the organization and I’ve been a member since. I subsequently enrolled in the ATACP program at California State Northridge and got my AT certificate. In 2000, after working in the field for five years, I became an ATP.
Although people with ALS need all types of assistive technology, communication is the greatest challenge in this disease. People with ALS have told me that they are willing to accept walkers and wheelchairs, but the idea that they may no longer be able to verbally speak is incomprehensible to them. Communication is a big part of what makes us human – our linguistic ability is one of the few things that differentiates us from the animal kingdom.
My motto to my clients is, “if you have the will to communicate, I can teach you the way”.
Do you have any general advice for AT professionals?
Listen to the end user! I always ask those that call on behalf of an end user, “What do they (the end user) want to do?” You would be surprised that often people don’t know because they haven’t asked the user. You can never make a person use technology just because you want them to use it – they have to buy in and understand the benefit.
How has RESNA advanced your career?
I don’t think I would have succeeded in this industry without RESNA. When I joined, life changed for me as I was able to connect with people that understood our industry, had years of experience, and were willing to share their knowledge with newbies. In particular, the RESNA AT Forum is a place where anyone can pose questions and there is a guarantee that someone in our industry has an answer.
When I became ATP certified, my career also changed. I became the first AT professional to be incorporated into an ALS Certified Clinic team, when Dr. Leo McCluskey of the Pennsylvania Hospital ALS Clinic asked me to be a part of the new ALS Clinic he was spearheading. There are now several clinics that have an AT specialist as a team member and the importance of AT has been documented as being a crucial part of an ALS Clinic.
Looking forward, what excites you about RESNA’s future?
The students and the new professionals emerging that are committed to improving the lives of people with disabilities are inspiring to me. This generation was raised on smartphones and tablet technology, and that experience gives them unique insight into how we can support those who are differently abled.
Editor’s Note: We plan to feature a RESNA member in every issue of Member News. If you know someone deserving of the spotlight, or would like to participate, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org, Subject: Member Spotlight.