Susan Johnson Taylor, OTR/L
Born: February 22, 1957 - Key West, FL
Entry into the AT Field: Spring, 1980
How I got into the field
I am an occupational therapist. My first job was at the Crippled Children's Hospital School in Memphis. We were next door to the University of Tennessee Rehabilitation Engineering Center. I had to learn how to participate in Seating Clinic, which was held at the hospital. I still remember Mike Heinrich explaining the importance of pelvic position while holding on to a child's pelvis that we were seeing.
Important event(s) that influenced my early decision to get into the assistive technology field
The more I did with "technical aids," as they were called then, the more I loved it. I loved the immediacy of technology. I remember working with a little girl, Connie, who had Morquio Syndrome. She was unable to functionally move anything except her head. We evaluated her for powered mobility and environmental control (A Du-it System!!). She was immediately able to drive her wheelchair and turn on her TV and radio. She was thrilled. I was too!
There were so many resources at the Rehab Eng Center (Doug, Elaine, Greg Shaw, Mike H.), I just fell in love with the idea and then the field.
Why I chose the AT field
I chose the field because of selfishness and the love of immediate gratification. How great for a therapist to be able to have such an immediate and life-changing impact on a client's life. It still blows me away!
My inspiration and mentor
Elaine Trefler. We worked together for 10 years. I learned a lot from her, and we learned a lot together. Also Doug Hobson, Greg Shaw, Mike Heinrich and Nigel Shapcott, who were all at the program at the same time in the mid- 80's. We all learned how to integrate the right-brained OT with the left brained engineer to produce wonderful results for our clients.
Why the field is important to me and the central focus of my work
It has always been client service, although I also enjoy mixing in education and a little research. I think it is really important for us to educate the upcoming young'uns.
My memorable successes and greatest contributions to the field
One of my most memorable successes was learning how to teach in front of a crowd without hyperventilating. Really, the most memorable things have to do with someone telling me I have made a difference in their lives. I got a letter from a client's wife -he had died a few weeks before from ALS. She said that he specifically said to tell me that I had made the last part of his life much more comfortable and bearable. The patchwork of stories like that over 26 years are my (and the teams I have worked with) successes.
I have tried to publish what I thought would be valuable for people to know, and I have been very involved in the fabric of RESNA in many different capacities for many years.
My most memorable failures
How long do you have? I would say that most failures in clinical involvement stem from not listening well enough. Some, of course are due to other factors beyond our control, but clients have certainly taught me how to listen.
Significant changes and advances in the field since I first entered it
In seating and mobility in 1980 there were so few choices. We were all learning. We all worked together improving our base of knowledge by sharing and working together with manufacturers to push the development of equipment forward.
Aside from equipment, I think significant advances include the research relative to seating and mobility. It makes us look at our assumptions and ask questions rather than always retreating to the status quo. For example, as the research on aging with disabilities began to come out, I have incorporated it into questions I ask and conversations I have in clinic with clients.
On the future of rehabilitation engineering and assistive technology
I hope the funding part improves. It runs what we are able to do. For what I do, I see "smart" seating systems and wheelchair bases that provide just the kind of support you need when you need it as well as wheelchairs that are not bound by inaccessibility.
My role within RESNA and what it gave back to me
I have had many roles within RESNA. I just remember being SO excited at my first RESNA conference in Ottawa in 1984. All those people who were interested in the same things I was. It was overwhelming. The next year was in Memphis in 1985, so I guess my involvement was baptism by fire. I've done committee work (Education, Publications, Meetings), been on the Board, etc. Each has taught me a little more and made me some friends for life. RESNA has helped my career by developing connections - and I mean more than for jobs. People I can email or call with a client problem, funding issue or whatever. It has also provided me with learning how to work within an organization to get things done.
On the future of RESNA
RESNA is the only place where people from a variety of backgrounds can come together. I think it will remain a smaller organization than it was, simply because people have specialized, but it is still very important.
My suggestions for those just entering the field
Listen, ask questions, make waves. You have an opportunity to make a difference, a real difference in the lives of the people you work with.