Anita Perr, MA, OT, ATP
Born: February 5th in Newark, NJ
Entry into the AT field: I first started thinking about technology to help people with disabilities in OT School which started in Sept, 1981.
How I got into the field
As an occupational therapist, I have been interested in devices that either allow a person to participate in a given activity or make that participation easier or better in some way throughout my career.
Important event(s) that influenced my early decision to get into the assistive technology field
During an internship, I met Ruth Dickie at the Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine in New York City. Her job seemed amazing to me. I learned Morse Code for single switch access during that training.
Why I chose the AT field
I learned about OT in high school and the appeal of combining science, health, and arts interested me. This combination still appeals to me. I see assistive technology as an compilation of that.
My inspiration and mentor
I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to work with and learn from so many people. I first worked in the Rehabilitation Engineering Center at National Rehab Hospital with Sam McFarland and then with Jan Galvin. These experiences were wonderful and exposed me to the many ways we use technology. I would also have to say that taking the seating certification course given by Elaine Trefler was a turning point in that it made me realize I did have expertise and could make a difference in peoples’ lives. Through RESNA, I met and began working with then working with Peter Axelson on the wheelchair standards committee. Seeing the commitment of the people working to develop standards was inspiring and realizing that I had input into standards for innovative testing and development of safe and useful technologies is really amazing to me. I value what I have learned from these and so many other people in the field and I value the long-lasting friendships that I’ve forged because of this work.
Why the field is important to me and the central focus of my work
I think helping someone to be more independent or to do something they didn’t think they could do is an amazing experience. Now I enjoy connecting with students who think the creativity of providing services and technological devices is exciting. I also think that our interdisciplinary nature makes our work so much more interesting and effective.
My memorable successes and greatest contributions to the field
I had the opportunity to work with a young woman with a spinal cord injury a long, long time ago. She knew what she wanted to be able to do and she was willing to try some ‘interesting’ solutions. I love that we still keep in touch with each other.
I think that my teaching of occupational therapy and other students is important because I include interdisciplinary approaches and reinforce the importance of finding people who can help when you think there is no solution.
My most memorable failures
There are too many to admit to. I’ve tried to learn from mistakes, but must admit that I’ve made the same mistake more than once. I have trouble accepting mistakes and try to fix them by focusing on finding working solutions for the problem.
Significant changes and advances in the field since I first entered it
I think the biggest change is the shift to using everyday technologies rather than specialized devices. It opens up so many options for people who have specific needs.
I think the shift from computers being something only in labs to being everywhere is the biggest change in the field. It means that there is so much more opportunity for so many more people to have access to what they need or want.
On the future of rehabilitation engineering and assistive technology
I think there will always be the need for specialized technology because no matter who a device is designed for, there will people who cannot use it and would like to. I hope that, as our everyday technology continues to develop, more and more people with specialized needs will be able to use commercial devices. I hope the devices will have enough inherent flexibility to work for a wider variety of people.
My role within RESNA and what it gave back to me
Participating in RESNA activities has been integral to shaping my career. I’ve been on a number of committees and boards in RESNA. Each time I committed to a group within RESNA I appreciated the opportunity to meet new people and to learn about a new topic. I am so thankful for all of the volunteer work that so many people have done as part of RESNA and hope that others with whom I worked also felt good about the work they did.
On the future of RESNA
I hope that RESNA continues to be a home for people from various careers and backgrounds to find people with like interests to explore new ideas and to learn from each other.
My suggestions for those just entering the field
I would encourage people to jump in and get involved. If someone offers an opportunity, try it. Open yourself to new experiences and follow through as a dynamic and reliable team member.