Kay Ellen Koch, OTR/L, ATP
Born: October 22nd - Cincinnati, Ohio
Entry into the AT field: Sometime in the Fall of 1978
How I got into the field
My background in Occupational Therapy exposed me to assistive technology during my first job at Redwood School in Fort Mitchell, KY. I assisted with the feeding evaluations and relied on adaptive equipment to help the children become independent with their lunches. Good positioning was also important for their function and participation in the classroom and on the playground. I became involved with their seating and wheeled mobility. I was excited to use what I knew about the body, while learning about the technology options that were available to increase everyday functioning and mobility with the children at the school. It was amazing to see the positive responses from the other children, staff and especially the parents and other family members.
Important event(s) that influenced my early decision to get into the assistive technology field
I knew from the time I was 13 that I wanted to become an Occupational Therapist. I was volunteering at a day camp for children with disabilities and met the Occupational Therapist who worked there. I immediately became interested in the idea of combining science and creativity to accomplish everyday tasks like dressing and eating. My first exposure was a hand-held device that helped button a shirt with one hand. ... I was hooked on technology and what it could provide.
Why I chose the AT field
Meeting the Occupational Therapist at Camp Stepping Stones in Cincinnati and seeing her utilize all levels of technology-low to high tech options helped me decide to pursue OT and learn more about AT.
My inspiration and mentor
There have been many people along the way who have inspired or mentored me throughout my career. Elaine Trefler encouraged me to submit to present at a conference (even though I didn't think what I had to say was that important) and I continue to present at conferences today. Peter Axelson and Anita Perr inspired me to become more involved in RESNA by getting me involved in the Standards Committee which really helped me understand all that takes place before a product or technology comes to market. I will always be grateful for my family, friends, co-workers and supervisors who encouraged me to continue to learn at every stage of my career.
Why the field is important to me and the central focus of my work
I have focused on seating and wheeled mobility and educating the next gengeration of therapists and suppliers in various roles throughout my career from working in a school system, 2 hospitals, a seating clinic, performing Joint Commission accreditation surveys, a third party reviewer, 4 manufacturers and a rehab equipment supplier. Each role exposed me to another aspect of the evaluation, service, delivery, and funding systems utilized in assistive technology.
My memorable successes and greatest contributions to the field
I have been proud to work with individuals as a clinician to make a difference in their lives. When I worked in a seating and mobility clinic, I evaluated children for mobility devices. We were able to provide power wheelchairs that allowed them to access independently their environment. For many years after the evaluation, they sent me photos of their Halloween costumes. That made a distinct memory for me that they were able to independently trick or treat due to the technology that was provided and that their family integrated the wheelchair into their costume. I have been able to cross over from clinician to industry and tackle successfully many roles and jobs that were considered non-traditional at the time.
I am proud of my 11 year educational seminar in Georgia that still continues today to educate therapists about the options in seating and wheeled mobility. It began as a small event to educate therapists and grew to education for therapists all over Georgia. I also feel that over the years in the industry I have been able to communicate complicated clinical information and issues and work with the CRT supplier to improve outcomes for their clients. I am also proud to be a part of the team who advised Georgia Medicaid to "carve out" rehab equipment from their general DME. This included for the first time registration in NRRTS and eventually ATP/ATS certifications for the DME supplier, as well as standards for repairs and service. They also included that the evaluation for the rehab products would need to be completed by an OT or PT. I remain active with NCART in the education and encouragement of our senators and house of representatives to carve out complex rehab technology from general Medicare DME.
My most memorable failures
I can remember vividly the first time I attempted a foam in place back with a supplier who was new to that technology too. We had foam all over the floor. On our second attempt we captured the form we needed.
Significant changes and advances in the field since I first entered it
Technology has evolved in every aspect of the field since I entered it. Computers, the internet and email were almost unheard of when I got out of OT school and now they are a way of life, a way to connect with the world and a huge resource for education and access to peers. There are also amazing changes and developments in the equipment available. I am glad to see there is more research published and outcomes documented so we really can say objectively something we had felt over the years about a type of technology or a specific product and its positive impact on the individuals who use it. The idea of universal design for products and having them in a more mainstream arena is exciting too.
The electronics on power wheelchairs, the technology advancements on communication systems and the availability of all kinds of education, research and other product development are all important advances in the field. As I write this there is a bill introduced in the house and the senate carving complex rehab technology products from general Medicare. I hope one day this is a reality and will continue to improve access to these products and services.
On the future of rehabilitation engineering and assistive technology
I see the need for technology growing and increasing the technology integrated with everyday tasks as important as ever, especially as the technologies allow more people to live their lives in their homes and communities instead of facilities.
My role within RESNA and what it gave back to me
I have volunteered in many roles at RESNA including membership and leadership roles in the Education, Meetings and Standards Committees, the editorial board of the Assistive Technology Journal, and the Board of Directors. I have regularly volunteered and presented at the RESNA Annual Conferences. RESNA has enhanced my career by introducing me to many people I feel are my friends that I can call on as a resource or for advice. Quite often they are also processing and pondering the same or similar situations. RESNA conferences has also provided me with the most wonderful collection of totes that anyone can have!
On the future of RESNA
I hope to see the profession continue to grow and evolve with the common goal to continue to help create functional solutions for the people we work with. I look forward to the "next" generation of therapists and engineers and what they will develop.
My suggestions for those just entering the field
Welcome!! I hope you enjoy the field as much as I have and find your professional "home" here at RESNA.
"Get involved or volunteer in something that interests you. Give yourself permission to be a beginner while taking responsibility for being a learning, growing, reflective practitioner." * These words were written to me by late grandfather when I graduated from OT school.