Fellow Michelle Lange

Born: February 6, 1983

Entry into the AT field: 1985   

How I got into the field:
One of my fieldworks after graduation from San Jose State University was at California Children’s Services (CCS) in Santa Clara, California. The therapy units in that area were just starting to use assistive technology with their clients, including computers, the Adaptive Firmware Card and the Unicorn expanded keyboard. I learned how to use and program these devices and was able to bring this technology to my first job, also with CCS, in Southern California. There, I also learned about wheelchair seating and mobility, augmentative communication, and a relatively new technology called Environmental Control Units (now referred to as Electronic Aids to Daily Living).

Important event(s) that influenced my early decision to get into the assistive technology field:
When working with pediatric clients who had multiple and significant disabilities, I soon realized that traditional therapy alone would not truly improve function. Assistive technology could, and that was exciting!

Why I chose the AT field:
I firmly believe that we each have value just as we are. Assistive Technology allows the world to see a person, not a disability, and that is empowering and addictive!

My inspiration and mentor:
I am so grateful for many clients, caregivers, co-workers, and colleagues in this field who taught me and encouraged me. Christine Wright-Ott and Louise Sumpter sparked a love for assistive technology way back in my fieldwork days. A supervisor at CCS encouraged me to share in an inservice about a topic I had only learned about at a conference – my first presentation. Ann Grady, my first supervisor at Children’s Hospital in Denver, told a co-worker and myself about this organization called RESNA and encouraged us to present there. Jessica Pedersen and Adrienne Bergen were ‘assigned’ to us as mentors as we prepared for that presentation. I have learned so much from so many, but particularly from Kelly Waugh, Susan Johnson Taylor, and Jean Minkel. I am forever grateful.

Why the field is important to me and the central focus of my work:
I love the people who work in this field – each has a passion for what they do and why they do it. I have rarely met a more committed group of people! It is a challenge to keep up with new technology, but I love seeing the continued innovation in products, product features, interventions, and research.

My memorable successes and greatest contributions to the field:
While not a contribution to the field, my greatest success – I hope – is my family. I love them with all my heart and they keep me grounded. With that said, I love to teach and write and I hope that through many in-person courses, webinars, and articles that I have encouraged and instructed others to better serve the clients that they work with. I, along with Richard Simpson and Glen Ashlock, hosted the very first Electronic Aids to Daily Living lab at RESNA and continued to do so for a number of years. I had the privilege to serve as editor on the AOTA Technology Special Interest Section a long time ago and now edit clinical articles for NRRTS. I think my favorite, and most recent, contribution is the amazing honor of co-editing Seating and Wheeled Mobility: a clinical resource guide with Jean Minkel. We had an amazing group of authors that are all experts in this field. 

My most memorable failures:
I have evaluated many clients over 30 years and sometimes I wish I could go back and change what I recommended. There are so many ways of learning and all are important, however I learn the most from experience and can only hope that my learning curve did not result in too many sub-optimal recommendations.

Significant changes and advances in the field since I first entered it:
When I first entered this field the only power wheelchair driving methods were joysticks, sip ‘n puff, and a Zygo mechanical switch array around the head. We now have so many options to help people gain mobility. Wheelchair seating has also moved from linear seats built in the back room to a vast selection of cushions, backs, materials, upholsteries, shape capture technology, and more. Finally, being around at the cusp of ‘environmental controls’ really makes new technologies like Alexa quite amazing.

On the future of rehabilitation engineering and assistive technology:
I sincerely hope that funding and regulation limitations do not curtail product innovation. I believe that creative minds outside of this field can bring new product ideas – truly thinking outside of the box. Finally, we have an opportunity to build capacity and passion in those who are just entering this field to continue to meet the needs of people who currently use, or could benefit from, assistive technology.

My role within RESNA and what it gave back to me:
I have had the opportunity to serve as RESNA faculty for the Fundamentals Course for over 10 years; to be a member of the Wheeled Mobility and Seating SIG and the Occupational Therapy PSG; to chair the Education Committee; to be a Board Member, Member-at-Large and Secretary of RESNA; and to be involved in the development of a number of Position Papers. I also edited the 4th edition of the RESNA Fundamentals in Assistive Technology text. I wrote test questions for both the ATP and SMS certification exams. I have had the opportunity to work side by side with professionals who are amazing and have taught me so much. I have made many life-long friends through RESNA and coming to conference can feel like a family reunion, which I love.

On the future of RESNA:
I believe the Seating and Mobility Specialist (SMS) certification is an opportunity for professionals to demonstrate competence in this area of practice and continue to raise the bar on service provision. RESNA, in conjunction with other professional organizations, can continue to strive for excellence in product innovation, service provision, education, and research for the continuance and benefit of our field of assistive technology from a multi-disciplinary approach.

My suggestions for those just entering the field:
Many opportunities are available to learn about the technology itself. I would encourage those just entering this field to network and learn from their peers. I would also encourage you to learn about the clients you ultimately serve. Nothing can fuel your passion for assistive technology more than seeing the difference these interventions can make in a person’s life. That is what drives me to keep appealing funding denials, keep educating those just entering this field and keep finding the optimal solutions for the clients I have the privilege to serve. Never give up and never compromise – people are depending on it!