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OT Students Gain Hands-On Experience at Services For Independent Living

This semester, four selected occupational therapy students began a potentially years-long internship at Services for Independent Living (SIL) in Columbia as part of a unique new partnership between SIL and the OT department. These students work at SIL for about 10 hours a week, and their collective work fills the previous SIL role of Access Specialist.

SIL’s mission is to “empower people with disabilities, seniors, and veterans to maximize their independence in the community.” SIL offers services that support this mission, and the Access Specialist role, now the OT interns’ main responsibility, is to consult with SIL clients and match them with assistive technology or other equipment that will help them live independently. It’s a great match for occupational therapy.

“People come in here, we get their story, we get their medical background, we get what they’re having trouble doing at home, and that’s the beginning of what you would do if someone comes to you for occupational therapy.” OT student and SIL intern Rebecca Sohn says, “The goal of OT is trying to help people live the way that they want to and overcome their barriers to that, and that’s what we’re doing here, too.”

The first class of interns includes Sohn, Ashley Roberts, Caitlyn McVey and Katie Braden. SIL has committed to providing $40,000 per year to MUOT in scholarship funding for entry-level OT students.  The SIL interns will be given priority for this scholarship but all MUOT students are eligible to apply. 

This summer, Tec Chapman, Director of Services for Independent Living in Columbia approached Occupational Therapy Department Chair Dr. Tim Wolf about having OT students intern at SIL.

“When we started looking at the details of how this would work,” Dr. Wolf says, “We saw that it really is a good opportunity for students who want to be involved in the community and want more hands-on experience.”

And hands-on experience they certainly get. When you walk into SIL’s Demonstration Center, you’re met with shelves upon shelves of items that are meant to help those with various disabilities or limitations perform everyday activities. For example, those who are deaf or have limited hearing may request a flashing light that connects to their doorbell or home phone so they can see when someone is ringing or calling rather than relying on hearing it.

The first few weeks of the semester, the OT interns got a bit of a crash course in all of the assistive technology devices so they could accurately assist consumers.

“It’s a whole new world figuring out all these assistive devices.” OT student Ashley Roberts says, “Half of these things I never even knew existed, so it’s really eye-opening to see what’s available to help people.”

And now that they’ve had a few weeks of knowledge and experience, they’re already realizing the advantages of working at SIL.

“In one of our classes we started talking about (assistive) equipment, and I feel like I’m already ahead of the curve having seen so many different types here,” Sohn says, “I feel like when I go into my career I’ll be more confident knowing that there are a lot of options.”

The OT interns assist Scout Merry, SIL’s Accessibility Services Manager, with all aspects of the Access Services Department, which includes receiving donations of medical equipment, picking up medical equipment, assembling equipment in a client’s home, and all of the paperwork and documentation associated with SIL’s services to each person.

“The interns have been great,” Scout says, “They’re willing to take on all kinds of things. They’re learning how to case-note, how to work with people who have disabilities, and sometimes have very personal conversations with them. I think they’ll probably all take away something a little different as the best part of this experience.”

This year, SIL has distributed more than 1200 devices to consumers for free, which it estimates has saved the community more than $500,000. And this doesn’t account for all the equipment that’s loaned out temporarily. So it’s hard for the interns to call their shifts at SIL “work” when they’re learning so much and helping the community at the same time.

“It’s really amazing that Mizzou partnered with SIL to provide this for us.” Roberts says, “I was really interested in the fact that SIL is a community-based non-profit, and the fact that we’re helping people. So it’s great that we can help the community and I can get good experience for me.”

And Sohn agrees: “My favorite part is interacting with people and trying to figure out what their needs are and trying to decide how I can help them based on what our resources are.”