In OT Courses, Students Take on Challenges of Aging and Disability

By David DeFusco
Communications Manager
Katz School of Science and Health

OTD student Bredin Kamsi Kom, middle, props open a self-closing door with his wheelchair in a CVS. He and Julietta Gurgova, standing behind him, try to figure out how Bredin will gather items that are out of his reach.

Assignments in Dr. Zesarae Bodie’s Occupational Therapy Doctorate courses not only teach students what it’s like to live with a disability in a world built for the able-bodied; they also show how disability can test their strength, build their empathy and shape the quality of their relationships with others.

“Part of the purpose of my classes is to increase their awareness of the potential struggles, nervousness and fears their patients may experience when being issued a wheelchair for the first time,” said Dr. Bodie, a clinical assistant professor in the Occupational Therapy Doctorate program. “The job of the occupational therapist is to assist patients with achieving maximum independence, so it is helpful for them to have an idea of how it feels to use one.”

In the courses “Clinical Skills and Procedures” and “Occupational Performance and the Older Adult,” students issued wheelchairs paired up with a classmate assigned the role of occupational therapist to guide them through activities of everyday living.

For example, Dr. Bodie’s students went to a CVS to experience what it’s like to shop in a store designed for an able-bodied person. OTD student Bredin Kamsi Kom had to prop open a self-closing door with his wheelchair while his partner, Julietta Gurgova, stood ready to assist with strategies for how to gather items out of reach.

OTD student Arielle Nyenty wears special glasses that dim her sight in order to feel the frustration of a client with macular degeneration, and thick gloves to mimic someone with neuropathy, or numbness, trying to perform a task.

To get to the store, the students in wheelchairs had to navigate across streets, through parking lots, over curbs and up ramps, testing their upper-body strength and sharpening their instincts for negligent drivers and other challenges to their safety.

In other assignments, students stuffed cotton balls in their ears to approximate hearing loss, wore thick gloves with the digits taped together to mimic arthritic hands while typing and writing, donned special sunglasses that decreased brightness and occluded central vision requiring them to use their peripheral vision to see in front of them, and walked with dried chickpeas in their shoes to feel what it’s like to have neuropathy, or numbness caused by nerve damage.

“Dr. Bodie thought of creative ways to ‘feel’ the symptoms of aging,” said OTD student Yoheved Zion. “Cultivating a sensitivity to a client’s challenges will make us better practitioners and clinicians who are more aware and client-centered, and, above all, more compassionate human beings.”

The Katz School of Science and Health is an academic powerhouse in the heart of New York City. It offers master’s programs in five sectors that are redefining the economy: Artificial Intelligence, Cybersecurity, Biotech and Health, Digital Media, and Fintech. In the lab, classroom and clinic, we lead with kindness, integrity, generosity and a commitment to making the world safer, smarter and healthier.