Let’s Celebrate World OT Day

About a week ago I posted this on the OT4OT page in Facebook.  I have decided to use this as a launching place for my reflection for this year’s World OT Day blogging carnival being run by Linda Harrison in Winnipeg Manitoba.  Thanks for running this again Linda J.

Here’s what I wrote: Tonight I couldn’t sleep because I had lots running through my mind. One of the various threads was this one:  About 5 years ago I was scared that our profession was about to miss the tidal wave of change that was about to occur with the advent of Web2.0. (interactive online technologies).  I hoped that OTs would learn to ‘surf’ the tide of change (I visualized us riding Malibu boards). 

I recently had a new visual, one of the biblical story of Noah’s Ark, I realized that rather than riding Malibu boards we had in fact built a virtual Noah’s ark and OTs from around the globe had built it together!!  I think this Ark has been an amazing Sanctuary for the early adopters of online technologies in our profession, and we continue to welcome others on board, the Ark grows as each occupant joins us! It’s growth has been exponential.  This Ark has recently grown to the size that meant our professional associations have begun to recognize our knowledge and skills and are asking for our help so they can be part of the tide of change.
OT4OT, the various 4OT groups in FB, the #OTalk & #Occhat group in Twitter, the ATeam at AOTA conference, and of course OT24Vx have been game changers! I am so proud of everything we have achieved so far! Lets keep going!  Those on the Ark need to continue to grow, develop and stay abreast of the constant change. That way we keep the Ark growing and moving forwards. It’s time for us to let our employers and our communities know that digital technology is part of everyday life, it’s necessary for so many occupations. It is an essential tool for practice.
The response to my middle of the night musings was incredible.  My OT4OT colleagues joined in by reflecting on their individual and now shared journeys in the world of digital technology.
Merrolee wrote: “…being one of the first floaters who had to connect with the other OT4OT guys before we could really get the ark underway – my dream was that this was what social medial would be able to achieve for our profession. I watched how teachers of kids were using the tools for their professional development and kept thinking that this was the solution for our profession and for the professional isolation that many of us can feel! Whats stunning for us (if I can speak for my OT4OT buddies) is that the swell is here… we’ve reached critical mass and the spinoffs that are now occuring is amazing.. (in fact we are now having to paddle really fast to keep up ourselves!)… but I’m sure we have more advances/ideas in the wings… when we have time to catch our breath!
Susan wrote: “Merrolee – like you I’d been bobbing at sea for a while. I had been the “Web Goddess” in the early days of the web and had traveled far and wide to share what I knew then. Taking a break from OT I had (mostly) great experiences being a member of various online artisan communities of practice. It was us all coming together and building the ark that got me as excited about technology and OT as I had been in the Web 1.0 days. And all these fellow travelers in the armada – wow!!”
Others reflected on the changes they were experiencing now that they are connected to a group of occupational therapists via the online world.  It is clear that digital technology is having a profound impact on OTs, as it is helping OTs to feel connected with each other and with the profession – it helps us to belong. 
Rob wrote:Working as a sole practitioner in an emerging practice area, I have found being a part of the 4OT movement as has been one of the main ways I have stayed connected. My work didn’t really fit into one or two ‘traditional’ CPD groups to learn and share. So, I really thank you for making knowledge learning and sharing accessible, relevant and cutting edge.”  (Can I mention here that Rob was the person who encouraged ME to go on Facebook and MySpace!)
Allison wrote: “MH4OT and OT4OT are really the only reasons why I still go on fb. Otalk and Occhat have become my favorite tools for ongoing professional dialogue and community. The camaraderie I have found in these forums has been incredibly inspiring after having struggled with profound professional isolation through two decades of practice. Anita, much as I am challenged by sea travel, with you and your amazing international team of visionaries at the helm, my bags are packed and I’ve book a one-way ticket on the great interconnected occupational narrative you have helped me construct to add depth and passion to my practice that I had not felt possible previously. Keep up the great work. You give us all something to cheer”.

and Allison then added in a further post:
“I embraced this vision in my teaching as well, creating a Facebook page for the student OT group at my school 3 years ago for the marketing unit in my management course, as well as a Twitter account. Students take turns promoting the program and OT through these venues and it provokes a lot of interest in an area of instruction that had formerly been a real snooze-fest. I have gone on to create twitter assignments for student participation in twitter # chats concerning an array of mental health topics, and see unlimited teaching potential in this medium. I appreciate the inspiration and leadership from the originators of the OT4OT and only hope to contribute what I can to move OT into the next centennial as the vibrant, innovative, holistic approach to healing that we all know it to be.”
To top it off Gillian Crossley created a caricature drawing of the OT4OT Ark!  I believe that being represented as a caricature is the ultimate compliment, so thank you Gillian for giving us that gift.
So, where have we come from and where are we heading as a digitally literate profession?  Well that is the topic of my PhD and I am about to complete my thesis and publish some papers about this very topic.  Let me just say that in the parts of the world that I surveyed, OT has embraced digital technology well and watching the rapid development of skills recently I can see that we are in good hands when it comes to leadership and teamwork in the digital world.  But we are not there yet and we need to be  persistent and strategic to move forwards. 
Happy World OT Day!

Stand and deliver at work

This post isn’t about technology – but it is related because it is a story that is about tackling the sedentary work lifestyle created by technology.

Banker Martin Whelan is a man without a desk.  Instead of starting each day at a workstation armed with a computer, swivel chair and some fond family photos, the 44-year-old executive places his bag and overcoat in a locker, turns on his laptop and heads off to a ‘workspace’.

Some days he stands at a high desk and clears his emails, on others he lounges on a comfy couch near the in-house cafe, and sometimes he heads for a communal table.  Whelan, who is general manager of consumer marketing at the Commonwealth Bank, said moving around throughout the workday improved his efficiency and provided “a lot more flexibility”.

But it may also help him to live longer, based on the findings of a recent study from the University of Sydney that found people who sat for eight to 11 hours a day increased their risk of dying by 15 per cent.  A Dutch company, Veldhoen & Co, is building a worldwide business around a concept known as activity based working. The company’s Sydney-based managing partner Luc Kamperman said between 80 and 100 companies in Europe and Australia had changed their workspaces to stop staff being chained to a desk with a personal computer.

Macquarie Bank was the first (in 2008) and the Commonwealth Bank introduced activity based working at its headquarters in Sydney’s Darling Harbour almost a year ago.  Staff such as Martin Whelan are encouraged to work in different sections of the office, depending on their tasks, and about 10 per cent of desks in each office ‘home zone’ are standing work stations in which the desks are set at chest height. 

“Some people like going and sitting at a desk that is their own space. I’m lucky I’m not one of those… you need to be more organised and have a more flexible attitude,” he said.
Jennifer Saiz, head of property at the Commonwealth Bank, said the more active work environment had already delivered tangible benefits.  “We surveyed our staff and found, on average people were sitting down just 50 per cent of the time they were at work,” she says. “We thought, ‘How can we get people to work better with each other and do to their work more effectively, in a healthier way?’.
“In surveys over the past year since we started it, staff report they are more productive and more engaged thanks to the activity based working.”

Interest from Australian companies means Veldhoen & Co’s Kamperman has settled in Australia to meet the demand. He is now working with Bankwest in Perth and Price Waterhouse Coopers in Canberra and Perth.  “The biggest hurdle is the shift in mindset,” Kamperman said. “I get thrilled in my job when . . . you feel like people finally get it, that they have seen the light. They start to acknowledge that they have to change themselves and how they think about work.”
Academic Catriona Bonfiglioli doesn’t have the luxury of working in a modern bank building, but is keenly aware of our over reliance on chairs. 

A senior lecturer in Media Studies at the University of Technology, Bonfiglioli has set up her computer on the top of a filing cabinet and does her best to stand up for close to half the hours she spends at work.  “I wanted to break the nexus between the computer and chair,” she said. “People can be sitting 15 hours a day when you add up time at work, time commuting, eating and watching TV or reading.  “I have reduced my sedentary time… I do my emails, admin and editing standing up but for creative work I tend to sit down. People need to rethink their whole relationship with their computer and stop assuming if they are using a computer they have to sit down.”

Bonfiglioli’s interest was spurred by studies that showed that inactivity was damaging to health and even a cause of premature death.  An Australian Institute of Health and Welfare study published in 2007 found physical inactivity was the fifth leading health risk for men after tobacco, high blood pressure, high body mass and high blood cholesterol. And for women, physical inactivity was an even bigger burden than high cholesterol and tobacco.  Adults spend, on average, 90 per cent of their leisure time sitting down, according to the University of Sydney researcher Hidde van der Ploeg, and fewer than half meet World Health Organisation recommendations for 150 minutes of at least moderate-intensity physical activity each week.  As for the health benefits of activity based working, the Commonwealth Bank’s Martin Whelan is in no doubt there are many.

“I’m a surfer and I had compressed vertebrae,” he said. “My chiropractor and physiotherapist said the impact of sitting in the same place in the same way all day every day was a bad thing. So, the set up has been good for me.  “It will be interesting to see the long term effects. At the moment it feels like a healthier building and the variety of environments, from a mental and physical perspective, are brilliant.” 

Paul McClure, managing director of Back Centre and Specialty Seating, said demand for standing work stations had increased dramatically in the past three years. Desks that can be adjusted for standing and sitting sell from $950.  “Government departments and big business are really onto this issue now,” he said.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/executive-style/stand-and-deliver-at-work-20120612-206zb.html#ixzz23hhZYoJv

Mind-controlled wheelchair could make life a lot easier for power wheelchair users

Thought control wheelchair:  The ‘Aviator’ is a thought-controlled wheelchair developed in NSW, Hung Nguyen describes how it works. 

Thought-controlled wheelchair could make life a lot easier for power wheelchair users.

Life could soon get easier for those with a severe disability.

Researchers at the University of Technology, Sydney have developed technology to allow severely disabled people to move around more easily by using their minds to control their wheelchairs.
They hope to commercialise the project within three years.
At present, there are few ways for those who are severely disabled to move around in their wheelchairs. The two most common ways are the “chin stick” and “sip and puff” methods.

Both methods require physical movement. The chin stick method requires a user to operate a wheelchair using their chins, while the sip and puff method requires a user to blow air on to sensors to move around.

Both methods can become tiresome, which is why the dean of the faculty of Engineering and Information Technology at UTS, Professor Hung Nguyen, decided to work on a better solution.
Nguyen and his team at the Centre for Health Technologies have been working on a product that reads brainwaves using an electrode, which allows the user to command a wheelchair, telling it which way to go.

There are four commands: forward, left, right and stop.  To go forward, you simply need to think of a dice moving forward. If you want to go left, you compose a letter. If you want to go right, you think of solving a maths problem, and if you want to stop, you close your eyes.

Nguyen told this website that the thought-controlled wheelchair was for those “with severe disabilities [who] cannot use their hands, for example”.  Over the years, he said, he has been working on “a few different technologies” to deal with those in wheelchairs with severe disabilities.  One technology involves wearing a baseball cap and moving your head the way you want to go.
Nguyen said the technology had been 15 years in the making.  “I started with the head movement [technology] first,” he said. “I’ve been working with neuroscience for more than 10 years now – to understand how the brain works – and we’ve developed the electronics [to] interface with the wheelchair [so that it can] be made smaller and [still] decipher the information.”

How it works
Nguyen said the thought-controlled wheelchair worked by looking at certain brainwaves and how they react to certain thoughts.  “But we don’t look at that specifically,” he said. “We look across the board at what is actually happening. We look at the spectrum and we decipher the information directly. At first we’ll try to have one size fits all but we’ll have in the device later on the ability to adapt it to what you think.”

Nguyen said he was “not actually sure at the moment” how much it was actually going to cost.  “I hope it will be, it could be, maybe $1000 or $3000,” he said. “It depends on the complexity, you know, what we want to have – the features with the device.”  He said the technology was still in prototype and that his team was trying to get people to fund it.  “We’re starting to have financial support and that sort of thing,” he said.

Put to the test
Nguyen said the technology had still to be tested on severely disabled people, but that it had been tested on those without a disability.  “I only start with people without disabilities for now because we want to be careful,” he said.  “I’ve been working with people at the …. rehab centre and so they are very aware of what we do and so once we’re ready we will have a number of different studies involving people with severe disabilities but we just want to make sure that everything is working fine first.”  He said his team would need about $1 million to get the project commercialised and that, so far, the project had received grants of more than $500,000.

The author of this post is on Twitter: @bengrubb

New adventures Down Under

On July 2 2012 I started work with my new employer, the University of the Sunshine Coast.  Other than being in a ridiculously beautiful place (the Sunshine Coast in Queensland) I got the impression that people here were relaxed and easy-going and ready to help a new person to settle in.  I have to say that despite the busy-ness of getting life back on track in “the old country”, I am genuinely HAPPY! I have been spontaneously smiling (for no reason) and feeling lighter and calmer than I have for a long time.

Tapping into technology helps seniors stay sharp | CTVNews

Tapping into technology helps seniors stay sharp | CTVNews

Avis Favaro, CTV News
Published Sunday, Jun. 24, 2012 9:40PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, Jun. 25, 2012 11:56AM EDT
Thanks again Mark Jasky for sending me the link to this report!
Seniors are crossing the digital divide and tapping into technology now more than ever, according to a new survey.
The Revera Report on Tech-Savvy Seniors shows that of the 27 per cent of seniors aged 75 and older who are online — which is up from five per cent in 2000 — more than half use social media to connect with family and friends.
The report also showed that one-in-five seniors use Skype or Facetime to chat with loved ones.

Read more: http://www.ctvnews.ca/health/tapping-into-technology-helps-seniors-stay-sharp-1.851670#ixzz1z3za6PQ4

Video game helps students with fetal alcohol disorder

This is an interesting story by Manisha Krishnan of the Edmonton Journal –

Playing video games isn’t often seen as the healthiest pastime for young people, but a new educational game is helping retrain the brains of students with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), a University of Alberta professor says.

Jacqueline Pei, a registered psychologist who specializes in FASD, is researching how a computer program called Caribbean Quest is improving the cognitive function of people with the condition.

About 33,000 Albertans have FASD, says the Institute of Health Economics. The condition is caused by maternal consumption of alcohol during pregnancy.

People with FASD can struggle with a range of physical, mental and central nervous system disabilities, and face cognitive, behavioural and emotional issues. “We often see kids who have a very hard time sitting still. We see kids who have a hard time slowing down their responding, so they tend to leap before they look,” said Pei, adding that not understanding personal boundaries is another common problem. “They can also be very emotional because they will become quickly angered and not be good at controlling that.”

Pei and a team of doctors from the University of Alberta and University of Victoria — where Caribbean Quest was developed — are working on a study called Executive Functioning Training in Children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. Twenty-five kids, aged 6-14, are involved, with each spending 12 weeks playing the game. By completing simple tasks such as capturing fruit in a specific order, students learn to understand instructions, slow their response times and retain information more accurately. Some have done better on math tests. MRI scans taken from study participants showed changes in the white matter of the brain — evidence that the exercises are having an effect.

A key factor in the students’ success is having an “interventionist,” or coach, alongside while they’re playing. “We’re seeing what strategies they’re using to make it through the game and helping them try different strategies to make things work,” said Marnie Hutchison, an interventionist and PhD student at the University of Alberta. One of the children she worked with, a little boy, started out having outbursts of frustration whenever he encountered an exercise he deemed too challenging. But by the end of his sessions, there was a noticeable difference, said Hutchison. “When he came across some difficulty he would set the controller to the side, take a deep breath and then he’d just kind of attempt the task again.”

Pei said research is in its early stages. She could not say with certainty that playing the game would help every FASD child. She is working on a website that will be a resource for teachers and on a game that they can use to help them understand how to relate to kids with the disorder. For the past three years, the Edmonton public school board has been rolling out the Wellness, Resilience and Partnership Project in Northern and Central Alberta. The program places coaches into junior and senior high schools to help students with FASD. Twenty-one schools were included in the 2011-12 school year.

The results have been very positive so far, says Sandra Swaffield, supervisor of inclusive learning and outreach for the school board. Eighty-four per cent of participating students successfully completed their core courses, she said. “One of the key things we looked at was to break down tasks into smaller activities for them so it wasn’t as overwhelming for kids.” Overall engagement in community events was also up and suspensions and expulsions were greatly reduced, added Swaffield. 

Mark Jansky alerted me to this story via Twitter! Thanks Mark 😉