When you work in a nonprofit setting, it’s not unusual to find yourself doing a variety of tasks that weren’t originally in your job description. And for a creative person like me, it’s this variety that’s kept me in tune with why I became an occupational therapist. Occupational therapy is where my creativity, problem solving skills and people skills are honed and refined.
On a typical day, you’ll find me in the Health and Wellness Center at Paraquad as an adaptive exercise specialist. Simply put, I help people with disabilities work out. But as any of our dedicated staff at the Health and Wellness Center will tell you, our days are anything but simple.
You can find our resident physical therapist, Mike Scheller, tweaking on someone’s busted wheelchair while they work out, transferring them out of their chair so it can be repaired, running down the hall to get a drink or snack for those who are unable to operate the buttons on the vending machine or administering cool packs and heat packs to participants and staff alike. Or our personal trainer and occupational therapy student, Aaron Murray, suggesting personalized exercises that he knows will work for our participants, cracking jokes with them, demonstrating how to get back up into their chair after they have fallen out or advocating for them by making sure their transportation won’t leave without them by parking his wheelchair in front of a van.
You’ll find everyone in the Center spinning multiple plates, giving quality care, encouraging participants to achieve their best, cleaning up spills, teaching students, touring and educating a variety of professionals and generally laughing with folks the whole time. This is the kind of dedication and willingness to do anything that isn’t part of a person’s core job duties, but in my short four years of working at Paraquad, it’s something I’ve witnessed my co-workers doing again and again.
I’ve even gotten to do a few other duties as assigned myself! Projects I’ve flexed my creative muscles on in the gym include:
- a personalized glove to hold onto weights for someone with quadriplegia;
- handle covers for bench presses and rowing for folks with sensitive hands and neuralgia;
- straps to stabilize a participant’s legs while exercising;
- a soft, padded, non-slip cover for our bicep curl machine;
- a handcuff to hold a stylus for a participant who’s an artist and student; and
- a removable handle for slide board transfers.
I guess the nonprofit sector attracts like-minded folks! When Carla Walker from Washington University’s Program in Occupational Therapy approached me about making assistive technology (or tools to help people with disabilities with everyday life activities), I jumped at the opportunity.
The mission? Transform a market baby harness into a tool that can be used by a parent with limited hand function to hold their child. Being a new mommy to a very happy, heavy five month old, this project was near and dear to my heart on several levels. If you’re a parent, you know that it’s hard not to want to hold your new munchkin every single second of the day.
So armed with a trip to the craft store, a Baby B’Air flight vest from Carla and an industrial sewing machine at my fingertips, I felt ready to try something new. And here’s what I came up with.
Most importantly, it just might work, too.
I love that my job is never the same, and my work is never done. I also love that we are pioneers in partnering with participants to solve problems that may otherwise go unseen or unsolved by the rest of society.
All of my nutty creations — those that worked for people and those that didn’t, but we still learned from — started with a participant saying, “This situation is a challenge …” and folks at Paraquad and other partners asking, “What if we could …?” So to all my fellow creative thinkers and problem solvers, never stop creating, and never stop doing other duties as assigned.
Pamela Daugherty is the adaptive exercise specialist at Paraquad. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.