Trying out adaptive equipment

Peapack-Gladstone resident Donna Brooten learns about an alternate positioning device from Matheny School director of curriculum Jim Hintenach.

Although virtually all Matheny students and patients are in wheelchairs, they can often benefit from spending time in adaptive tricycles, standers and other alternate positioning devices developed by our physical therapists.

At a recent meeting of Matheny’s Community Advisory Committee, some local residents had an opportunity to try out some of this equipment and learn about its benefits. They also heard about Matheny’s adaptive physical education program which enables Matheny students and patients to play adapted versions of traditional sports such as basketball and soccer.

Judy Silacci, a resident of Peapack-Gladstone, tries out a stander and learns about it from Matheny director of physical therapy Cindy LaBar.

Wheelchair safety on the road

John Reck.

Individuals riding in a vehicle while seated in wheelchairs are 45 times more likely to be injured in a crash than a typical passenger. That was one of the sobering facts pointed out by John Reck, Matheny’s director of assistive technology, at The Arc of New Jersey’s annual Conference on Medical Care for Persons with Developmental Disabilities held May 31 in Princeton, NJ.

In a session on Wheelchair Transportation Safety, Reck added that many injuries of wheelchair-seated passengers are caused by non-collision events such as abrupt turning maneuvers and hard braking. To prevent such accidents, Reck recommended always securing wheelchairs, using occupant restraints and removing loose accessories from the wheelchair, which might injure an occupant during impact.

The safest option, he said, is to transfer a wheelchair occupant into a manufacturer-installed vehicle seat and use the vehicle’s crash-tested occupant restraint system.

At Matheny, Reck heads the assistive technology program, which strives to meet the needs of each individual by providing the perfect match of assistive technology services and products in order to give each person the highest possible level of health, function and quality of life.

From wheelchair to walker

Katherine Gaudio, in her walker, assisted by physical therapist Erin Meineke.

While virtually all of Matheny’s students and patients spend most of their lives in wheelchairs, they often spend time in a walker during physical therapy to increase their endurance and strengthen their muscles. Occasionally, a surprising breakthrough occurs during these physical therapy sessions.

Katherine Gaudio is an 11-year-old student who decided she didn’t want to return to her wheelchair and expressed her desire to make her posterior walker her main mode of mobility. “She is her own best advocate,” says Erin Meineke, DPT, her school physical therapist. “She made her opinion known.”

The hardest adjustment, Meineke says, was transitioning from a physical therapy session to utilizing the walker all day long because she didn’t realize how much energy it would take to use it all day. “In the beginning she was very tired. But now she’s had her walker for three months, and she’s stronger and more confident and not as tired at the end of the day,” she says.

Gaudio has used the walker on trips to Wal-Mart and to her Girl Scout meetings. And she’s also riding a regular bicycle with training wheels. She can safely transfer in and out of her walker, with supervision; and she can also safely sit in a regular chair, without a safety belt, in class or in the dining room or her bedroom. “Walking,” says Meineke, “is something the therapists are always working on, but it’s usually walking with an aide. Katherine didn’t want to be done walking after a therapy session.”

The whole transition, she adds, actually took a couple of years, but “she has always been a strong advocate for herself. She broke all the rules.”

Words can hurt

Words and images used to describe people with disabilities can create a clear-cut constructive image or a tactless depiction that increases the use of humiliating phrases. Often people use terms they feel are perfectly acceptable without realizing the impact they might have on someone with a disability. For example, words to avoid include: abnormal, invalid, misshapen, spaz, disfigured, lame, according to June Isaacson Kailes, a disability policy consultant. Kailes has created some guidelines regarding acceptable and unacceptable terms to use when describing people with disabilities:

Acceptable: He has spina bifida.

Unacceptable: He was afflicted with spina bifida.

Acceptable: She has cerebral palsy.

Unacceptable: She is cerebral palsied, spastic.

Acceptable: A person who uses a wheelchair.

Unacceptable: A person who is wheelchair bound.

Acceptable: She has a disability.

Unacceptable: She is crippled.

Acceptable: A person with a developmental disability or intellectual disability.

Unacceptable: Retard, feebleminded, idiot.

Acceptable: Seizure.

Unacceptable: Fit.

Acceptable: A person who has a speech disability.

Unacceptable: Mute.