Meet Karin Nord, Jennifer Keenan and Kelly Jarrett, the amazing and creative Assistive Technology (AT) Service at MSB! The trio has a combined 81 years of experience and has worked an average of 27 years at the school!
The AT team has been referred to as the MacGyver’s of the school. For those who aren’t familiar, MacGyver was a television character who could adapt anything he found into a useful tool, which would often help him escape difficult situations. Karin, Jennifer and Kelly are well known for taking off the shelf items and adapting them into useful tools that can be used in the classrooms or by occupational, physical and speech therapists to help students meet their IEP goals.
For example, they may adapt a kitchen item, such as a blender, by adding an environmental control unit with an attached switch (large activation button) that can be operated using any part of the body. It is very useful for students with multiple disabilities who may have difficulty with fine and gross motor skills. Almost any household item can be adapted by this talented team so that students can achieve some level of independence.
They can get very creative with ordinary materials as well. PVC pipe and bendable tubing are some favorite materials that the AT Service has used to make items such as adaptable tech/ communication device holders. These can be adjusted and attached to mobility equipment including wheelchairs and walkers.
“We are the queens of the bargain stores, according to Karin. We are always on the lookout for inexpensive everyday items and can adapt just about anything off the shelf to help our students learn and grow.”
Their role is to train and support MSB’s education, therapy and residential teams by providing adapted equipment and assistive technology related to the curriculum and training other professional staff in its use. Once trained, the direct student service staff can then use the assistive technology and equipment to work with their students to help increase their level of independence.
Jennifer works with the early learning staff, and since toys and games are important for childhood development, the team often adapts them. Interactive toys are perfect for adding switches and can be used by students in the classrooms as well as recreational time.
“We love what we do and we have fun too,” says Jennifer.
The team also adapts sports equipment. Chris Wellman, an Adapted Physical Education instructor, envisioned adapted bowling activities but wasn’t quite sure how to execute his ideas. He brought his idea to Kelly and they collaborated by modifying an adapted metal bowling ramp for students with disabilities so that they can just release the ball down the ramp and into the lane with the touch of a switch. From pitching machines to bird feeders, almost any item has a work around to make it accessible. According to Kelly,“Collaboration with staff and parents to bring equitable access to our students is essential. To see the look on a student’s face when he/she realizes he/she is independently activating a toy or device is priceless!”
As leaders in the field, the MSB AT Service is a resource for staff, students, families, and professionals throughout the state. They are excited to have a new dedicated space on campus to share their expertise in building capacity for AT as well as conducting trainings and workshops.