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Jennifer Buxton
Contact Info:
Tufts University
Department of Occupational
574 Boston Ave.
Medford, MA 02155

Office: 617.627.5720
Fax: 617.627.3722
Jennifer Connors Buxton

Background and Expertise:
In 1984 my aunt Kathy suffered a spinal cord injury as a result of a diving accident. I was 11 years old at the time and would accompany my mom on monthly trips to New York to go visit Kathy in the rehabilitation hospital. It was at that time that I became interested in working in the field of rehabilitation. I asked my aunt which of her therapists helped her most and she replied, "My OT has helped me do the most."

I have watched my aunt achieve many milestones of independence over the years--driving her own van, using a computer, using a telephone, controlling electrical items in her environment such as her TV, lights, and radio, feeding herself, signing her own thank you cards and checks, returning to school to obtain her law degree, and starting a career. All of these things were made possible by her willingness to adapt her way of doing things and by using adaptive devices and assistive technologies. So when I became an occupational therapist I had a special sense of the use of compensatory techniques and adaptive devices.

I started my work as an occupational therapist in 1996 at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. I have worked with the spinal cord injury, brain injury, and amputee populations. I continued to stay interested in the role assistive technology (AT) plays in improving my patient's independence so in 2001, I began working in Spaulding's Assistive Technology Center. Then in 2003, I began teaching the Assistive Technology (AT) course at Tufts, with another occupational therapist, Molly Campbell, who works at the Adaptive Design Center at Perkins School for the Blind. The course is geared towards occupational therapy and engineering students who are interested in being creative in their approach to using AT to help people with disabilities.

The main project in the course is a community-based team effort. The students are introduced to a member of the disability community who has identified the need for assistive technology to improve their ability to function, enhance his or her independence, or increase the quality of life. The team then creates a piece of AT to meet the person's needs. Some past projects have included adapted utensils, a collapsible mouse tray, a sensory play center for a child, a customizable wheelchair tray, and adapted kayak oars.

This is a semester long project with opportunities throughout the semester for the students to get feedback from their instructors, their peers, the user, and the user's support network. It is a fun and creative process that is enhanced by the different backgrounds of the person, the caregivers, and the engineering and occupational therapy students. The students all come away learning that assistive technology is a unique niche in the field of occupational therapy that has a lot of room for growth and excitement.