“It’s an OT role that’s incredibly varied and rewarding”

Wednesday, March 30th, 2022

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Montage of three images of therapists introducing technology to people with disabilities

If you’re an occupational therapist looking for an exciting variety of work across a wide range of conditions and settings – and a chance to make a huge positive difference through long-term contact with service users – then a role as an OT with SpecialEffect could be a game-changer.

That’s the view of Gillian, Liz and Nomi, three of the OTs with our specialist assessment teams. They’re the heart of our mission to raise the quality of life for people with physical challenges right across the world through the innovative use of technology.

“Whether we’re working with eye gaze computers in intensive care units or helping people in their own homes to play video games to the best of their abilities, the aim is the same; to enhance function, well-being and quality of life,” said Gillian.

“We’re known for our specialism with video games, but you don’t have to be a gamer to thrive as part of the team here as we’ve always been involved in a range of other long-term projects.”

Eye gaze intervention

Gillian’s part of our StarGaze assessment team, who introduce eye-gaze technology to bring communication, independence and hope for people in intensive care units following a severe injury or illness. She appreciates that the SpecialEffect OTs are able to provide long-term client support with the time and resources to back it up.

“OT roles here offer a great opportunity to gain experience over a wide variety of clinical settings,” she said. “Our StarGaze work often starts in Intensive Care or High Dependency Units and involves working with patients with acute life-changing conditions such as stroke, trauma and neurological syndromes. We work in close partnership with many other health professionals, both in the early stages and as the patients move on through rehab.”

The StarGaze team is well-received and valued by the healthcare staff. There’s often welcome surprise, firstly that patients are getting an opportunity to benefit from technology that staff haven’t necessarily had the opportunity to see or learn about, and secondly at the lifelong level of follow-up support that we’re able to offer.

Gaming for life

That lifelong promise also extends to people who we help through our video game access service, a point emphasised by Nomi, who has spent over seven years at the charity helping people to enjoy games to the best of their abilities.

“It’s really rewarding to be able to spend time getting to know people, sometimes over several years, building a deep understanding of their abilities and needs as they change,” she said.

“I’ve always loved gaming since I was little so when I saw a job which combined my love of gaming with my career in occupational therapy, I jumped at the chance. It’s hugely uplifting to help people of all ages and abilities to do something both they and I love.”

Therapist demonstrating equipment and looking at screen
Image: Nomi demonstrates an adjustable mounting arm for a gaming controller

She can understand how many newly qualified OTs might be reluctant to specialise early or see such a role as a divergence from a career in primary care. And the prospect of being thrown into the deep end with unfamiliar high-tech equipment might also appear daunting.

“That’s not an issue here at SpecialEffect,” said Nomi. “Whatever OT role you take on here, the team and the environment are incredibly supportive in helping you learn on the job. You’re constantly learning about cutting edge technology – like voice-controlled gaming for example – and how to apply your skills as an OT to make it work to best effect. There’s no sense of being left to manage on your own.”

Nomi believes that charities like SpecialEffect have an important role to play in making leisure activities like video games more inclusive. “Lockdown has shown how important gaming can be in so many ways, including socialisation, quality of life and mental health. Its popularity is only going to increase, so there’s always going to be growing need for OT expertise if it’s going to be truly accessible to as many people with disabilities as possible.”

A flexible service

The charity always works directly with people who need support, ensuring that the process is client-led throughout. Pre-pandemic the OTs worked in teams, travelling to visit people in their homes or care settings. That’s changed over lockdown though.

“We switched to a model of remote working,” said Nomi, “It’s proving to be a really effective way of maintaining not only the high quality of our service delivery, but also the numbers of people we can help. We’re looking forward to face-to-face visits again when it’s safe to do so, but in the meantime we’re helping more people than ever.”

Video call screenshot of man in hospital bed being helped by nurse
Image: Hannah (top) and Liz from our StarGaze team on a remote support call working alongside a hospital team.

The team have good reason to look forward. “It’s reassuring that SpecialEffect is an established charity,” said Liz from the StarGaze team “We’ve been around for fifteen years, we collaborate with some of the biggest names in our fields, and our teams have built up many years of expertise for new staff to draw on.”

That expertise extends to affording the therapists valuable time to give attention to details. “That’s all-important,” emphasised Liz. “A support call to setup an extra social media channel on a computer, a small tweak in the settings to make using it slightly easier or faster – we’re able to invest time and expertise in the small details that often make the world of difference to the person, their families and their support teams.”

“It’s an OT role that’s incredibly varied and rewarding,” said Nomi. “It’s exciting – whether you’re a gamer or not, it’s a fantastic job.”

Find out how our specialist assessment teams are transforming lives through the stories of the people we’re helping.

Screenshot of 9 stories of support