URI physical therapy professor uses personal experiences with disabilities to supplement her teaching
KINGSTON, R.I -- May 8, 2002 -- For 20 years, she was limited to walking with a cane because she was born with an orthopedic condition in her left hip. But after a series of hip replacements years of physical therapy, Dr. Susan Roush no longer walks with a cane. Many might now find it difficult to keep up with her.
On any given day, Roush can be seen writing grants to involve students with people with disabilities, training faculty and administration from colleges around Rhode Island and teaching students in the graduate physical therapy program at the University of Rhode Island.
"The physical therapy unit was always my favorite place in the hospital," said Roush of Wakefield. "The atmosphere was exciting and fun. As I got older and made career plans, I never forgot the can-do attitude of physical therapy. I wanted to be a part of that profession and bring that spirit to others in need of rehabilitation."
"As my career progressed, I discovered that many people just didnt understand what it was like to have a disability and the resultant needs. Also, I discovered that many of the systems in place to assist persons with disabilities werent as helpful as they could be," said Roush. "I experienced these things, even with a minor disability, and knew that these problems had a much greater impact on others."
In the early 1990s, Roush helped form the State Rehabilitation Council, which serves as an advisory committee to the Office of Rehabilitation Services. The Councils goal is to advocate for the needs of Rhode Islanders with disabilities and help them find employment and live independently in the community. Roush helped the council hire a consultant to assess client satisfaction and develop its first mission statement.
"Society tends to portray a person with disabilities as lacking the capability to function," said Roush. "It is a common adage in the disability community that the real limitations associated with having a disability are the negative attitudes and stereotypes held by others and not the actual disability."
Along with URI students and the president of the Rhode Island Chapter of the American Physical Therapy Association Kathleen Fresher-Samways, Roush has conducted a three-year study to examine quality-of-life issues for Rhode Islanders with developmental and other significant disabilities. Developmental disabilities are acquired before the age of 21, and include cerebral palsy, mental retardation, autism and developmental delay.
"Jobs, living circumstances, friendship and romance are all a part of these individuals daily lives," Roush said. "While they have an overall high quality-of-life characterized by optimism and enthusiasm, they face unique stresses in their daily routines."
"The students saw the impact of service-delivery on a person's quality of life - the positive impact when the system worked, and the less than ideal result when the system didn't work," said Roush.
Roush is also working on a grant from the U.S. Department of Education designed to involve graduate students with children with multiple disabilities. The students saw speech and physical therapists and other health care professionals function as a team. They also studied the emerging issues in the field and the technology that can foster independence for persons with disabilities.
"The students were able to experience the independence of children with significant disabilities and observed the impact of well-coordinated service-delivery that focuses on the child and not any one profession. I hope their participation has increased the chances of them working with this group at some point in their careers," said Roush, who has resubmitted the grant to the U.S. Department of Education for future funding.
Roush is working on a third grant with URI Assistant Director of Disability Services Pamela Rohland that focuses on changing peoples perceptions of those with disabilities. This grant is designed to train faculty and administration from URI, Rhode Island College and Community College of Rhode Island to enhance the experience of students with disabilities in higher education.
And if all that activity werent enough, Roush gave the keynote address at the National Association of Americans with Disabilities Act, last October. Roush shared her perspective on disabilities in her speech, "Attending to the Spirit as well as the Letter of ADA".
"The Spirit of the ADA is one of acknowledging everyone's abilities, combating negative stereotypes concerning persons with disabilities and breaking down false barriers to independence. These are important quests, not just for persons with disabilities, but for all of us," said Roush. "We are all richer for the contributions of the diverse members of our society, those with disabilities included."
"My advocacy work informs my teaching. I hope to impress upon my students the incredible responsibility and privilege inherent in their future position as a physical therapist. My mission is to help them become part of a system that works for persons with disabilities, and not against them."
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