Innovative rehabilitation education program receives accreditation

Young women playing basketball in wheelchairs.

Students studying for the Assistive Technology and Accessible Design (ATAD) Certificate have many more opportunities because of a recent accreditation. The certificate was approved in May by the Commission of Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs. The college’s ATAD program made history as one of the first in the US to be approved.

What is the ATAD Certificate?

The ATAD Certificate program is an interdisciplinary graduate certificate where students are able to take classes in occupational therapy, communication sciences and disorders, and exceptional education. Seeds of the program were planted over 25 years ago by Professor Roger O. Smith, PhD, OT, FAOTA, RESNA Fellow, from the Department of Occupational Science and Technology. The program was nurtured by him and others, from elective coursework to a fully approved UWM certificate. The program’s objective is to provide additional education and training to students needing theoretical and practical backgrounds in assistive technology and accessible design.

Certificate Coordinator and Clinical Assistant Professor Michelle Silverman, MS, OTR from the Department of Occupational Science and Technology explains, “Assistive technology is an emerging field that is gaining its own identity and independence.” Students learn skills, like effective wheelchair fitting and assessment techniques, augmentative and alternative communication strategies for people with communication disorders and strategies for those with low vision, to work in a variety of settings including rehabilitation clinics, hospitals, nursing homes, consulting firms and school systems.

The accreditation process

Upon recommendation of the Committee on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Education (CoA-RATE), UWM’s ATAD Certificate program is now one of two programs, nationwide, to be accredited. To gain accreditation, faculty completed an application and self-study documenting the progress of past and current students and projected the potential for future students.

The next step to accreditation was a site visit last November where committee members interacted with and asked questions of faculty, staff, current and past students. They also met with current and past employers of students, the chair of the Department of Occupational Science and Technology, Associate Professor Jay Kapellusch, PhD, and the dean of the College of Health Sciences. After the onsite visit, recommendations were made, and with assurance that these recommendations would be followed, the certificate became fully accredited for five years.

The value of being forward-thinking

Any graduate student can work on the ATAD Certificate alongside their degree or complete it as a post-professional certificate. Students who complete this certificate will be better prepared to take the assistive technology professional certificate exam through the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA), and gain their Department of Public Instruction (DPI) Assistive Technology License 858.  The certificate also sets students apart when it comes to applying for jobs in school and rehab settings.

A pioneer in the accreditation process, the UWM ATAD certificate added a level of credibility to the program. Silverman explains, “The accreditation shows that our program is forward-thinking, especially when it comes to rehabilitative education and technology.”