Letters to the Editor - November 2004

Dear Editor,

I was recently informed that the University Minnesota Occupational Therapy Program will no longer be accepting students; a sign that the program may be facing elimination. I’m writing as a long-term care consumer and advocate to ask the University, and Minnesota’s citizens, to reconsider. I ask that the program be allowed to admit students for Fall 2005 then use the academic year 2005-2006 to consider funding and administrative alternatives.

I can appreciate the University’s financial concerns, understand the need for the program to find a new administrative “home,” and see the loose reasoning that the other two occupational therapy programs in Minnesota would be able to “pick up the slack.” However, I am not aware of sufficient analysis supporting these reasons and justifying the decision to restrict admission.

Program Benefits Outweigh Program Costs

I realize that the Medical School experienced a $6.8 million budget cut in the last biennium. However, I also understand that the occupational therapy program operates within a self-sufficient model wherein tuition pays the vast majority of expenses and State support (i.e., approximately $230,000) mostly offsets any difference. Therefore, the financial savings from admission restriction and potential closure are small compared to the loss of these future occupational therapy practitioners.

Negative Impact Upon Health Care Cost Containment Efforts

By program reduction or elimination, the University may contribute to a rise in Minnesota’s health care costs because of several factors, including:

* increased educational investments (i.e., higher private tuition);

* increasing workforce demand (i.e., due to aging population and increased community-based/non-institutional living) plus a reduced workforce (i.e., unless existing the two existing educational alternatives can add sufficient capacity); and,

* increased recruitment and relocation costs to lure out-of-state workers.

In the end, we all could bear the brunt of these increased costs.

Medical School Reorganization: New OT Program Administrative “HOME”

I have been told that the Medical School has recently reorganized in order to primarily focus upon physician education. However, it is my belief that we are experiencing health care system reform. The new health care model will rely on a traditional medical model (i.e., diagnosis and treatment toward a cure or symptom improvement) plus an equally important community-based/non-institutional long-term care support model (i.e., assessment of symptoms and environment; evaluation of support needs; then development, implementation, and monitoring of those solutions –a philosophy fairly distinct from the medical model). Occupational therapy practitioners will play a vital role toward ensuring safe and adequate community-based independent living environments and service delivery.

Therefore, as the Medical School is now organized, I agree the occupational therapy program should be relocated within an organizational structure representative of this new complementary support model. Other relevant disciplines may include social work (i.e., long-term care relocation, housing and service coordination, etc.) and engineering (i.e., assistive technology).

Untapped Opportunities: Research and Development

Building on observations of Minnesota’s successful medical device industry, I believe the University (a nationally respected research institution) has an excellent opportunity to partner the occupational therapy program with mechanical, electrical, and computer engineering programs as well as local entrepreneurs to develop innovative adaptive technology solutions. Such innovations will be essential to containing costs and expanding quality throughout the development, implementation, and maintenance of the new community-based long-term care support systems. The other two institutions offering occupational therapy programs in Minnesota do not have the infrastructure to capitalize upon these research and development opportunities. Plus, potential economic development resulting from these innovations may create additional financial donors for the University and the occupational therapy program.

Conclusion: Please Reconsider and Reevaluate

Again, I implore the University to reconsider the occupational therapy program admission restriction. Please allow the program to admit students for Fall 2005 then use the 2005-2006 academic year to consider funding and administrative alternatives. Finally, I urge Minnesota citizens to consider contacting the University to express their opinions on this matter.

Thank you for your consideration.

Now is the time for input. Access readers who want to make a difference should write to:

President Robert H. Bruininks

Office of the President

Room 202 Morrill Hall

100 Church Street SE

Minneapolis, MN 55455

Email: bruin001@umn.edu

And to the :

Honorable David Metzen

Chairperson, UM Board of Regents

600 McNamara Alumni Center

200 Oak Street SE

Minneapolis, MN 55455-2020

Email: metze002@umn.edu

* Requests that your letter and email be copied to all Board of Regents Members will be respected

Others interested in receiving copies are Dr. Frank Cerra, Vice President of the Academic Health Center, 420 Delaware St. Minneapolis MN, 55455 email cerra001@umn.edu and the Occupational Therapy Program, 388 MMC 420 Delaware St, SE, Minneapolis, MN 55455 email otprog@umn.edu

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Dear Editor,

My name is Vicki Martin. I am the deaf/hard of hearing representative on the Disability Advisory Committee at 3M in Maplewood MN, and I am a member of Self Help for Hard of Hearing (SHHH) people. I write for the SHHH news on disability topics, and for other local publications on other subjects.

The October 15 performance of the play “Flags” at Mixed Blood Theater was noted in the listing of accessible entertainment in the October 10 issue of Access Press. attended that performance.

This my review of the captioning experience at Mixed Blood Theater.

Waving “Flags” for Captioning

Jane Martin’s play “Flags”, originally commissioned by the Guthrie Theater, delivers a powerful message on stubbornness, stupidity, violence and pride. Its production at Mixed Blood Theater on October 15 also delivered a strong statement about accommodating hard of hearing people in the theater.

The message is this: accommodations do not have to be complicated and expensive to be effective. Sometimes, all it takes is a little thought.

We who belong to SHHH rely on real-time captioning every month in order to participate in the organization. Our volunteers from Paradigm make our monthly meetings accessible to all of us, and without them, I for one would probably stay home.

Theater, however, is not public service. It is entertainment, and it must be paid for. If real-time captioning is used, it can cost up to $150 per hour.

What cost-conscious theater managers may not realize is that real-time captioning is not needed when there is a script. All that is needed is for the text of the dialogue to be entered into a computer text presentation program. PowerPoint can certainly do the job, but it has many more features than are needed for this application. The simplest presentation program could work. Font and color need to be manipulated, and it should be able to navigate from one screen to the next with a click of the mouse.

For their production, Mixed Blood used a laptop computer positioned before a group of about 10 reserved seats. They used a black background with white letters in a very large font. A lighter background might cause excessive glare in a darkened theater.

The font was large enough to be visible to up to 10 people sitting in two short rows. In fact, it was too large for me when I sat right in front of it. My eyes had to cover too wide an angle to take it in, while also trying to watch the stage. After switching seats with my husband Dennis, I sat at a more comfortable angle, and could easily see both screen and stage without excessive eye movement.

For those accompanying a hard of hearing theater patron, the dark background on the monitor helps to minimize any distraction. Experimentation with color and font size can find the best mix of readability and inconspicuousness. In our case Dennis, who was not watching the monitor but was very close to it, said that it was not a distraction.

Such a setup does not require a professional captioner or anyone with specialized skills. Someone needs to copy or enter the text of the play into the presentation program, and one of the crew needs to be on hand to listen to the performance and click the mouse at the appropriate times.

Captioning at Mixed Blood is offered for only one performance of each run. This follows the tradition of having an ASL interpreter only for selected performances. But because the work is done ahead of time and is available on the computer at any time, this type of accommodation could reasonably break with tradition and offer captioning for any performance –“on demand”, you might say. This would be a real breakthrough for accessibility in the theater.

As for the play itself: as powerful as its message was, it had more profanity than I am comfortable with –expletives that I never would have noticed if I had not seen them on the screen. Mixed Blood is known for its “inclusive” themes and its championing of diversity. This may explain some of the excessive profanity.

Imagine, though, if we could see Shakespeare (and yes, I know — he can toss off obscenities with the best of them), Ibsen, Chekhov, performed on the stage — and know what the characters are saying. Imagine too that we had a choice of evenings, a choice of plays, a choice of theaters. It is possible. And it is feasible even for companies operating on a shoestring.

Captioning makes the theater experience available to hard of hearing people, and I would like to see it offered in every theater. It can be done with equipment on hand and a willing crew member. It may not earn the theater company a fortune in increased ticket revenues, but it will earn them something of greater value: the thanks of hard of hearing theatergoers, and a reputation for accessibility in the world of performing arts.

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