Helping People with Disabilities Runs in the Family

Tina and Jessica

Jessica Landsberg has always known she wanted to follow in her mother Tina Weisman’s footsteps. “I grew up in a household where my mother, an occupational therapist, was always seeing private clients,” recalls Jessica. “It felt like I had a playdate all the time because my mother would utilize me in her sessions. As I got older, I would ask questions about her clients like, “Why is that kid wearing a brace on his leg?’ I was really curious.”

The more Jessica learned about her mother’s work with children with disabilities, the more she knew she wanted to make a career of helping those with special needs. “My mom’s been an incredible role model,” she says.

Jessica, who recently earned a master’s degree in speech pathology from Buffalo State College in New York, is currently a speech-language pathologist entering her clinical fellowship year. This fall, she’ll be working with children with communication challenges at a charter school in New York City. Recently, she accompanied Tina, who officially joined the Enabling Devices team as a consultant in July, to the company’s headquarters.

“My mom always told me that the Enabling Devices office was like the North Pole of adaptive toys. It really was! Coming out of graduate school, I hadn’t seen all the toys and devices I learned about. It was so much fun to play with them and see how they worked.”

Tina’s relationship with Enabling Devices goes back decades. In fact, she says, the company’s founder, Steve Kanor, “trained me when I was at Jessica’s career stage. It was very meaningful to bring Jessica to the office and to watch her give her feedback about the products. Jessica had such great ideas and such a good understanding of how the toys facilitate play and learning. I feel like I’m coming full circle,” says Tina.

Full circle, indeed. Enabling Devices CEO Seth Kanor, Steve’s son, has brought Tina on board to consult with the company on product development. “It is so meaningful to me to work with someone who knew my dad and watched him work. Many of the devices that they worked on together still form the core of our catalogue. My father had a deep respect for Tina’s talent and her commitment to the community and it is an honor to be able to continue that very special relationship.” he says.

In her new role with the company, Tina, a supervisor at United Cerebral Palsy of Westchester, private practitioner, workshop leader and OTD (Doctor of Occupational Therapy) candidate, will be consulting on topics like new product design, telehealth and virtual learning.

“I’m there to help them create toys that maximize children’s participation in adaptive play and simple communication,” she says.

While Tina has long been a resource and friend of Enabling Devices, her expertise is especially valuable in the age of COVID-19.

“Virtual learning is not the optimal way for many kids with disabilities to learn,” she explains.

“In the spring, [when COVID-19 first closed schools], a lot of kids who relied on switch-adapted toys to learn about concepts like cause and effect, weren’t able to participate in their virtual lessons. It was sad to watch,” says Tina. “Enabling Devices makes everything that’s needed for kids to be able to play and learn at home.”

Tina’s latest project has involved designing affordable bundles of products that OTs can use in telehealth sessions with their clients. The Sensory Duo #5102 includes our Compact Activity Center and Sensational Tubes; the Cause and Effects Duo #5103 includes the Jumbo Switch with Lights, Music and Vibration and the Musical Llama Stacker; and the Communication Duo # 5104 includes the Big Talk one-message communicator and the High Contrast Icons.

“I’m hoping we may be able to get school districts to buy in to our telehealth plan and provide students with toys and devices [like the ones in the bundles] they need to learn from home,” says Tina. “If so, we’ll be filling a gap that is so important for these children. I’m honored by being given the opportunity to work with this incredibly creative team. We have so many shared goals.”

Happy OT Month!

Hooray! It’s Occupational Therapy Awareness Month! Here at Enabling Devices, we’re all about celebrating the amazing work of these dedicated professionals. We thought we’d take this opportunity to explore the field and learn more about what makes these very special people tick. What are the qualities necessary to have a successful career as an OT? What training is involved? To get some answers, we talked with pediatric occupational therapist Jennifer Wingrat, OTR-L, ScD, who works in the acclaimed Child and Family Support Program (CFSD) at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, Maryland.

Enabling Devices: What made you decide to go into this field?
Jennifer Wingrat: I fell into it when I was a senior in high school. I was doing my senior project at an OT hand clinic. I liked working with the patients, making splints, helping people to live to their potential. I’ve been practicing for at least 20 years! In the past I’ve worked with different [populations]—people with spinal cord injuries, general pediatrics and others.

Nowadays you work with children. What’s that like?
I’ve always liked working with kids and I took that track in OT school. Now, I work in an early intervention program and most of the treatment is done in the patients’ homes. It’s a lot of fun.

Who are the children served by the program?
The children we see have a range of disabilities—cerebral palsy, genetic disorders, Down syndrome, developmental delays, mostly physical disabilities.
The families we work with are the neediest families in Baltimore. Ninety-seven percent of them are on medical assistance. They have so many environmental stressors. When parents are invested it makes a huge difference.

What kinds of services do you provide?
I work a lot with the parents teaching them how to play and interact with their children. It’s anything from teaching a baby to shake a rattle and self-care skills like feeding, dressing, holding a crayon… When kids have physical disabilities, we may help them to control their movements and get around the house more efficiently. There’s a lot of adapting their environment… We’re teaching them to develop skills that most kids develop on their own.

Do toys play a role?
Adapted toys are invaluable for these kids. Some of them need switch-adapted toys.
A lot of times I’ll go into a home and there are no toys, so the child may not know how to play. If there are no toys, we’ll work with what they have. We also have a toy lending library so we might bring a couple of toys when we visit, leave them for a couple of weeks, then switch them out for new toys.

What are the qualities that a good OT need to have?
Creativity, flexibility, the ability to empathize, and to interact with all different kinds of people —people of different cultures, socioeconomic classes…

What kind of training do OTs need?
I have a doctorate but that’s not necessary for the work I do. OTs need to have a master’s degree. There are also OT assistants, who have two-year degrees from community colleges. They are wonderful members of a [multidisciplinary] team. Assistants can do treatment but not assessments or evaluations.

You work with families who are really struggling. How do you prevent burn-out?
Sometimes it is sad. I try to focus on the successes and to know that even the littlest help that I can provide is improving lives.

What would you tell people considering a career as an OT?
It’s a great field with huge demand. You can work with people of all ages, it pays well and you will always have a job.