OT Graduate Students Assisting California Academy Of Sciences

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Graduate students from Dominican University of California’s occupational therapy program are working with San Francisco’s California Academy of Sciences this year to support community access and inclusion for diverse populations including people with sensory, social, and learning disabilities.

The work is under the direction of Dr. Caroline Umeda, assistant professor of Occupational Therapy in the School of Health and Natural Sciences at Dominican. Dr. Umeda’s research interests include community and cultural arts accessibility for children with disabilities and their families and the role of occupational therapy consultation in developing access programs.

“One of my scholarship focuses is the role of organization-level occupational therapy consultation in supporting community organizations in developing and implementing inclusive practices and programs,” she says.

The five Dominican OT students, all second-year grad students in the entry level MSOT program, participating in the program are Ariana Salas, Gabriele Alviz, Julia Karczewski, Elizabeth Weintraub, and Nicole Conyers.

Most of Dr. Umeda’s work has occurred within the theatre context with professional and community theatres, including Seattle Children’s Theatre, to develop and implement sensory friendly theatre performances and programs.

“I have also worked with recreational organizations such as sports organizations and even a circus arts organization in Oakland to help design training for coaches and teaching artists around inclusive practices for children with sensory, social, and learning disabilities.”

With the Cal Academy of Sciences project, Dr. Umeda is mentoring the OT capstone students to learn how to do this type of OT consultation in the community. The students are working with two departments within the museum: the Planetarium and Volunteer Services.

“For the planetarium, we are working with staff to make environmental modifications to Hohfeld Hall, a space outside the planetarium itself where daily shows on space/astronomy-related topics are provided to the general public,” Dr. Umeda says.

“We are also collaborating with volunteer services to design and pilot a training program for the museum's public-facing docents on the topic of sensory processing and its impact on behavior and learning. We hope this training will provide docents with a framework to better understand the behaviors and needs of museum-goers with sensory, social, and learning differences, and give them the tools needed to provide these patrons with meaningful engagement opportunities at the museum.”

The students are at the beginning stages of the project, which will run through December 2023.

Dr. Umeda has taught in academic, clinical, and community-based contexts, and was on clinical faculty at the University of Washington from 2008 to 2015. She joined the Department of Occupational Therapy at Dominican University of California in 2018.

Photo above is of (from left) Ariana Salas, Gabriele Alviz, Julia Karczewski, Elizabeth Weintraub, Dr. Caroline Umeda, and Nicole Conyers at the California Academy of Sciences.

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