Occupational Therapy outstanding graduate breaks new ground with assistive technology research

Claire Simpson
Claire Simpson

Claire Simpson, a 2020 graduate in the Department of Occupational Therapy at Colorado State University, worked with students with disabilities and received accolades for her research on assistive technology which she completed as part of her thesis. Originally from Wisconsin, Simpson came to CSU to pursue a master’s degree in occupational therapy.

During her time at CSU, Simpson worked in the OT department’s Assistive Technology Resource Center providing assistive technology services to CSU students. Assistive technology includes devices, software, and equipment that help people address challenges with accessing information physically or electronically.

“Claire’s contributions to the Assistive Technology Resource Center were substantial,” said Marla Roll, director of the ATRC. “She is a critical thinker with a curious mindset but balances that with compassion and empathy for the clients she serves.”

“Grad school was tough, but I was very fortunate to have the support of my family, friends, and classmates to get me through all the obstacles and to finish my degree during a pandemic,” said Simpson.

Thesis on assistive technology

While working at the ATRC, Simpson was also doing research and completing a full course load. Her thesis “Predicting Assistive Technology Outcomes for Postsecondary Students with Disabilities” looks at the significant benefit of assistive technology services on academic performance in college students with disabilities. Her thesis has been accepted for publication with the Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability. Simpson’s thesis led her to be a finalist for the Western Association of Graduate Schools “Distinguished Master’s Thesis Award.”

“Research on assistive technology is critically needed in the fields of higher education and disability services, as AT utilization and outcomes are under-reported for college students with disabilities,” said Matt Malcolm, associate professor in the Department of Occupational Therapy. “Claire’s study of more than 700 college students—which linked multiple data sources—represents a significant and rigorous step to filling this gap.”

Malcolm said key findings from Simpson’s thesis revealed that first-generation college students with disabilities were 50% more likely to seek out AT services compared to “continuing generation” students with disabilities, and that use of AT services predicted a significantly higher GPA when comparing with students with disabilities who did and did not use AT. On the other hand, Simpson found that students with psychological or cognitive disabilities were less likely to seek out AT services—implicating a need for more outreach to students with psychological or cognitive differences.

“Claire’s research contributed not only to the field of occupational therapy focusing on assistive technology interventions, but also more broadly to professions and units that are charged with supporting students with disabilities in institutions of higher education,” said Roll. “I am confident she will contribute much to the profession of occupational therapy and look forward to hearing about her journey.”

Simpson’s work with assistive technology also led her to collaborate with the Nancy Richardson Design Center staff to create a new class on inclusive design of virtual and augmented reality technology. She was also involved with the Student Occupational Therapy Association and the Pi Theta honors society while a student.

Going to school and starting a new job during the COVID-19 pandemic has taught Simpson flexibility in the classroom and in the field. She is currently employed as a pediatric occupational therapist in Denver.

Looking back at her time at CSU, Simpson says she will miss her friends and the OT faculty members.

“I have had numerous mentors and advisers among the CSU OT faculty,” said Simpson. “All the faculty are outstanding and incredibly supportive but my thesis adviser, Matt Malcolm, and my mentor, thesis committee member, and supervisor, Marla Roll, were invaluable in helping me write and publish my master’s thesis.”

The Department of Occupational Therapy is a part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.