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Innovation Interview: Jim’s Place at St. Ambrose University

When you walk into Jim’s Place on the west side of St. Ambrose University’s campus in Davenport, Iowa, the first thing you notice is that it feels like home.

Jon Turnquist, Clinical Assistant Professor of Occupational Therapy at SAU, greets me in the 1950’s era home to begin our Innovation Interview. We talk about this house-turned-assistive-technology showroom/classroom and its impact on students and the community.

Tell us about what happens at Jim’s Place and how it’s innovative.

Jim’s Place is a classroom for the Occupational Therapy students at St. Ambrose to learn and practice using assistive technology (AT). So you ask, what is AT? AT is any item, piece of equipment, software program, or product system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of persons with disabilities. Jim’s Place is outfitted with various kinds of AT; many are designed and built by the students. Innovation is always happening here, because every client has unique needs. Our students create solutions for clients using everyday materials, often cutting the costs for the client considerably. The clients most in need of assistive technology are often least able to pay, so the ability for us to innovate and provide something unique for each client is really important to us and something we’re proud of.

In addition to being a place to test innovative AT, Jim’s Place serves as a showroom for people with disabilities to see what is available to them and try it out. We regularly give tours to caregivers and clients and loan out AT items, free of charge, to the public. The assistive technology devices we provide empower the client and restore dignity while also “de-powering” the caregiver, helping them help their loved one have more independence.

What are some of the innovative assistive technology items students have created?

One student team recently created a double joystick remote control car for pediatric patients that helps work on hand coordination and strength. Another team came up with a lighted countertop solution for people with vision problems –when things are lit from below, people can see the shadows of objects. These are just two small examples of the various ways we think outside the box to solve problems for our clients and help them gain independence and mobility.

We often partner with the Occupational, Physical and Speech therapists in the community to provide solutions for their patients as well, so the work the students are doing is not hypothetical, but true real-world application to help people.

What’s next for Jim’s Place?

An exciting project we are rolling out next quarter is a partnership with the federal Veterans Affairs office to create a virtual reality tour of Jim’s Place. The VA partnership allows Jim’s Place AT to reach an even larger audience and ensure even more people can find solutions to help them live with dignity and increased independence in their own homes.