Kathy Adams, OT/L: 45 Years as a Dedicated Occupational Therapist

The International Day of Persons with Disabilities—December 3– is a day designated by the United Nations to remind the world of the important work ongoing in communities around the world to address discrimination, marginalization, and exclusion for people living with disabilities.  For this, we’d like to honor Kathy Adams OTL, who spent her career advancing the well-being of people with disabilities. Her experience with the disability community, her knowledge of employment challenges, and her understanding of the breadth and depth of assistive technology benefited countless Maine families.

Assistive Technology (AT) is any device or piece of equipment that allows people of all ages and abilities to live independent and full lives. AT is at the heart of functionality; that is , functioning fully at home, in school, in the workplace, and in the community. AT can be:

  • Low-tech” grab bars, non-slip stair treads, telescoping rake
  • High tech: Smart phones, laptop computers, educational software
  • Aids for mobility: wheelchairs, walkers, braces, canes
  • Aids for sensory and cognitive skills: Smart phones, apps, eyeglasses, hearing aids

photo of Kathy Adams

Kathy Adams, OT/L: 45 Years as a Dedicated Occupational Therapist

Kathy Adams recently retired from her position as Director of the Maine CITE Assistive Technology (AT) Program.  Maine CITE is the state-wide AT program making assistive technology (AT) more widely available to Mainers who have disabilities: children, adolescents, adults, and seniors who need it.

EG: What were early influences that led you to the field of occupational therapy?

“My mother was a medical social worker,” said Adams. “Her work in the hospital was always strongly community-based, and that made a big impression on me. Summers, during my teenage years, I had the opportunity to work at the hospital in various medical fields, with OTs, PTs, nurses and physicians. When it came time for college, the University of New Hampshire was five miles away from my home in Dover, and it had an OT program. I knew OT would offer a versatile career.”

Her first job was at Maine Medical Center, in a traditional hospital rehabilitation setting. Her second job was with Alpha One, Maine’s Independent Living Center, and where she found her calling.

Adams was the first occupational therapist (OT) hired by Alpha One’s founder, Steve Tremblay. OTs typically are educated in the medical model. Tremblay’s approach at Alpha One’s was based on function, based on what consumers wanted to achieve in their lives.  Alpha One gave them autonomy to become self-directing and live more independently, then backed them up with the support and services needed to be successful. “Of course, I used my OT knowledge every day,” said Adams, “But my title was ‘Independent Living Specialist.’ We took a functional approach to working with individuals who have disabilities.”

“Functional independent living skills come first. It’s a matter of meeting the consumer wherever they are. First, they achieve solid skills for daily living and managing in their home and community – then, productive employment goals can be set and achieved.”

Adams advanced to become the Director of Consumer Services and remained at Alpha One for 23 years.

EG: What changes were occurring during that time within the disability rights community? Was community awareness/inclusion improving?

“Society has become more accepting over time and more people with disabilities are active and inclusive in their communities,” said Adams.

“Very strong federal laws were passed, starting with the Federal Rehab Act of 1973,” she continued. “Federal Special Education laws followed and were earth shattering. They enabled therapists to work with school kids in special education.

“The Federal Assistive Technology Act of 1989 created the Maine CITE program. Maine was one of only eight states nationally to receive funding in the first year. Now, there are AT programs funded in all states and territories of the US. The AT Act focused on the assistive technology needed for people with disabilities to achieve greater independence in their education, community living and employment. The programs connect AT with consumers.

“The Americans with Disabilities Act passed in 1990 and this civil rights law made a significant impact on the lives of people with disabilities.

“Each piece of legislation has built important services and supports for families, caregivers, children, adults and seniors in Maine and across the country,” said Adams.

Transition to Maine CITE

Adams transitioned to Maine CITE in 2005 as an Assistive Technology Specialist, working under then director Kathy Powers. In 2013, Adams became the Director of the Maine CITE Program, taking care of budgets, expanding AT services in Maine and networking across the state with many AT professionals and provider organizations. Getting the word out about Maine CITE was ongoing and Adams was the face of the organization in Maine and nationally.

“Working with Kathy Adams has been a pleasure and a privilege. She has served as a mentor and advisor, colleague and collaborator in my time at Maine CITE. The people of Maine have long benefited from her expertise, judgment and sound practice.”  John Brandt, Training/Operations Coordinator, Maine CITE

“We worked closely with therapists, case managers, social workers, and special education teachers,” said Adams. “We worked with organizations like the state Agencies on Aging, Vocational Rehabilitation, Alpha One, ALLTECH, Pine Tree Society and Goodwill. Public awareness is a cornerstone of the AT Act.”

EG: Do you think Maine CITE is utilized as well as it could be?

Adams sighed. “There are always people who haven’t heard of us. There will always be more we can do to reach people. But the impact continues to increase. We had more than 1200 people attend our webinars last year. Our numbers have steadily grown in the past five years.”

Yes, there will always be more work to do to improve the lives of those living with a disability. After 45 years of “purposeful activity,” Adams has handed over the reins for others to continue the work. Her legacy of service to individuals, families and communities throughout Maine will not be forgotten.

Adams has worked closely with Maine AgrAbility since 2010, an invaluable member of our Advisory Council. From all the staff at Maine AgrAbility, thank you, Kathy, for all that you brought to this important work!  

Read more about AT & Maine AgrAbility: Addressing Farming Challenges with Assistive Technology Solutions