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OTR’s Dedication Ensures Clients Can Actively Participate in Play

Melanie Thompson is an OTR who has dedicated her work and personal life to ensuring children with limited motor abilities have the tools they need to learn, grow, and play.

Melanie Thompson

Melanie Thompson, OTR/L, ATP

Occupational Therapist, Sevita

Co-Director, Believe Beyond Ability & Gye Di

Location: Arizona

Certified in 2002

2022 NBCOT Impact Award Winner

An Enduring Commitment to Facilitating Accessible Play and Joy

Melanie Thompson, an OTR from Arizona, understands the joy that play brings and the benefits it has for motor and cognitive development. She provides children with the tools they need to learn, grow, and play regardless of medical complexity, physical abilities, or socioeconomic status. Melanie’s expert knowledge of assistive technology (AT) helps her problem-solve the access needs of her clients. She works closely with SLPs, PTs, ATPs, wheelchair specialists, mobility specialists, and many others to ensure that her clients and their families are supported, understand their resources, and are empowered through education, experiences, and teamwork. Melanie provides accessible and inclusive client-centered care so that her clients can actively participate in play.

Most of Melanie’s clients cannot access toys available in stores, so she finds ways for them to participate in any activity they choose. With her collaborative spirit and knowledge of AT, she reimagines activities and adapts toys and other tools to match each client’s specific needs. Melanie believes that any activity a child wants to do, they can.

Melanie also helps her clients and their families access power mobility devices. In Arizona, children and adults must pass a skills assessment for insurance to cover the cost of a power wheelchair. The inequity of this process creates barriers for children, especially those with complex physical needs. In response, Melanie created a training program where children learn the necessary skills using trial power wheelchairs and alternative access devices. Through this program, children have access to services, technology, and independence they have never had before. Melanie took accessibility one step further when she realized that she could teach children with limited head control to operate power wheelchairs using two switches instead of the traditional three. Now, more children have access to power mobility.

“Hazel was one of the first of many kids that Melanie was able to get a power wheelchair. We were denied by insurance the first time because of her size and her diagnosis. Melanie did not give up. She was in the trenches with my daughter and saw Hazel was being judged and categorized by her diagnosis and her diagnosis alone. Her dedication and hard work impacted this situation, and my daughter successfully received her chair. And because of that chair Hazel was able to move independently at home, participate in family outings, go to church and school and be amongst peers. That chair gave Hazel endless opportunities and impacted her accomplishments. That chair changed our perspective and our lives, and it was all Melanie. Melanie deserves the impact award. She has impacted my life and gained my respect for what she does and is still doing, so much that she played a part in my inspiration to become a COTA.”

Ambrosia Greer

Everyone Deserves a Chance to Play

Melanie’s commitment to her clients and their families is further evidenced by two nonprofit organizations that she founded: Believe Beyond Ability and Gye Di.

Believe Beyond Ability is focused on making the world more accessible for children through AT for mobility, communication, entertainment, and education. Every year, Believe Beyond Ability hosts Derby Day, where various toys and power-wheel cars are specifically adapted to a child with limited motor abilities. These children experience independent play and mobility, some for the first time. Later this year, the Believe Festival will be held to provide adapted toys to children with physical impairments. The festival will also feature discussions with people skilled in adapting toys and games and therapists knowledgeable in AT and communication, and therapists will be available to fit children for beneficial medical equipment. This event provides an opportunity for the larger community to access AT.

Nine boys and girls in power wheelchairs and colorful outfits pose with Melanie Thompson.
Melanie’s goal was to teach enough children to access power mobility through alternative means to create a rainbow of power wheelchairs.

Melanie’s second nonprofit, Gye Di (pronounced zhee – dee), aims to change the world by creating an environment without limitations for all children to learn, grow, and play together regardless of physical abilities. The big dream of the nonprofit is to create an inclusive indoor recreation center for all children to play and explore together. The organization strives “to build a community that closes the gap on the stigma of what it means to have a disability.” Gye Di also offers intensive therapy and powered mobility services because all children deserve an opportunity to move, regardless of their motor capabilities.

A Joyful Impact

Melanie’s impact is evident in the joy she brings to the children and families she works with, in her everyday practice, and in her commitment to her community. Her dedication to providing accessible and inclusive care is unwavering, and there is no doubt her impact will endure.

Melanie Thompson poses with a young girl who is holding some jingle bells.

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