Sun Devil pivoted to help clients with disabilities during pandemic

June 30, 2020

Sun Devils have a long history of showing their strength during times of adversity and uncertainty. The COVID-19 pandemic has tested the perseverance of students but also illuminated the care that they have for their peers and community.  

Graduating senior Rachel Fisher, 42, a recreational therapy major and a nontraditional student, started her internship at Ability 360, a center for independent living, at the beginning of the spring 2020 semester. 

There she works for the Socialization Through Recreation program, which offers clients the opportunity to “meet new people, develop interpersonal skills, gain self-confidence, reduce stress and improve social and communication skills.”

Fisher, who is visually impaired, wanted to use her education and experience with a disability to help others. 

“I wanted to work with another recreational therapist who knew what it was like to use their limitations, coming from having my own disability, I knew I wanted to work there,” Fisher said. 

When ASU classes went online, her internship did as well. Because of her disability, Fisher already worked from her personal laptop, so staying at home was an easy transition but she knew that the clients who used Ability 360, needed a way to stay connected. She said some are immunocompromised, and she wanted to make sure they had a safe outlet to understand what’s going on and connect.

“I was a bit worried and had a conversation with my supervising professor, Kelly Ramella, and I said that I needed to do something to create a virtual program. I couldn't go eight more weeks and not work with consumers. The thought had come up that I could take a socialization class, that is face to face, and turn it into a virtual class,” Fisher said. 

For the following week after that conversation, from her home in Phoenix, Fisher developed programming for virtual meetings which helped her clients to stay in contact. The first meeting had around 15 people and addressed their concerns and fears in relation to COVID-19. 

“I decided to take everything I learned in class and go to basics and teach them leisure education, which is the core of recreational therapy. My supervisor was so amazing and let me take this and run with it. It became my project for my internship,” Fisher said. 

She transformed the class and created a curriculum that included ice breakers, a variety of conversation starters and core topics. 

“A main underlying message of all the classes that I have taught since going virtual is peer support. This population, going to this class was their socialization, so it is important to encourage number exchanges and build a network that they are always going to use,” Fisher said. 

Fisher was able to turn unfortunate circumstances into a learning opportunity and make a positive impact on people who needed help and resources during these difficult times. She’s passionate about accessibility, because it’s essential to inclusivity.

“You got to be creative with accommodations and accessibility. You can't just do a strict black and white method,” she said.  

ASU graduate Rachel Fischer

Rachel Fisher, 42, studied recreational therapy at ASU and found creative ways to keep reaching her clients with disabilities during COVID-19.

Along with Ability 360, Fisher also received help from ASU’s Disability Resource Center and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Unfortunately, Fisher recognized that many other people did not have access or knowledge of these resources, and that is why she believes in advocacy and empowering others. 

“I am passionate about helping other people with disabilities to be able to empower themselves. I wish I had someone in my life to empower me,” Fisher said. 

During these unprecedented times, Sun Devils have shown how much they care for each other and proven that they can succeed under difficult circumstances. As much as the future can be uncertain, Fisher has words of positivity for her peers. 

“Have an attitude of gratitude, look at all the things you can do now, don’t focus on the things you can’t do,” Fisher said.