Creating a Great ATP
What Qualities & Experiences Are Most Important to Seating & Wheeled Mobility Success?
- By Laurie Watanabe
- Mar 01, 2020
PUZZLE PIECES: DEPOSITPHOTOS/BOROBORO
At the 2019 International Seating Symposium
(ISS) in Pittsburgh, Mark Schmeler, Ph.D., OTR/L,
ATP, the director of the ISS when it’s hosted
in the United States every other year, told
attendees that Assistive Technology Professionals
(ATPs) are leaving the complex rehab technology
(CRT) industry at a faster rate than they are being
replaced. Though CRT is growing at 4.8 percent
per year, the incoming rate of ATPs is just 1.8
percent, while the retirement rate for ATPs is
3.4 percent per year. The average age of ATPs,
Schmeler said at the time, was 52 years. That’s 10
years older than the age (42 years) of the average
The industry has been responding. More seating
and wheeled mobility courses and specialties are
being offered at the university level, while some
CRT providers have created mentorships and career
paths to nurture potential ATPs and provide them
with the education they’ll need to succeed.
Still, so much of an ATP’s day-to-day responsibilities
isn’t easily captured in a classroom lecture
or a textbook.
At a time when the industry is working hard to
recruit, educate and raise up the next generation
of ATPs, we asked current industry members what
qualities are most important to an ATP’s success. In
a survey, we asked participants to rate the
importance of different skills and qualities, and
then we asked them to share which qualities they
think are most critical.
To encourage participants to be honest and
expansive with their answers, we asked for their
names and titles, but offered to keep that
Participants were self selecting; we extended
the invitation to the CRT industry via our
newsletter, social media, and an e-mail campaign.
We didn’t incentivize the survey.
Who Took the Survey?
The survey was open to CRT
industry members; nearly 100
percent of respondents said they
worked or had worked within
the industry. Because we asked
respondents to list all relevant
academic and professional credentials
and certifications, many
participants gave more than one
answer: Some were clinicians who
also have the ATP credential, or
ATPs who also have management
responsibilities. Responses are
rounded to the nearest percentage
point. Occupational and Physical
Therapy designations represent
all levels (bachelor’s, master’s,
doctoral) of degrees.
Length of Service
Not surprisingly, most survey
respondents are industry veterans
who have dedicated many years to
complex rehab technology clients.
Results were rounded to the nearest
Important Traits: ATPs
Working As Clinicians
For an ATP working as a clinician,
we asked how important the
following traits are on a scale of
1 (Not important at all) to 5 (Extremely
important). Scores shown
are the averages.
Clinical knowledge is at the
forefront of this job, but participants
thought a formal degree less
important than wisdom gained
from working directly with clients.
Important Traits: ATPs
Working As Suppliers
We asked the same questions
about ATPs working as equipment
suppliers/providers. As you might
expect given the focus for an ATP
supplier, knowledge of available
technology was deemed more
important — in fact, the most
important skill — as was knowledge
of funding policies. A formal
degree got the lowest score here,
perhaps an acknowledgment of
how valuable hands-on experience
is for this particular position.
The Top 3 Qualities
We then added a skill — the ability to troubleshoot during the
equipment procurement process — and asked respondents to
choose the three most important ATP skills or qualities, regardless
of whether that ATP was working as a clinician or a supplier.
Survey participants gave each quality a score of 1 (for the most
important), 2 (second-most important), 3 (third-most important),
or “Not among the top 3 most important.”
We then weighted the scores to come up with the top three:
#1: Clinical knowledge of seating/wheeled mobility and function
edged out the second-place finisher by just 4 points.
#2: On-the-job knowledge gained by personal experience
finished second, but actually received the highest number of first-place
votes of any skill/quality listed.
#3: Knowledge of current seating and mobility equipment
choices, because this is the other half of the “know-your-client
Honorable mentions: Emotional intelligence was #4, and
Knowledge of funding and documentation requirements was #5.
After that, there was a big gap, statistically speaking, between the
top five and the last five.
What Else Is Important?
To keep the survey user friendly, we pre-populated ATP qualities
we thought were important. But in the final part of the survey,
respondents were asked to expand on the abilities and qualities
they feel are necessary for an ATP to be successful.
“I have always strongly believed that there needs to be some
‘formal’ education to be an ATP supplier,” said one clinician.
“There is no other field that allows no formal education, and then
allows direct contact with and decisions about clients. That, in
combination with therapists who ‘don’t feel like’ doing seating
evals or documentation makes me worry
about our clients. I know this is a negative
view, but a huge concern.”
Keeping the client at the center of
the process, from assessment through
fitting and equipment procurement, was
a recurring theme. “Probably comes into
emotional intelligence,” said one participant,
“but the ability to listen and respond
to the priorities of each individual is very
important. That sense of working with a
client jointly towards a common goal is
so important. The ability to set clear goals
and judge the success of outcomes via
these goals is also the key to dissecting what needs to change or
improve for current and future clients, to improve outcomes, or
more importantly, the perceived success of outcomes, which are
not always the same thing!”
“The organization I work for has a policy of communication
with clients every 10 days by the ATP,” said a commenter. “This
policy includes repair clients as well as new rehab orders.”
“You need to be a kind and intelligent person who listens
to the customer’s needs and tries to incorporate them into
the clinical outcome with any equipment,” a respondent said.
“People need to know that they have been listened to, and if
you are unable to give them what they want, then it needs to
be explained to them in a kind way and all of their questions
answered, no matter how unimportant to you that may be.”
“Willingness to advocate for the client’s needs and provide
equipment that is the most appropriate, with profit margins as a
secondary concern,” said a respondent.
On the business side, respondents emphasized professionalism
and organizational skills. “Timeliness, attention to detail,
excellent communication skills, both written and verbal,” one
said. “Time management with appointments and order process,”
said a second. “Follow-through,” said a third, in capital letters.
“Clear conversations with teammates regarding assistance and a
responsiveness to team.”
In fact, teamwork was another popular theme. “Respect for
their staff and fellow employees” was one comment. Another
said, “Belief in team approach, willingness to learn, willingness
to go the extra mile for the patient, an expert in teaching.” A
pediatric specialist said, “Willingness to collaborate between
therapists/engineers and non-degree ATPs. Collaboration for the
pediatric population is also difficult between clinical settings and
school or private therapists who do not work in seating clinics.
It remains essential that the team knows the equipment user, as
well as the equipment itself.”
A commenter brought up the importance of professionalism
to the future of CRT: “Commitment to the viability of the
industry. Not taking every available dollar off of the table, but
being prudent with prescription and insurance funds available
to patients. Being a community advocate and not inflating the
industry by selling the kitchen sink to
And there was plenty of input that
referred to intangibles.
“Creativity and perseverance,” said one
comment. “The ATP should be excited
about their role, which allows a much more
involved provider,” said a second.
“Patience [and] thoroughness as far as
asking as many questions during the eval
process so you can properly evaluate equipment,
as well as get to know your patient,”
said another. “What are their goals, fears
and objectives? What obstacles will they
face day to day?”
“Pay special attention to your client and their caregiver’s capabilities,
desires and concerns,” a respondent advised.
“The ability to understand things from a client’s perspective,”
said a participant, “and make suggestions on how to improve
function and support to achieve greater independence.”
And one participant simply said, “Empathy.”
This article originally appeared in the March 2020 issue of Mobility Management.