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Dr. Anita Perr Retires from NYU OT

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As the Fall 2023 semester draws to a close, we are saying a fond farewell to Clinical Professor Anita Perr, who is celebrating her retirement. We thank her for her many years of service and invaluable contributions to our students, faculty, and to the community. Anita’s extensive clinical experience informs her classroom teaching, and our students have been immensely fortunate to benefit from her problem-based, practical courses. She is a founding member of the NYU Ability Project—an interdisciplinary research space for the development of assistive technologies—and was the first Program Director for the online, post-professional, clinical doctorate program. We recently talked to Anita about some of her most memorable experiences at NYU, her plans for the future, and more. Please read on for the full interview.


Please tell us the story of how you came to NYU!

I came to NYU for my post-professional Master’s degree and worked on a grant with Dr. Dina Loebl, working to bring assistive technology to adults with developmental disabilities living in a residential center. I worked in their wheelchair shop, evaluating and fabricating custom seating systems. A bit later I had the opportunity to be a lab instructor in our Rehab Evaluation and Intervention course and realized how enjoyable and rewarding teaching was, especially clinical teaching. Dr. Sally Poole was a role model for me at that time and ever since. When a faculty position opened up, I was encouraged to apply and to my surprise, I was offered the position. Decades later, I still enjoy learning with our students and consider them colleagues. Hearing from students who are enjoying their careers as OTs or have used their OT education to move into non-traditional positions thrills me. I find that I am drawn to opportunities that allow for creativity and hands-on learning. 


What does the OT community at NYU mean to you now?

For many years, the OT faculty has felt like my family. I am drawn to collaborative work and I have found or built ways to collaborate within the Department, in the Steinhardt School, and at the University level. I worked with groups of OT students to provide the university with recommendations for making the campus more accessible. These opportunities demonstrate both the power of collaboration and the usefulness of real-word experiences in OT education. I look forward to future opportunities to collaborate with this OT family. 


Tell us a little bit about how your career developed, and what you are most proud of.

Throughout most of my career, my motto has been “Don’t say no.” Most of the opportunities that I took advantage of have worked out well for me. Prior to joining NYU, I worked in adult rehabilitation and loved it. Each new job became my favorite. When I joined NYU, the opportunities here made this job my new favorite. 

There are so many things of which I am proud. I will mention just two of them here. For many years, I collaborated with Marianne Petit in Tisch’s ITP. We co-taught technology courses where OT and Art/Design students worked together designing and building assistive technologies and adaptive equipment. Students learned about each other’s expertise, and were able to develop solutions that were more comprehensive than anything a student could have developed on their own. Student groups worked with community partners, whose role was central to the design and learning process. Our thinking was, and is, that technology users need to be part of the design process in order for the end product to be most useful to them. 

When the Engineering School joined NYU, Dr. Luke DuBois joined us in the collaboration, bringing in a third group, Engineering/Design students, to the interdisciplinary work. We received provostial funding to develop the NYU Ability Project, an interdisciplinary research space dedicated to the intersection of disability and technology. The Ability Project has teaching and research space at 370 Jay St in Brooklyn, and now offers 12 courses through their home departments and has numerous community partnerships and collaborative programs running. 

I am also so proud to have been involved in developing our online, post-professional, clinical doctorate program. As the online program’s first program director, I had the opportunity to work closely with our students who hail from across the country. Watching these OTs develop new ties with each other and learn with and from each other has been extraordinary. Working with faculty to develop courses for the program has been rewarding as well. 

NYU afforded me the opportunity to work with a wide variety of people on a wide variety of projects. Not saying “no” led to my involvement in these and many other projects of value. 


What was your favorite course to teach at NYU, and why?

If you ask me about favorites, I will have to tell you that they are ALL my favorite. For different reasons and in different ways, every class I taught became a favorite. Of course, Rehabilitation Evaluation and Intervention is a favorite. It is the first class I taught. Rehab is at the heart of my clinical work. It is a practical class, and students use the information and experiences from this course in fieldwork and throughout their careers. 

Another favorite is Disability in a Global Context. I developed this course when the University began increasing their global identity. This course is designed to investigate how disability and participation are impacted by a location’s systems: culture, politics, religion, education, etc. OT students and others from across the School and University travel to the area of focus and learn from people with disabilities and disability experts, as well as from people who are experts in the local systems. Class discussions and experiences provide students with opportunities to explore their own feelings about disability and participation. I taught this course at many of our global sites including Accra, Ghana; Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Tel Aviv, Israel. Other faculty in the department also offer this course in NYU Global Academic Centers, and it is so exciting to see the variety of places and various foci that the course takes on. 


What are your hopes for the NYU Department of OT, and for those considering entering the profession?

I love seeing how new department members are taking leadership roles in their areas of practice and research. Many of the faculty are also teaching undergrads and others outside of OT. I think this broadened exposure can expand interest in OT and may encourage others to consider OT as a career. I think that people considering OT should examine the opportunities closely and creatively. There are so many ways an OT can practice, conduct research, and use their training to branch out in directions that interest them.


What’s next for you? 

SO many plans. Next semester I’ll be teaching a couple of classes as an adjunct professor and collaborating with a fieldwork site as I supervise one of our FW II students. I have ideas about how I might be able to help people outfit their homes and worksites to provide environments that facilitate participation in their preferred occupations. I also have plans to be more involved in creative interests in and around the city.