Occupational Therapy OT

| 10 July 2023

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OT Alum Promotes Power of Accessibility, Featured on JPMorgan Chase Impact Commercial Series

USAHS Kelly Twichel Alum feature beachtrax

Kelly Twichel, OTR/L, USAHS ’17, is a natural entrepreneur and steadfast advocate for accessibility. She has always had a lot of passion, empathy and expertise around inclusion. “That drive and competitive edge in part comes from the fact that my mom had a disability. I see a side of things that maybe the average person does not,” she said.

Her accessibility-centered career was sparked when she was a student at the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS) in the Master of Occupational Therapy (MOT) program. She took an assistive technology class with assistant professor Maureen “Mo” Johnson, PhD, MS, OT/L, BCPR, C/NDT, CHSE-A. Dr. Johnson is a surfer who presented her students with a creative challenge: Design a device to help adaptive surfers overcome the barrier of accessing the beach with dignity.

Twichel and her former classmate, Eric Packard, OTR/L, USAHS ’17, rose to the occasion, and Access Trax, “inspired by adaptive athletes; invented by occupational therapists,” was born. The pair tested the device with five adaptive surfers at a 2016 Western Surfing Association event in San Diego, California.

USAHS Kelly Twichel Alum 0_3 beachtrax

Innovation to impact

After seeing how the tracks allowed surfers with wheelchairs to traverse the beach independently, Twichel realized that she needed to turn the school project into a world-wide business.

“I witnessed how the tracks help people to cross the sand and do what they love.”

Twichel is CEO and Co-Founder of the female-led Access Trax, whose purpose is to empower people of all abilities to live healthy and active lifestyles without barriers. The company’s innovative design, the Access Trax Mat (formerly Beach Trax), is a portable, foldable pathway for accessibility to the outdoors.

Access Trax is not just for surfers. It allows anyone who uses a mobility device to reach outdoor terrain – beaches, parks, playgrounds, gardens, campsites and more. During the COVID pandemic, restaurants relied on Access Trax to help customers get to outdoor seating. The film industry has used the mats to move heavy equipment since 2021.

“If you create a portable pathway, you can help multiple individuals at once and employ the concept of universal design. You make a bigger impact with one product,” said Twichel.

USAHS Kelly Twichel Alum 0_2 beachtrax

Game-changing design

“As an OT, I’m committed to individuals with disabilities and their families,” Twichel said.

She integrates early feedback and aims to continuously improve Access Trax. Through volunteering at world surfing championships, she’s able to hear firsthand from surfers what they like and what they would change about the product.

“Volunteerism is a great way of making the mat available to more people. When individuals get to try out a product in real life, it’s much more valuable than seeing an ad online,” she said.

She’s currently working on two new versions – a smaller mat for individuals to use independently, as well as a second type with increased traction for government use.

“As a small, bootstrapped business, sometimes it takes years to get something off of the ground. This process doesn’t spark the most joy in me, but it’s necessary and well worth the time,” she said.

Education as a force for good

Twichel is inspired by USAHS’ continued support and sponsorship through the U.S. Open Adaptive Surfing Championships and the San Diego Adaptive Sports, Recreation, and Resource Fair.

USAHS occupational therapy (OT) and physical therapy (PT) students volunteer with Access Trax and have the opportunity to see adaptive sports in action. “This experience takes them outside of the clinical aspect of healthcare and adds richness to what they’re learning about,” Twichel explained.

She said that USAHS has always been supportive of Access Trax’s mission, and that the professors are phenomenal mentors. “They have a lot of heart for the community and student success.”

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International influence

Access Trax has customers across 16 countries outside of the U.S. If someone contacts Twichel and says they need the life-altering mat, she figures out how to get it to them. “It’s exciting to expand our reach globally and in different use cases,” she said.

Twichel has participated in over five business accelerators to better learn how to scale and strategically export the product.

In May 2023, Access Trax was named the Grand Prize winner of the MetroConnect VI export accelerator program and received a $25,000 grant to expand its markets in Canada and Australia.

“I want to be the best leader for this company and mission that I possibly can – my current and future customers depend on me.”

National spotlight

Access Trax is one of four businesses selected to participate in JPMorgan Chase’s Impact campaign – a series of commercials that will air on major news networks and during primetime sporting events. The The first commercial premiered on June 1, 2023 during the NBA Finals. Access Trax’s solo spot is set to premier during the MLB All Star Game on July 11. You can also catch it during the Wimbledon Finals on July 15 and the Women’s World Cup July 21.

“Sports are an amazing conduit for showcasing spirit, purpose and passion – they really unite people. I’m excited to see how this campaign can open so many eyes and minds about what adaptive sports can be, and how it can fit into people’s lives,” Twichel said.

The future of accessibility

The way she sees it, nonprofits are here to make things happen regardless of who and where you are in life. She hopes that accessibility continues to evolve to serve people with all ability levels.

“The future is integrating universal design into everything. It’s more expensive to fix something than to build it right the first time,” she said, “Let’s call on corporations to include people with disabilities into the planning stage, not just user testing. The product should be built with them, by them and for them – not without them.”

Calling all non-traditional OTs: Twichel urges that the field is well-positioned for OTs to work in a variety of settings. “Find your network and get involved in something that excites you and where there’s a need. You’re not alone. Seek out knowledge and mentorship so you can learn from those who have gone before you and also blaze your own trail.”

A true trailblazer, Twichel’s North Star Goal is to partner with the LA28 Paralympic Games. Access Trax is contracted to work with the USA Triathlon to provide the beach access for the swim portion of the 2023 national championships.

As Twichel’s journey continues to unfold, one thing remains constant: She is passionate about her role in promoting an accessible future.


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