Physical therapy students develop Creative Communications classes

Document Type

News Article

Publication Date


Campus Unit

School of Medicine & Health Sciences


GRAND FORKS, N.D.—A series of classes titled Creative Communications was inspired by physical therapy students who wanted to connect with their patients through effective communication, specifically with individuals who have hearing impairments. The series consisted of three classes that were developed and coordinated by UND PT students Kelsey Lafond and Abby Brenner. Students from the first- and second-year classes were invited to attend. Although there are many options to communicate nonverbally, especially with advancing technology, the class sessions were focused on sign language and communication devices. All of the class sessions were well-attended with participants active in using the sign language options presented.

Henry Brenner, the grandfather of UND PT student Abby Brenner, led the initial class. Brenner has been deaf since the age of six months and shared his experiences and perspectives on “deaf culture” and overcoming adversity with a hearing impairment. He also taught some basic signs. The students were engaged as they learned the sign language alphabet and numbers, along with some signs that would be useful in clinical practice. His advice to the group of future physical therapists was to learn some basic signs as a way to communicate with people that use sign language, even if it is simply fingerspelling. The students enjoyed learning from this longtime coach, teacher, and sports enthusiast and appreciated his mentorship.

During the second class, Lindsey Miskavige, a 2006 master of science graduate of UND and a speech language pathologist employed at Altru Rehabilitation Center, demonstrated the use of several communication devices that are commonly used by patients. She explained the varying levels of technology available as well as the order in which you would introduce communication devices. Miskavige shared her own experiences using each device in her clinical work and provided tips on how to implement the devices efficiently.

Mark Brenner, father of UND PT student Abby Brenner and son of Henry Brenner, presented the final class. Mark is a 1989 graduate of the UND PT program and is currently employed at Sanford Health in Fargo, N.Dak. Before entering elementary school, Mark grew up around his father’s students at the North Dakota School for the Deaf/Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Devils Lake, N.Dak., where Mark became fluent in sign language. In his current practice, when an individual with a hearing impairment needs physical therapy, Mark is often the therapist who will care for the individual. During this class, Mark focused on sign language for words and phrases he felt were most important in providing effective physical therapy intervention. He also provided guidelines to promote communication between therapists and patients and to facilitate effective communication with patients who have hearing impairments.