Occupational Therapy Pushes for Diversity and "Occupational Justice"

“As we always aim to do with all individuals and populations we work with, we must continue to remember that every individual has their own set of cultural ideas and that we must be open minded and client-centered”

A note from Rahoo Baby COO and pediatric OT, Erica Costa, on the changes we can look forward to in the field of occupational therapy.

Occupational therapy strives for what’s known as occupational justice both as a profession and with clients and patients. Occupational justice is “the right of every individual to be able to meet basic needs and to have equal opportunities and life chances to reach toward her or his potential but specific to the individual’s engagement in diverse and meaningful occupation” (Wilcock & Townsend, 2009, p. 193). When an individual feels a sense of injustice, this can have negative consequences on a person’s mental and therefor physical health.

It is our job as therapists to take all factors, both structural and contextual, into account when working with individuals. Societal, environmental, and racial injustice can impact our clientele and their ability to live a full and meaningful life. The current practice guidelines for occupational therapists continue to use terms such as diversity, inclusion and occupational justice (American Occupational Therapy Association, 2014). Though this language is not wrong, it does not fully discuss anti-racism explicitly. Furthermore, the profession as a whole is in need of introspection now more than ever when one considers that approximately 82% of occupational therapists are White.

Occupational therapists pride themselves on their ability to be client-centered, doing as best they can to recognize and appreciate the importance of cultural diversity. However, as a profession, more research is needed to inform us and educate us on microaggressions, how they affect occupations, and what we can do to help create change. This is especially important to consider when looking at how far from diverse the profession itself is. The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) has not let any of this go unnoticed. AOTA recognizes that although this is something we continue to work at, a greater effort is needed. They are expanding the work of their Diversity and Inclusion task force to better enhance the equity and inclusion through the work of occupational therapy as well as within the profession itself. The hope is to continue identifying any existing gaps in order to increase opportunities for occupational justice, and to begin to close the gaps of inequality best we can.

The National Black Occupational Therapy Caucus (NBOTC) is a network of practitioners, educators, researchers, and students of African Descent who work to both promote the success of their colleagues as well as advocate for equitable services for clients in communities of interest (NBOTC, 2020). Our mission as occupational therapists is to promote strengths and help eliminate barriers to any day-to-day activity. As we always aim to do with all individuals and populations we work with, we must continue to remember that every individual has their own set of cultural ideas and that we must be open minded and client centered.

 

References:

American Occupational Therapy Association, A. (2014). Occupational Therapy Practice Framework, 3rd Edition. American Journal of Occupational Therapy .

Data USA: Occupational Therapists. (2018). Data: USA. Retrieved from  https://datausa.io/profile/soc/occupational-therapists#demographics

NBOTC. (2020). American Occupational Therapy Association. Retrieved from https://www.aota.org/Practice/Manage/Multicultural/Cultural-Competency-Tool-Kit/NBOTC.aspx

Wilcock, A.A. & Townsend, E.A. (2009). Occupational justice. In E.B. Crepeau, E.S. Cohn & B.A. Boyt Schell (Eds.), Willard & Spackman’s occupational therapy (11th ed., pp. 192-199). Baltimore: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

 

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