It is important for me to state at the start of this blog post that I am not speaking on behalf of AOTPAC or AOTA. My statements and opinions on social media or my website are my own and are not endorsed by AOTPAC or AOTA.
For many years I have been a supporter of AOTPAC or the American Occupational Therapy Political Action Committee. I have been a long-time financial contributor and I currently volunteer on its board of directors. Over the years I have had multiple conversations with OT practitioners who are concerned that AOTPAC donations go to members of Congress that hold positions that are at odds with their personal beliefs or values. Moreover, they may perceive that the voting records of these politicians are in opposition to the core values of occupational therapy and/or our official documents including statements and policies. And I get it. It is not a simple or comfortable situation. It is NOT pretty. As a member of the PAC board, I am asked to vote on donations to members of Congress because of the position they hold on critical legislation for OT or because they hold a position on a critical congressional committee. Honestly, sometimes I hold my nose because while it is immediately clear to me that I need to vote “yes” to prioritize our profession, its practitioners, and stakeholders I would NEVER vote for that politician in an election!
Again, this is not an uncomplicated dynamic. It is messy and hard, and I get that others would make a different choice or would never put themselves in the position that I have accepted. However, political action committees operate in politics and politics are complicated, messy, and not at all pretty.
Recently I came under specific attack on social media. An Instagram post stated, “Brent is one of the AOTPAC board members who have decided to give money to politicians who are actively harming Black people, queer people, Latinx people, women, and trans people.” Yep, complicated and messy. (Now I am talking about the Instagram post!). It is also complicated because I am part of the LGBTQIA+ community as a Gay man and in my non-OT life I actively volunteer and advocate on behalf of Black people, queer people, Latinx people, women, and trans people (and Gay people, and Lesbian people and intersex people……).
Let me explain why I choose to put myself in the position of voting to support a political candidate through PAC dollars that I would never vote for in an election. How do I hold my nose and open myself up to criticism of hypocrisy and voting against my own self-interest as a Gay man? The answer is not all that complicated. It is how politics work. In today’s highly charged and divisive climate, advocacy is never going to be successful if it is not bipartisan. And without advocacy we can say goodbye to support for OT practitioners to provide Telehealth. We can say goodbye to holding our role in home health. We can say goodbye to legislation that supports diversity like the Allied Health Workforce Diversity Act. We can say goodbye to legislation that supports OT practitioners in schools or as qualified mental health practitioners. We can surrender our scope of practice to physical therapists, speech language pathologists, applied behavioral analysts and others. Without successful advocacy our profession will be set back decades and advocacy cannot be successful if it is not bipartisan.
I recently sat in a meeting where a lobbyist talked about sitting in a room with one of the most conservative members of Congress urging them to support a key piece of legislation. When the member came around to close to a “yes” they asked a question. What Democrat can we get on board? Even the most extreme members of a political party are going to work across the aisle if they want to get legislation passed. If we want OT advocacy to be successful, why would we not follow suit?
I understand that there are OT practitioners who won’t buy any of this. They will not be able to understand how I reconcile these conflicts and vote “yes” to support candidates they cannot stomach. Some will attack my integrity, my values, and my value as an OT practitioner or as a human being. They will accuse me of hypocrisy. And that is okay, because I am convinced that I am making an important, valuable contribution to occupational therapy. At the end of the day, I sleep well because I am proud that I am willing to navigate a complicated, messy, and not at all pretty situation.
Okay, so this is my first blog post in a very long time because I am on a tear. Basically, I’m pissed.
When I last ran for AOTA Vice-President, diversity in the profession was rightfully a major issue. I was glad to see that as I believe I have shown myself to me a strong advocate for justice, equity, diversity and inclusion (JEDI) in our profession and our society. During the “campaign” I heard from several practitioners and students who, in one way or another told me that because I am white, a male and Cis, my opinions were irrelevant. It’s true folks. I am openly white, male, and Cis. I am also Gay and have been an OT for 38 years and supported JEDI initiatives actively in my paid and volunteer work.
Today I read a response to a thread where my (unpopular with some) opinion that a boycott of AOTA Inspire 2024 will not achieve the outcomes that some people hope to achieve. I believe that economic boycotts of states are largely ineffective and that boycotting our professional conference will have zero impact on the discriminatory and hateful legislation in Florida. I believe that it is more likely that it will have the impact of leaving our profession and our professional organization in a weaker place. The response read, “Oh Ew. Thanks so much, cis, white man, for letting us know what is and isn’t helpful for supporting people.”
Evidently being white, male, and Cis, trumps the fact that I am a 61-year-old Gay male who has volunteered for LGBTQIA+ organizations and been involved in advocacy for marginalized populations for decades. The fact that I am white, male, and Cis renders all experience and insight useless. I no longer deserve the respect that you might think would be shown to a colleague who has practiced for 38 year and volunteered at the state and national level for almost that long.
Recently, the practice of mining social media for posts that can be used to help enrage others to support your position is becoming more common. If you want to convince people that your viewpoint is the only acceptable one, it is easier if they are angry and it is easier for them to be angry if you give them targets. No need to think beyond a sound bite or single Instagram post.
I am completely fine if you disagree with my opinion. It happens ALL the time. And I am aware that there is, the very slight chance that I could be wrong about Inspire 2024. But come at me with logic. Don’t discount who I am and all that I have done and contributed because of the color of my skin, my gender, and that I like to think I am butch. Shouldn’t we all be better than that?
It has been a while since I have added a blog post. I have been very busy with work and volunteering in my community and with the American Occupational Therapy Political Action Committee (AOTPAC).
I am sure that I'll have something to share again one day soon.
My thoughts on the statement from AOTA's Board of Directors on the U.S. Capitol Breach and Ongoing Threats of Violence:
In regards to participation in our professional association I seek to focus on what brings us together as a community of occupational therapy practitioners rather than what may divide us as individual citizens.
Condemnation of racism, discrimination, violence, and illegal behavior including the destruction of public property should be championed. The right to gather in peaceful protest and to express our opinions are guaranteed in our Constitution and are consistent with actions to fight against social injustice and occupational deprivation. Too often we conflate the peaceful exercise of rights with the unlawful looting and destruction that sometimes accompanies these protests. We live in a society in which looting and violence accompany celebratory events such as a Superbowl Parade and yet we do not condemn those who attended peacefully to celebrate their team’s achievement; neither should we condemn those who peacefully protested racism and systemic discrimination over the last year because of the bad acts that happened concurrently.
The acts that occurred at our Capitol were unlawful and unacceptable. We can come together in condemnation of such acts even while continuing to disagree over the political events that may have contributed to them. Likewise, I would hope we could come together in support of the call for justice, equity, diversity and inclusion while respectfully disagreeing over some of the related public policy.
It is always appropriate for AOTA to comment on widespread racism, systemic discrimination, occupational deprivation and unethical and/or illegal behavior by occupational therapy practitioners. Separating these issues from political positions is paramount. As a member service organization AOTA must always remember that our membership mirrors our citizenry at large. It is a tightrope that the AOTA Board of Directors must walk and I applaud them for the efforts to find the right message knowing that as in the case of this most recent statement, they will be damned if they do and damned if they don’t.
I encourage all of us to remain respectful in our discourse in the coming days. Professionally we have a common bond in our core values and our Code of Ethics. These principles can guide us in troubling times.
My qualifications to help lead the profession towards more equitable change in efforts on DEI (Diversity, Equity & Inclusion)
I received this question on CommunOT on my qualifications to help guide DEI efforts towards more equitable change. Here is the question and my answer!
"Congrats on running for the vice president of AOTA. It is ever more important that our leaders reflect the changes we would like to see in the profession. This year has caused many OTs to adjust to so many changes. In particular, our nation and profession has begun examining DEI. There is no doubt that DEI both impacts OTs and also the people we serve. Please tell me why you are more qualified to lead the profession towards more equitable change as VP than other candidates."
Thank you for the question and the opportunity for me to discuss my qualifications for addressing diversity, equity and inclusion in our profession as the next Vice-President of AOTA.
My professional experience across 35 years provides me insight into all aspects of 1) recruitment to the profession, 2) admission to educational programs, 3) support of students who may need additional supports to successfully complete an educational program, 4) entrée to the profession through a first job, 5) professional development and continuing competence, and 6) personal growth, engagement and development as a practitioner and leader.
I served on the faculty of the University of Illinois at Chicago for 19 years and served as the Program Director for the entry-level educational program for occupational therapists for eight years. In this role I was responsible for oversight of our admissions process and our student advising and support efforts. I served on the admissions committee for many years. This experience helped me to gain insight into the value of a holistic admissions process and a detailed understanding of the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) accreditation standards and the relationship between AOTA and the ACOTE. I collaborated with other faculty to design a holistic admissions process that recognized the value of a diverse student body and the consideration of a broad definition of diversity that included age, disability status and experience, gender, and economic challenge as well as race and ethnicity.
My education including a Master of Education in Human Resource Development with a focus on adult learning and training design provided me with skills to develop and evaluate effective learning experiences for professionals. I am currently involved in efforts to provide diversity and inclusion education and training to employees at MD Anderson Cancer Center where I manage a department of over 140 FTEs. The current training focuses on issues of implicit bias and the development of an inclusive and safe work environment.
My volunteer experience with AOTA has spanned more than three decades and provided me numerous opportunities to address DEI in our profession through the Special Interest Sections, the Representative Assembly and the Board of Directors. I have a deep understanding of where we have been as an association; what we have tried, what has worked and why we have made limited progress. I was involved in the development of both the Centennial Vision and Vision 2025. I participated in discussions that lead to specific inclusion of diversity in the Centennial Vision and the discussions that lead to it NOT be specifically identified in Vision 2025. I was a staunch advocate for explicit attention to DEI in both vision statements and in AOTA's strategic priorities throughout my two terms on the Board of Directors.
As Chairperson of the SIS Steering Committee for 5 years and Speaker of the RA for 3 years, I was involved in multiples discussions and efforts related to DEI and have developed a broad understanding of the complexity of the issue within AOTA, within OT in the U.S and internationally. Through involvement in protracted discussions about the inclusion of social justice in our Code of Ethics I learned much about the disparate perspectives on social justice and DEI in our membership at large. These discussions were challenging and at times disheartening, but they led to significant personal growth for me and fostered deeper insight into my values, my implicit biases and to opportunities for further growth. They also led me to become aware that a truly diverse culture in occupational therapy must embrace diversity of thought. We must remember that the members of our profession are as diverse in political beliefs and values as our society. Unfortunately, that means that we must also confront the prejudices and biases that are held by some of our colleagues.
Through my experience in education, my service on the Board of Directors and my many years as an occupational therapy manager I have developed an acute awareness of the challenges of occupational therapy practitioners with disabilities. This is an often-overlooked group in discussions of DEI and an under-utilized resource by our association. These practitioners have much that they can share to improve member experience such as confronting limited accessibility at events such as our Annual Conference & Exhibition, participating in online meeting or in trying to navigate the AOTA website. There is much room for improvement in the experience of students with disabilities in our educational programs and to support OT practitioners with disabilities. I have significant experience in application of the ADA both to students and to occupational therapy practitioners as employees.
I have been a champion for social justice in our profession. My journey began through the development of return to work programming for people living with HIV/AIDS in Chicago, many of whom struggled with substance abuse and mental health issues. Most of these clients were members of the LGBTQ community, persons of color or women and faced stigma and discrimination in employment and housing at many levels. These efforts were carried out through two federally funded research grants that led to opportunities to learn more about social justice and DEI within our profession and our culture at large. I served for six years on the Board of Directors of the Alexian Brothers' AIDS Ministry which operated two assisted living facilities for people living with HIV/AIDS and was recognized with their President's Award in 2004.
I have explored issues of social justice in depth and promoted social justice within our profession. I was honored to be asked to present on social justice by the National Phi Theta Epsilon in 2006 and awarded a Certificate of Distinction for contributions in research and scholarship. I was also invited to be the guest co-editor of a special issue of the American Journal of Occupational Therapy (AJOT) on social justice in 2009. These efforts have been widely cited and resulted in work by others to further social justice efforts by occupational therapy practitioners. In addition, my efforts were recognized when AOTA asked me to be the lead author on AOTA's Societal Statement on Health Disparities first adopted in 2006 (https://ajot.aota.org/article.aspx?articleid=1853067).
Finally, my personal experience as a male in a female dominated profession and as a Gay man in OT and in our society provide me experiences and insights to draw from. I am aware that I have benefited from the privilege that comes with being a white male but at the same time I have experienced discrimination and even violence as a Gay man. In a similar way, as a male in a female dominated profession (approximately 11% of occupational therapy practitioners are male), I am aware that at times I have benefited from outward sexism that has favored me simply because I am male and at other times I have had to overcome implicit bias about what it means to be a male occupational therapy practitioner.
I believe that these broad experiences in the development of clinical programs, community-based research, the administration of an entry-level educational program, three decades of experience as a manager, extensive volunteerism for AOTA and scholarly and personal championing of social justice make extremely well qualified and prepared to lead AOTA and our profession towards more equitable change.
The following question was asked on CommunOT of candidates for AOTA office:
What are your strategies to not only getting OTA's to join AOTA as members, but also serve in AOTA leadership down the line? Here is my answer:
Thank you for this important question. Engaging OTA students and practitioners in our state associations and in AOTA has been a long-term challenge. We have made some progress including OTAs serving in elected positions on the AOTA Board of Directors, but we can do better.
I believe that valuing participation in our professional associations starts with enculturation to the profession as a student in our educational programs. This is true for both occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants. We need strong role models in faculty who are members of their state association and AOTA and who are actively involved. Active involvement can mean many things and is not limited to volunteering for committees or running for offices. Active involvement can include things such as attendance at meetings and continuing education events, reviewing and giving feedback on official documents, networking with colleagues and making yourself available to students and others as a mentor. Faculty can highlight the value of AOTA membership and engagement through case examples in coursework, through assignments that make use of AOTA resources and through the use of guest speakers who can generate interest and excitement about involvement in AOTA.
To support OTA engagement in our association we need to consistently practice the use of inclusive language and exemplars. Too often I still see reference to ‘occupational therapists’ rather than ‘occupational therapy practitioners’ or better yet ‘occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants.’ Too often clinical examples and stories only include reference to occupational therapists and not occupational therapy assistants. We need to assure that OTAs are promoted visibly on the AOTA website, in AOTA documents and products and at AOTA events. I believe the potential to use social media to underrepresented groups in AOTA including OTAs remains an untapped resource.
We can promote membership and engagement through clear guidelines for volunteer selection for committees, Ad Hoc groups and task forces that include selection of OTA members whenever possible and appropriate. We need to move beyond simply the suggestion to “try” and recruit OTAs and set the expectation that it become routine.
We can specifically target OTA recruitment for positions that sometimes go vacant, such as being a Representative in our Representative Assembly or positions in leadership in our Special Interest Sections. We can promote leadership development and mentoring opportunities in ways that specifically speak to OTA students and practitioners. AOTA has plans for the development of a leadership development curriculum and we must expect that it includes opportunities specifically for OTA’s. And we can demonstrate the value of membership and strongly promote the contribution that OTA leaders can make by sharing the experiences of OTA role models and mentors.
Recent changes such as the implementation of Patient Driven Payment Model (PDPM) and the Patient Driven Grouping Models (PDGM) have created challenges for OTAs that are amplifying an already difficult job market in some areas of our country. AOTA must aggressively and continually reach out to our OTA members and to non-members to assess their needs and assure that we are doing all that we can to meet them.
As Vice-President, I would commit to engaging OTA members in activities related to AOTA’s Vision 2025 and our strategic priorities. I would seek to highlight the value that OTAs add to our profession and our Association and make it clear that I am a strong advocate for them.
Position Statement for the Office of Vice-President of the American Occupational Therapy Association
Position Statement for the Office of Vice-President of the American Occupational Therapy Association (its tough to say a lot in 200 words!)
In the next 5 years, AOTA must continue the momentum achieved by recent successful leaders while reaching out to the growing number of disenchanted and disenfranchised practitioners who fail to see the value of AOTA membership. Many practitioners are reeling from the effects of decreasing reimbursement, layoffs, and skyrocketing student debt.
Different times call for different leadership approaches and right now we must get back to basics. We must prioritize the needs of the nearly 80% of occupational therapy practitioners working in schools, home health, long-term care, and traditional hospital and outpatient settings. We must create a home for our entrepreneurs and business owners. However, we don’t have to choose between visioning for our future, fostering emerging practice, and supporting those in traditional practice. We can do all three. Success is not a zero-sum game!
The skills and qualities I will bring to the position of Vice President include my commitment to servant leadership, listening and connecting with the membership and putting our professional community first. I have excellent management, leadership, and communication skills. I have extensive experience in OT practice, education, research and volunteer leadership in AOTA and the community. Most importantly, I have a burning passion for occupational therapy.
This question was asked of candidates for AOTA office:
Describe your ideas for engaging members and creating value in order to enhance and sustain growth of the AOTA member experience.
Here is my answer:
Thank you for this important question. Improving member engagement and creating value to enhance and sustain growth of AOTA members is longstanding challenge facing the AOTA Board of Directors and AOTA staff. Of the 65,206 AOTA members at the end of fiscal year 2020 only 56% were occupational therapy practitioners (49% OT and 7% OTA) and 44% were student members. After many years and many efforts to increase the perception of our "value proposition" to non-members we continue to struggle to convince occupational therapy practitioners in the US that $225 for an OT and $131 for an OTA is worth the value they receive. To date we have not been successful.
Listening to non-members concerns and perceptions about AOTA on social media, in person at conferences and other events and in other forums leads me to believe that we have not been successful in connecting with them to address their day to day practice concerns and needs. Many express frustrations that AOTA is not "doing something" about the problems they encounter including:
Engaging members in addressing these issues is critical, because low membership numbers create a self-propagating circle where we cannot create the resources and a critical mass to overcome problems leading to continued dissatisfaction and lower membership numbers.
Some ideas for engaging members to create value to enhance and sustain growth of the AOTA member experience include:
It should be recognized that this is not a new problem, nor one that is easily solved. Most professional associations face similar challenges and AOTA staff regularly participate in association meeting such as the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) to get new ideas about how to better meet member needs. We have long employed specialists in membership growth and member service. AOTA staff and Board members are to be commended for their efforts. And still, the significance of the problem only means that we need to re-double our efforts.
We are in a challenging time, but we have faced tough times before and continue to grow and to thrive. I look forward to the opportunity to join with other volunteer leaders to address these challenges head on as the next Vice-President of AOTA.
I would love to hear from AOTA members to hear your ideas about what AOTA can do better to engage you in the process and to meet your needs! Please contact me through CommunOT or at firstname.lastname@example.org , friend me on Facebook or visit my website at www.brentbraveman.com
AOTA will soon stare the position statements of candidates for AOTA office. I am running for Vice-President.
In this 3 minutes video I share a few thoughts about my match for the job of AOTA Vice-President, my experiences with strategic planning and how I'll work to meet member needs and move AOTA to the next level of being an effective member service organization.
Candidates for AOTA office were asked to answer questions on CommunOT, AOTA's social media platform. I'll be sharing the questions and my answers. First up, a question on AOTA's strategic priorities:
Question: What recommendations do you offer for advancing AOTA's strategic priorities to ensure viability of the profession in a rapidly changing environment?
Thank you for this question related to AOTA's strategic priorities!
First and foremost, if issues truly are strategic AND a priority, we need to put them front and center; they must be visible! To advance our strategic priorities they need to be part of our everyday language and our everyday work. During our pursuit of the Centennial Vision, we did an amazing job putting the vision statement in front of AOTA members and non-members. I saw it and repeated it so often I knew it from memory! The core concepts of occupational therapy being a powerful, widely recognized, science-driven and evidenced based profession, with a globally connected and diverse workforce serving society's occupational needs was on the tips of tongues!
Today it is difficult to locate information on our strategic priorities and strategic plan on the AOTA website. After some exploration, of if you know to search for just the right phrase, you might be lucky enough to come across the AOTA Strategic Framework that includes our mission, Vision 2025, three strategic principles and goals/strategies and our core values (https://www.aota.org/-/media/Corporate/Files/AboutAOTA/BOD/AOTA-Strategic-Framework-2020.pdf). We must do better at making our strategic priorities highly visible and easily found and accessible.
Advancing the strategic priorities (principles) requires a set of strategies to excite and interest internal and external audiences about the distinct value of occupational therapy. These audiences include occupational therapy practitioners and students, but they also include consumers, payers, federal and state agencies, health related professional associations and other healthcare providers. We need separate strategies to reach and engage each stakeholder group.
We can advance our strategic priorities by translating the strategic principles into language and specific examples that full-time practitioners, educators and students will understand and will connect to their daily lives. We must make the priorities sing loudly and clearly to those with their boots on the ground. I am especially excited to see the strategic principle of "Lead the profession by becoming inclusive, agile, proactive, responsive and approachable." Getting occupational therapy practitioners and students involved and helping them to gain a sense of ownership of our shared future will amplify our grassroots message and together we can be a force to be reckoned with!
Ten specific recommendations for advancing AOTA's strategic priorities to ensure visibility of the profession in a rapidly changing environment:
I have many years of experience and success with strategic planning in educational and clinical settings and on the Boards of Directors for AOTA, a community non-profit organization serving people living with HIV/AIDS and a LGBTQ oriented professional and philanthropic organization. One responsibility of the Vice-President is to be a steward of efforts to achieve our Vision. I was honored to have participated in leadership retreats and visioning activities for both the Centennial Vision and Vision 2025 and I have worked hard to help achieve both. If elected as Vice-President, I am well suited to guide our efforts to achieve Vision 2025. Nothing gets me more excited than collaborating with other OT practitioners to imagine and create our future!
The opinions expressed in my blog are personal and neither represent the views of my employer nor any organization.