I have spent most of the weekend working on my workshop for AOTA’s Annual Conference & Exposition coming up in Philadelphia on Saturday April 1st at 8:00 a.m. (Session 302, Convention Center rooms 104AB). The title of the session is “Health Disparities, Social Justice and Occupational Therapy Intervention: Exploration and Application of Key Concepts.”
I submitted the conference abstract on a whim one afternoon. It took me less than an hour to write it as I have submitted abstracts many times and reviewed abstracts for the conference for over 20 years so I know what a good abstract includes, and it is a topic that I am passionate about.
I was excited to have the abstract accepted, despite the only comment from a reviewer that read “Boring. How many of these presentations can one conference support?” Gladly, I guess the answer was “At least one more.”
I don’t remember exactly why I decided to write and submit this abstract; but sitting here at my computer keyboard today I vaguely remember reading something that I read on social media and finding it objectionable. I remember thinking “Grrrr.” which is the expression I use to convey general disapproval and annoyance. I also remember thinking, “Okay, its about time.” This meant I decided it was about time to publicly reclaim my passion about the topics of health disparities, social justice and occupational therapy.
That last thought deserves explanation for two of the six regular followers of my blog (smile, appropriate self-deprecating humor) who don’t understand. In February of 2011 a discussion started on OTConnections regarding a motion to remove social justice from the AOTA Code of Ethics. What followed was a discussion lasting several years that was interesting, disappointing, enlightening, scary, thought provoking, challenging, exasperating, sometimes insightful, and confusing. The experience had a significant impact on me; so much so that I finally had to post to that I would no longer participate because I felt it (the context of the discussion thread) was unproductive and unsafe. That experience changed me; it caused me to learn and to grow. Overall, I don’t regret it. I am glad I had that experience.
Since that time I’ve spent less time promoting social justice ideas publicly within a professional context. I haven’t avoided public debates on ideas I feel strongly about (see anything on the AOTA Board of Director Position Statement on a single point of entry) and so still I can take a public whipping for a cause (grin); but I just had less energy to revisit social justice. Until now.
Much of the debate about the Code of Ethics included discussion of social justice as politics and forcing members to accept a philosophical ideal in their code of ethics that was counter to their personal beliefs. Today I am steering clear of that argument. One of the first things I did in outlining my workshop was to include information on objections to social justice to acknowledge that my world viewpoint is not the only valid one. However, it is the one I am focusing on in my workshop. I am also trying to quickly put to rest the question of “Is that occupational therapy?” by expanding on comments I made in 2015 in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy that read,
“As a profession, occupational therapy has moved beyond the question “Is that occupational therapy?” to the equally important questions of “Is that something that occupational therapy practitioners can do?” “Can occupational therapy make an important contribution in this area?” and “How can we demonstrate our distinct value through contributions to population health?” (Braveman, 2015, pg. 4)?.
I am including this simple framework to acknowledge that we can address health disparities and social justice in therapy, and within our general practice as occupational therapy practitioners, or as a societal action informed by our position as an occupational therapy practitioner.
I feel energized to be thinking about social justice as an occupational therapy practitioner again. I am excited to be putting my name on a presentation at our annual conference, especially the conference celebrating our Centennial Anniversary as a profession in the United States. I am equally energized by writing and talking about global perspectives on health disparities and social justice as a clear nod to the fact that American occupational therapy practitioners are not the center of the world on justice issues and that despite the greatness of American society and of American occupational therapy practice we can learn much from our colleagues around the globe.
Yes, with all the things going on in American society today, it is definitely about time to revisit social justice and occupational therapy. I look forward to sharing my passion and my thinking with colleagues on April 1st. Even better, I look forward to leaving the workshop knowing more than when I went in.
Happy 100th birthday U.S. colleagues! Hope to see you in Philly!
The opinions expressed in my blog are personal and neither represent the views of my employer nor any organization.