World Occupational Therapy (OT) Day is observed annually on October 27 to celebrate and increase awareness of occupational therapy. The World Federation of Occupational Therapists provides the framework for World OT Day observances each year. The theme selected for 2022 was “Opportunity + Choice = Justice.”
OT and OTA students at the University of the Southern Caribbean, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Durham Technical Community College collaborated to host a virtual World OT Day forum on October 26. This event took the form of a cultural exchange through the lens of occupational therapy with a focus on exploring how occupational justice shows up in different cultures and contexts. The chosen theme for the event was “Occupational Justice Across Cultures.”
Students from the three schools collaborated to plan and facilitate the event. Eighteen students and faculty members were present. The event started with a warm welcome from the facilitators. Following that, participants introduced themselves and answered an icebreaker question. The participants then separated into breakout groups for discussion.
The breakout groups were a powerful tool for connecting Trinidad and Tobago and United States students in a meaningful way. Each group included at least one student from each school. The groups defined occupational justice based on their context and reflected on occupational justices they had seen within their communities. When the students reconvened, the facilitators reviewed the areas of occupational injustice, including occupational imbalance, deprivation, alienation, marginalization, and apartheid. The participants then separated back into breakout groups, with each group assigned to reflect on one type of occupational injustice. Occupational imbalance was seen by one group through a high school student’s hard work in school and a job that required much of the remaining free time. Deprivation and marginalization were both reported on through the mental health and elderly populations with limited access to meaningful activities and community involvement. An example one group discussed was the systemic rules put in place by the hospitals limiting access to extra classes. Elders can become isolated and have limited access to transportation which creates social deprivation and limits their access to community. Reflecting on occupational injustices allowed students to develop cultural consciousness and share ideas for shaping change.
For the final portion of the event, participants watched a video about an instance of occupational injustice faced by a student in the school system and reflected on it in small groups. Discussion themes included legislative action, raising awareness, and shifting cultural attitudes toward disability. The event closed with student’s reflecting on their experiences of the event in the big group. Students shared that they felt committed to bringing awareness to issues of justice, advocating for accessible spaces, and continuing to educate themselves. Students agreed that the connections they made across schools and borders will create opportunities to work together toward change in the future.
The World OT Day event was successful in organizing virtual discussions and networking by connecting 18 participating students from the University of the Southern Caribbean, University of North Carolina and Durham Technical Community College. Despite the limited time frame, we were able to explore occupational justice and opportunities to resolve injustice across culture from varying continental perspectives. Connections among students were established to aid future collaborations, create awareness of injustices across culture, and facilitate positive change. We conclude with this takeaway regarding accessible spaces: “If you build it, they will come.”