As a future occupational therapist, I am continually looking for opportunities to educate others about my awesome profession and expose them to information about related topics. For example, I have used my previous experience volunteering with OT’s and working with people with disabilities to educate others about people-first language, people with physical and mental disabilities, a few kinds of adaptive equipment and how occupational therapy benefits people of all ages and stages. I love having these conversations because many people have very inaccurate information about these topics and many others. Of course, I don’t pretend to be an expert, but I do think that it is my responsibility as a future healthcare professional to help others increase their understanding of these and other issues by engaging them in conversation.
Part of being an occupational therapist is being knowledgeable about the kinds of adaptive equipment that exist for people with various physical and social needs. So this past Fourth of July weekend, I was excited about a random opportunity I had to have a conversation about cool adaptive equipment!
I am currently working for a summer program that took 106 high school students and college-aged staff to a local park to play games and watch fireworks for Independence Day. At the park, there was a lot of great playground equipment, from seesaws to monkey bars to slides to swings. And at the edge of the park there was one particularly interesting swing set that I didn’t understand at first glance, but that my experience working with OT’s enabled me to identify after just a few moments.
My previous observations of occupational therapists and my work at Camp Easter Seals helped me realize that the big, red plastic swing that nobody was using was actually an adaptive swing designed for children with disabilities that would make typical swings unsafe or unusable! Once I realized what it was, I got very excited about the idea that a small town like the one I am working in this summer would be aware and inclusive enough to have such equipment at the local playground…but I was less excited about the reactions the swing was eliciting from the high schoolers and college-aged staff members who I was at the park with.
As people laughed and joked about the strange-looking red swing, I made an effort to explain to a few people what the swing was for and how great it was that the park had one. A few of the students gave me the typical “Oh, now I feel bad for laughing at it” response, but one of my coworkers seemed genuinely glad to have this new knowledge. It was a little bit awkward for me to “bring down” the joking, jovial mood of the people surrounding the adaptive swing, but I decided that in that particular moment I would rather inform others about the cool invention than stay quiet and miss out on an opportunity to be an advocate for people with disabilities. (This isn’t to say that I think people with disabilities need me to speak up for them, just that I think it’s important to be an advocate and educator wherever I go!)
Although I wasn’t able to tell everyone in the park about the adaptive swing and how cool I thought it was, I feel like I at least contributed a little to increasing knowledge about adaptive equipment and people with disabilities. This experience ultimately made me feel confident in my ability to speak up when I feel the time is right, even if it’s a little bit awkward for me. Hopefully in the future I’ll have even more opportunities to discuss occupational therapy and everything related with friends, family and strangers alike!
Have you ever been in a situation where you educated others about a topic they were poorly informed or uninformed about? How did you handle it? What happened?