Increasing Diversity in Occupational Therapy: The Coalition of Occupational Therapy Advocates for Diversity (COTAD)


In case you weren’t aware, the profession of occupational therapy is many things – rewarding, exciting, and fast-growing, for example. However, diverse is generally something this profession is not – although efforts are being made to change this. According to AOTA, the profession looked like this in 2013-141:

Race and Ethnicity Percentage of Workforce
White, Hispanic & non-Hispanic 82%
Black, Hispanic & non-Hispanic 4%
Asian, Hispanic & non-Hispanic 6%
Native & Pacific Islanders, Hispanic & non-Hispanic <1%
Other- Hispanic & non-Hispanic 7%

The makeup of OT/A academic programs was similarly lacking in diversity2:

  • Programs offering doctoral degree level programs—88.6% Caucasian
  • Programs offering master’s degree level programs—72.8% Caucasian
  • Programs for OT assistants—74.6% Caucasian

In the AOTA’s Advisory Opinion on Cultural Competency and Ethical Practice, they state that “cultural competence is key to effective therapeutic interactions and outcomes,” and I vehemently agree. However, as of 2006, over 72% of students in OT and OTA programs and nearly 90% of students in OTD programs in the United States were Caucasian. These disappointing data (although they are outdated) indicate that students and professionals in our field may not represent a sufficiently broad range of experiences, perspectives and backgrounds that are vital for successful therapist-client relationships and meaningful professional development. Increased diversity within the profession means that occupational therapy will be improved for both clients and practitioners, and the addition of more socioculturally diverse professionals to the workforce will result in more effective and culturally appropriate client care as well as enriched professional exchanges.

So why does diversity matter? Socioculturally diverse therapists are better equipped to approach clients and treatment sessions with a global perspective, incorporating a client’s unique background and life experiences into culturally appropriate treatments that will be better-received and more effective. Increased diversity in the profession will also benefit the professional community, as a wider variety of perspectives, experiences and areas of interest will likely generate a wider range of research topics, educational experiences and professional resources. Ultimately, greater diversity within the field of occupational therapy will lead to improved treatment for clients and a professional body that is well-prepared to work with the increasingly diverse consumers of occupational therapy in the United States and around the world.

In order to achieve AOTA’s Centennial Vision goals of greater diversity within the profession and greater awareness of the profession, educating and recruiting diverse populations about OT is vital, especially minority youth and young adults who are beginning to consider their career options. Fortunately, there is an organization of occupational therapy professionals who share my beliefs and passion for promoting diversity, and it’s called the Coalition of Occupational Therapy Advocates for Diversity (COTAD)!

COTAD is made up of current OT professors and practitioners from all over the country. And although they have diverse backgrounds and experiences in OT, they all share at least one professional interest – increasing diversity in the occupational therapy profession.

According to Jordan Skowronski, a COTAD member who I spoke to about the organization, COTAD was formed by a group of practitioners who are seeking to bring the conversation about professional diversity to the forefront, promote occupational therapy to diverse groups of people, and change the current statistics about sociocultural diversity in the profession.

COTAD has several goals as an organization, including:

  • Recruitment of diverse students and professionals into occupational therapy education programs
  • Increasing OT practitioner awareness of and ability to handle diversity issues they may encounter in the workplace
  • Developing a “toolbox” of materials that students and practitioners can use to help with recruitment of diverse professionals in the future
  • Working with AOTA leadership to increase diversity in the profession
  • Collecting valuable data about students’ and practitioners’ experiences and comfort level with diversity in their everyday education and practice to better understand their needs
  • Collaborating with other professional organizations such as the MDI groups

There are many resources available on the COTAD website, including links to informative Powerpoints from their previous AOTA Annual Conference presentations, an in-depth page with links to OT assessments and documents available in Spanish, and handouts about recruiting diverse students and clinicians. Each member has also posted a video describing how they are taking steps to encourage and support professional diversity, which you can view HERE (scroll down to “COTAD Media”). The members of the organization are also developing an article for publication in OT Practice magazine, so stay tuned!

If you’re interested in COTAD’s mission to increase diversity in the occupational therapy profession or want to learn more about how you can help advocate for the profession in your community, there are several ways you can get involved:

  • Follow COTAD on social media
    • Facebook
    • Twitter – @drcathoyt, #COTAD, #INVESTinDIVERSITY
  • Review the handout from the COTAD presentation and workshop session at the AOTA conference and apply the tips to your practice
  • Check out the culturally inclusive calendar they have on their website to increase your awareness of holidays and traditions that are important to clients (and clinicians) of various cultures
  • Apply to be a COTAD member and take a step towards supporting diversity in the field of occupational therapy
  • Volunteer your time and become a COTAD advocate
  • Give a presentation to students or others in your community about occupational therapy, using the resources COTAD has on their website

I was able to attend COTAD’s presentation at the 2015 AOTA Conference, and I had a great time! The members of this team are all very sharp, and they have a lot to offer the profession and the greater world. I hope you’ll consider becoming a member of COTAD, and please share the information about this fantastic organization with other students or professionals who may be interested!

Resources & Links

If you are interested in learning more about the issue of increasing diversity in occupational therapy, check out the following links to learn more.

  • Read the previous blog post I wrote about my experience with diversity (or the lack thereof) in multiple arenas in OT.
  • AOTA Multicultural Networking Groups: Investigate the activity of culturally diverse groups working with AOTA.
  • AOTA Volunteer Leadership: Join the Coordinated Online Opportunities for Leadership (COOL) database to find opportunities related to diversity initiatives. Many committees are actively recruiting diverse professionals to help complete projects to support and benefit the profession. Sign up and get involved!
  • World Federation of Occupational Therapists (WFOT): The WFOT site has links to multiple resources about practicing with people of multiple cultures and backgrounds. It’s also just cool to peruse the website and learn about different perspectives on OT from around the world!

Note: I did not receive any kind of compensation for this post. I just like to support OT professionals who have the same kind of goals, interests, and ideas as I do!




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