I’ve been fortunate enough to attend AOTA’s Annual Conference for four years in a row now, and this year’s Centennial (#AOTA17) was my first year attending as an official OT practitioner! There were about 13,000 attendees in Philadelphia this year, and it was truly an amazing experience. I was able to present an AOTA-sponsored session with my Emerging Leaders mentor, deepen friendships with my Emerging Leader cohort, develop skills in my new practice area, and learn about cool things happening in the world of OT. I had a great time and I was sad to finally leave Philly, although I was SO ready to sleep in my own bed again! Still, in the week that I’ve been home, I’ve been making an effort to keep all of the OT energy from Conference going strong!
By this time all the Conference attendees have headed home and everybody has likely settled back into their daily grind. And while you may not be attending any fun educational sessions, dance parties, or networking events in the near future, there are several ways you can continue making the most of your conference experience even after you’ve returned home.
There were volunteers of all ages and stages at the conference, including retired OTs, veteran volunteers with 10+ years of experience, current and future OT students, and others. Don’t let your age, student status, or anything else deter you from serving in Chicago this spring! You don’t have to be an AOTA member to volunteer – but you’ll probably want to be one when you’re done!
In addition to helping support and promote one of the fastest-growing, influential, and dynamic professions around, there are several other benefits that come with being a conference volunteer. Read on to find out more about why volunteering will be the best thing you can do for yourself and your career in OT!
Meet some of the most influential people in the profession. As a conference volunteer, you have the chance to meet the people whose blogs you read, whose papers you’ve referenced, and whose Twitters you follow in person! Rubbing elbows with such accomplished (and really nice) people is a major high and a can’t-miss networking opportunity!
Cut the cost of attending Conference. Conference attendees must pay nearly $300 simply to attend, and that’s the student rate – not including travel, food, lodging, and other expenses! But volunteers can view special exhibits, attend one or two sessions, and see the posters for FREE. As a volunteer, you won’t necessarily be able to attend the session of your choice or participate in all events, but you will get to experience many of the best parts of the conference without paying for much of anything! Pro Tip: Check with your OT program, graduate student association, or employer to see whether there are special funds available to help cover your travel and other expenses.
Attend the Expo for FREE! Where else in the world can you get a TON of free stuff in exchange for just a few hours of your time? Just think: in the time it took you to sit through one overly long OT school class, you could be having fun, making friends, and earning your way into the Expo. You don’t have to be a math whiz to see that this is too good a deal to pass up! Note: Only AOTA Marketplace/Member Resource Center volunteers can earn this privilege.
Diversify your resume and grow your professional experience. Volunteering at the national conference shows that you are involved and invested in your national professional association and your profession as a whole. Whether you are planning to apply for a leadership or volunteer position with AOTA, a position in your state OT association, or even a job, having a record of service to the profession will definitely give you a boost.
Make a difference and be an advocate for OT. Have you ever wondered how all those bags get stuffed, how all those signs get posted, or how an event with thousands of attendees seems to run so smoothly? It’s not magic – it’s volunteers! By serving as a conference volunteer, you can be a part of the team that makes the AOTA Annual Conference such an amazing experience for attendees from across the U.S. and around the world and have a great time while you do it!
Network with students and faculty members from OT programs across the country. While I served as a conference volunteer, I had the opportunity to talk with fellow OT students, meet instructors from numerous OT programs, and exchange ideas and information with a variety of people. Volunteering at conference is a great way to meet people who may have similar interests to yours, so be sure to keep those business cards handy!
…well, what are you waiting for? Visit the AOTA Volunteer Signup page today and find your place! (And click quickly, because spots fill up fast!)
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:
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.
Many people have asked this question: How diverse is occupational therapy as a profession?
In my own experience, I had to look no further than the slideshow for the Eleanor Clarke Slagle Lectureship at the 2015 AOTA Conference to find an answer.
After spending several minutes watching the slides tick by, I began to notice a trend.
I kept waiting for the photos on the slides to change as I watched and the year 2015 approached, but from 1955 onward I saw only 4 or 5 people who didn’t fit the White woman mold. In the SIXTY YEARS that the Slagle lectureship has existed, there have been a handful of men and only one African American woman who have spoken. Since 1969, when Dr. Lela Llorens, PhD, OTR, FAOTA, delivered her speech, there has not been a single Slagle lecturer who looks like me.
I know, I know. There are the very obvious “You can’t judge a book by its cover!” and “There’s more to diversity than skin color!” arguments to be made here, and they are certainly valid! I’m sure that each of these lecturers had merits and achievements that warranted their selection, and I won’t pretend to know each one’s ethnicity or cultural background. However, while those faces in the slideshow certainly seemed to be an accurate reflection of the profession’s demographics (86.2% AOTA Members are Caucasian according to a 2006 Workforce study), I don’t believe they are an accurate reflection of the wonderful diversity of the profession’s many innovators and influencers.
I find it extremely hard to believe that in the nearly 100 years since OT was officially established as a profession only White women have “creatively contributed to the development of the body of knowledge of the profession through research, education, and/or clinical practice,” which are the requirements to become a Slagle Lecturer. Honestly, I can’t pretend that watching a 10-minute slide show celebrating the biggest thinkers, visionaries, and leaders in my profession and seeing only one person of color didn’t hurt – for me, it was really very discouraging.
I’m sure this lack of diversity wasn’t intentional, and many AOTA leaders have been instrumental in developing or supporting initiatives to promote increased professional diversity. However, it may be time to take a closer look at the unspoken message about the value of diversity the profession is sending to students and members with its speaker selections and the makeup of its leadership committees.
For example, another place in which a similar lack of diversity a problem is in the AOTA Special Interest Section leadership. As I perused this page to learn more about the SIS internship program leaders, I found myself viewing another set of photos of primarily White women. Again, let me be clear in saying that this is not a comment on the qualifications of any of these leaders or a “call to arms” to start filling every open position at AOTA with the person who looks least likely to get a sunburn. But it is just another very visible indication that within the profession there is a longtime trend that continues to be a very real problem.
This isn’t the first time the lack of diversity in the profession has been acknowledged as an issue, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. In fact, concerns about decreasing professional diversity was one of the main issues raised at the dialogue about the potential transition to the OTD as the profession’s single point of entry with the AOTA Board of Directors. In all fairness, there is really no way to tell what the impact of such a decision would be, but I think it says a lot that many practitioners of varied backgrounds raised this question, and I hope that our leadership (and members!) will take steps to continue pushing for a more diverse profession today and in the future, whatever the outcome of that particular discussion. (For more information on diversity and the OTD, check out the table in the middle of the page HERE).
And though professional diversity is clearly an issue, it is hard to know how to address it because it is nearly impossible to know where the true heart of the problem lies. Are people of color simply not electing to be in leadership positions? Do they feel alienated or unwelcome in a profession whose leadership consists primarily of people who they feel may not value their perspectives? Is it a recruitment issue? These are all questions I’ve wondered about, and I’m hopeful that there will be more research into this issue in the future to help inform the profession’s next moves in this area.
So how am I dealing with all of the frustration that I feel in regard to this issue? Because I tend to be a very proactive person, I have actively sought out role models of color who can help me navigate these and other professional issues as well as serving as examples of how I can achieve my goals and do great things even if I don’t look like the “average” OT (i.e. a youthful White woman). I’ve also participated in several events to support my school’s efforts to promote the profession to a more diverse audience.
At this point, you might be saying “Why not join a group like the National Black Occupational Therapy Caucus?” Believe me, I considered it! But I don’t see the point in joining a group that doesn’t offer me opportunities for growth and doesn’t have an active presence that I can be a part of. It’s great that there are active NBOTC chapters in several areas, but none of them are near me, and I just can’t justify sending my hard-earned money off to an organization that seems to be a ghost of what it once was (although it may be in a building stage at the moment, I’m not really sure).
In order to have a diverse profession, you need diverse members. Again, there is clearly more encompassed by the term “diversity” than just skin color – there is diversity of socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, gender identification, language…more things than I can even begin to count. And having practitioners with more diverse ethnic, linguistic, geographic, cultural, and other backgrounds will not only enliven and enrich the professional dialogue, but improve client experiences as therapists will be better able to serve the increasingly diverse clientele who access OT services. I am hopeful that more and more people of diverse backgrounds will become OTs, and I have faith that we are on the way to fulfilling the 2017 Centennial Vision of OT as a “…diverse workforce meeting society’s occupational needs,” although we are not there yet.
I have high hopes for my career in OT – I want to make a difference in the lives of my clients as well as the profession as a whole, and I’m not going to let some unintentionally offensive slide show tell me I can’t. But if I’m being honest, there are some days when I still have to stop and wonder whether or not my big hair and brown skin will make the ladder to the top just a little bit harder to climb.
Transcripts of all Eleanor Clark Slagle Lectures since 1955.
ALSO: Diversity in occupational therapy: Experiences of consumers who identify themselves as minority group members (Australian Journal of OT article; Use Google Scholar to search for it – it wouldn’t let me save the link!)
So in case you’ve been living under a rock (or holed up studying for finals…same thing) and haven’t heard the news, just a few weeks ago I performed at the 2015 AOTA Conference AOTPAC Talent Show — and I got third place! (Jk, it’s big news to nobody but my parents and my classmates, after one of my professors “outed” me in an email to the class…)
My trophy is at home, but the videos of my performance are now here! I had a great time performing, and it was so much fun to see the talent that all the other students and practitioners brought to the table. It was really a great night, and I truly enjoyed dancing for a cause!
At the show, the captive audience voted with their dollars, putting money in “tip jars” for each performer. The money went to AOTPAC, but all of the cheers and applause went to the performers! I was up against the likes of Bill Wong, a veteran banjo player, and a professional musician, among others — so the stakes were clearly pretty high. But the audience was awesome, and everybody was cheered on whether they were singing, dancing, or doing something else! The winners of the show were this really cool ballroom dancing couple from Texas, and they TOTALLY deserved first place — I wish I had the videos of their performance AND the encore they did after they won!
The talent show was so much fun, and I hope to be able to do it again next year. Enjoy the videos, and make sure to donate to AOTPAC if you like what you see! 🙂
A big THANK YOU goes to my videographer and friend Elizabeth Hart for filming!
As I mentioned in this post, I was fortunate enough to attend the 2015 ASD Annual Meeting during the AOTA Annual Conference in Nashville this year as a delegate for my OT program. If you’re wondering about what the Assembly of Student Delegates is, I’ll refer you to their page on the AOTA website for the most concise, up-to-date information. However, the ASD’s purpose and goals are outlined in the following excerpt:
“The Assembly of Student Delegates provides a mechanism for the expression of student concerns, and offers a means whereby students can have effective input into AOTA affairs. The mission of the Assembly of Student Delegates is to support student members of AOTA by communicating their interests and advancing their professional contributions. This Assembly upholds the AOTA mission, promotes Association membership, and provides a forum for the development of student leadership and political awareness to enhance the viability of the profession.” (AOTA, 2015)
Last year when I volunteered at the Baltimore conference, and this past year, I searched for information about the ASD and couldn’t find much about what actually happened at the meeting. The presentation slides were posted, and social media accounts had photos, but beyond that I couldn’t find much. Hopefully this post will help shed a little light on what goes on, and inform future delegates about what they can expect.
This post is a bit long, but so was the meeting! In it, I’ll cover topics such as
Meeting structure and content
Read on to learn all about my experience as an ASD Delegate!
This post is part of my Conference Countdown series. Check out the other posts about missing classes for conference, networking, and planning your itinerary! You can also read my posts from the 2014 AOTA Conference in Baltimore HERE and HERE to learn more about the conference experience.
Last year was my first year attending an AOTA conference, and it was easily the highlight of my not-yet-started life as an OT! I went by myself as a volunteer, but I met and talked to so many cool people it was like I was there with a bunch of old friends! Still, going for the first time was a little intimidating, so I’ve written a guide for people who are going that haven’t been before and may not be sure what to do or expect!
This post includes information about:
What to wear
What to bring
How to prepare
Which events and sessions to attend
Linking conference happenings to your classroom or workplace
How to make the most of your conference experience after returning home
There’s advice for students and practitioners, and I hope you find it helpful!