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Making connections at the Australian Occupational Therapy Conference

Occupational Therapy

At My Health Career we are excited to have a guest post from Clare Wilding, an OT who attended the recent Occupational Therapy Australia conference. With more than 20 years of experience as an occupational therapist and academic, Clare currently offers individually-tailored research, writing, professional development, and mentoring/supervision services. Clare’s business, Knowledge Moves, is a microbusiness that she operates from her home in Beechworth, in Victoria’s north-east. For more information about Clare’s services, go to She is also an Adjunct Senior Lecturer at Charles Sturt University.

“Today I have a case of the blues – not because of something bad that happened, but because I had such an enjoyable time last week meeting up with old friends and making new ones that my everyday life seems a little pale in comparison. Last week I attended Occupational Therapy Australia’s 25th National Conference and Exhibition held in Adelaide.

Occupational therapy (often shortened to “OT”) is a really diverse and interesting profession that is all about enabling people to do the occupations that they want and need to do. Occupations are all of the tasks and activities that occupy people (not just work), so they include things like sports, hobbies, socialising, parenting, showering and dressing, cleaning the house, and of course paid and voluntary work. Occupational therapists help others to engage in occupations because being occupied by doing what is most important and valued to you can improve your health, happiness, and well-being … think about something you love to do and how you feel when you do it – you may feel: happy, contented, proud, productive, valued, liked, challenged, interested, engaged, competent, connected …
Conferences are busy and this conference was no exception! There were 750 delegates – the highest number on record for an Australian National Occupational Therapy conference. There were 200 delegates from South Australia and 12 international delegates (from New Zealand, United Kingdom, Canada, Japan) and 65 exhibitors/sponsors.

During the conference many occupational therapists (OTs) were interested in discussions about how they could be a part of the National Disability Insurance Scheme roll-out. Many OTs have already sought employment with DisabilityCare Australia and are looking forward to working with people who have a disability – to break down barriers and help people with a disability to participate fully in life. At the conference, my colleague, Terri Mears, from Northcott (which provides services for people with disabilities) and I gave a presentation that was relevant to this issue. We completed a research evaluation (with Charles Sturt University) called The Adult Transition Project  that provided funding support for 20 people with lifelong disability to purchase therapy services to assist them to cope better with a change (such as moving house, changes due to becoming older, or changes because their parents, who often cared for them, were becoming older). The service that most people purchased was occupational therapy.

There was also a lot of interest in the issue of occupational justice, which is about how we can ensure that all people have the opportunity to participate in the occupations that they need and want to do, because being able to do these activities can help people to be happier and healthier. And, it is a human right to work, to rest and engage in leisure, to receive education, and to have a standard of living adequate for one’s health and well-being, as recorded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – many of these rights are achieved through engaging in occupation! The situation of refugees and asylum seekers was of particular interest at the conference, especially as it is so topical at the moment. A number of occupational therapists think that people who are held in detention facilities experience occupational deprivation. That is, the detention facility prevents people from being able to engage in the occupations that can help them be healthy and well. Some of the barriers include facility policies, geographic isolation, and lack of access to objects and settings that support doing (for example tools, leisure environments, workplaces). You can find out more at Occupational Opportunities for Refugees and Asylum Seekers.

We discussed some really interesting issues, but for me the best part was meeting and mixing with my colleagues. Some people I only ever see at conferences. Conferences also provide the opportunity to make new friendships. I work from my home in a one-person office – Knowledge Moves – and so I am always keen to find ways to connect with my occupational therapy colleagues. Several months ago I joined Twitter and found that there is a thriving community of occupational therapists there. They engage in lively tweetchats about interesting issues relevant to occupational therapy. It is also a way of keeping collegial relationships going even though we are dispersed throughout Australia and the rest of the world. In the photo you will see some of these occupational therapist tweeters. Now, I’m off to chase away my blues by engaging in a tweetchat: #anzOTalk

Tweeters from the 2013 Occupational Therapy Australia conference photo from left to right:
Leonora Coolhaas (@LeonoraOT), Ellen Nicholson (@OTEllenN), Nicole O’Reilly (@nicoleo_reilly), Jeannette Isaacs-Young (@OTcoachSIG), Clare Wilding(@clarewilding), Jayne Webster (@kiwitravels), Robert Pereira (@roberTO_OT), Brock Cook (@Keeper85), Merolee Penman (@merrolee)

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