Occupational therapy & universal design

Is it enough for the occupational therapy profession to just focus on clients and their occupation goals? Barriers faced by people with disability, are complex and multi-faceted and go beyond specific individual solutions. So, at what point should occupational therapists engage in issues of social justice? And can universal design thinking help?

Disability studies emphasise the dignity, worth and equal rights of all people and draws attention to the discrimination faced by people with disability.

A man in a wheelchair is separated from the crowd by a low concrete barrier. Occupational therapy & universal design.

Two researchers, one from social science and one from occupational therapy, offer an interesting discussion on this topic. They argue that occupational therapy practice and research should incorporate social justice and universal design perspectives. They add that they should join with the disability community to call for a more just society. One way to do this is to also promote the principles of universal design.

Incorporating social justice and universal design perspectives more effectively requires a change of mindset and ways of working. Expanding Person-Centred and Person-Environment theories to understand social and structural barriers is one solution. The occupational therapy profession has the potential to pave the way for more equitable services and policies.

The title of the discussion paper is, Drawing on critical disability and universal design perspectives within occupational therapy and is open access.

From the abstract

Socio-political influences have gained increased attention within the occupational therapy profession. Critical disability studies question prevailing assumptions about disability and how disabling ideologies and practices are perpetuated in society. A universal design approach aims to address issues of inclusion and justice.

This paper discusses how the tenets of critical disability studies and universal design can contribute to occupational therapy practice and research.

We provide ideas on how practice can be guided by the tenets of disability studies and universal design to promote social equity.

Incorporating both perspectives in occupational therapy practice and research requires a change in mindset and ways of working. Occupational therapy knowledge needs to be expanded to scrutinise disabling hindrances hidden within social and structural spaces, and implemented in services.

We recommend working with disability communities to raise awareness and combat disabling barriers at various level of society.

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