As a newly trained occupational therapist (I graduate in November), I’m uniquely placed to use the knowledge from my degree coupled with my experiences as a disabled person to explain a concept vital to securing that future: access to meaningful occupation.
The World Federation of Occupational Therapists refers to occupation as: “the everyday activities that people do as individuals, in families and with communities to occupy time and bring meaning and purpose to life. Occupations include things people need to, want to and are expected to do”. Meaningful occupation increases our wellbeing and a prime example of this is the pandemic. We’ve all experienced some form of occupational deprivation over the past 18 months due to not seeing our friends, not being able to go for meals, day trips, etc. Yet disabled people have always experienced some form of occupational deprivation (I repeat “some form of” as I do not know everyone’s circumstances) before 2020 came along, and this is due to access.
For example, access to work. Let me put on my occupational therapy cap to uncover why this is so important. Our environment plays a big role in determining occupational performance. Therefore, to increase performance, and thus wellbeing, the environment has to be right. Which is why working from home for so many disabled people is the right environment, as it brings comfort (and not to mention saves energy). I know I’m a lot more productive when I’m working from home and haven’t got to be up at the crack of dawn rushing around the house to attend a 9:00am lecture.
Virtual healthcare is also really important. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve dashed about to get to the other end of the city for an appointment, only to walk (or wheel) in for assessment and be told: “we’ll see you next year”. As a disabled person, it takes a lot of energy to get up, get ready and get to that appointment – more energy than the appointment itself. And this is why virtual working and virtual healthcare needs to become the norm – pandemic or no pandemic.
I know that face-to-face contact is irreplaceable, but the pandemic has highlighted the success of virtual working and virtual healthcare, at long last! Victory, right? No. Why? It’s taken a global pandemic for everyone to realise the benefits of virtual working and virtual healthcare – just two of many access needs that improve quality of life for disabled people. But it wasn’t until the rest of the population experienced a small slice of the ‘occupation deprivation’ faced by disabled people every day that doors have opened for other, more inclusive ways of working and receiving healthcare.
The Social Model of Disability suggests disability is a result of barriers in the environment and not impairment. This relates to why access to work and working from home is so vital for disabled people, because as established, working from home in your own adapted environment is going to present far less barriers. Yet, as the restrictions are easing, disabled people are already fearing and seeing that this need has gone on the back burner, yet again.
This is why Disability Pride Month is so important to improve access in the future and highlight these systemic issues on all levels.
Recently I had the privilege of attending a talk by Professor Sir Michael Marmot. Sir Marmot’s work is incredible and the 10 year review of his landmark study Fair Society, Healthy Lives found that health inequalities have increased since 2010. Where will we be in another 10 years? This is why disability pride is more important than ever because we need to change this predictable and unfair future.
Disability pride now isn’t just about celebrating disability. Disability pride is about advocating for what we deserve as disabled people/people with disabilities and fighting for our rights within a society built on systemic ableism.
Wouldn’t it be great if disability pride in the future would solely just be about disability pride itself and celebrating disability without having to challenge this ableist society? But the reality is, that won’t happen for a long time. I don’t even think I will see this in my lifetime and I’m only 21 years old. But that doesn’t mean that I won’t do my damn best to strive towards this whilst I can.
I’ll be honest: I don’t write many posts like this. Partly because I’m aware I need to be more politically minded, and also due to it being too much of a sensitive topic for me as a soon-to-be occupational therapy graduate, about to embark in the working world. It petrifies me that I might not be able to do my dream job and have a fulfilling career because of reasonable adjustments that aren’t put into place. Yet, if the disability community aren’t heard now, will change ever happen? The disability community says ‘nothing about us without us’ and therefore I pledge to act with courage, care and compassion to advocate for disability rights throughout my career.
It is both physically and mentally exhausting when challenging the system, especially when you are disabled and have a very little pot of energy. I also have to consider my role as a professional, as I have professional standards to abide by. But I will always have my tools regarding my disability and advocacy skills within my kit to enhance my future career. Therefore, in the future I will strive to connect the disability and occupational therapy community to challenge the status quo and reduce these health inequalities so that disability pride in the future can solely be about disability pride.
Happy Disability Pride Month everyone whatever you are doing – whether this may be challenging the system, celebrating how fabulous is it to be part of the disabled community, both, or none, as that’s okay too. I hope you’ve had an amazing month because YOU deserve it! Here’s to amplifying our voices and celebrating disability pride all year round!
Thank you for reading.
Georgia – I am a newly trained occupational therapist, founder of Not So Terrible Palsy and an ambassador for CP Teens UK. I chose to train to be an occupational therapist, because when I was younger, my occupational therapists played a highly significant role in my life, if I can make half the impact on an individual that they’ve made on me, and my family, then I know it is all worthwhile.