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Research Article
Issue Date: July/August 2021
Published Online: June 11, 2021
Updated: July 09, 2021
“A Legitimate Place in the Profession”: Author Reflections on the 2005 Disability Studies Special Issue
Author Affiliations
  • Alisa Jordan Sheth, PhD, OTR/L, is Assistant Professor, School of Occupational Therapy, Pacific University, Hillsboro, Oregon; ajsheth@pacificu.edu
  • Jacqueline Kish, MS, OTR/L, is PhD Candidate, Department of Disability and Human Development, University of Illinois at Chicago.
  • Laura H. VanPuymbrouck, PhD, OTR/L, is Assistant Professor, Department of Occupational Therapy, Rush University, Chicago.
  • Jenna L. Heffron, PhD, OTR/L, is Assistant Professor, Department of Occupational Therapy, Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY.
  • Danbi Lee, PhD, OTD, OTR/L, is Assistant Professor, Division of Occupational Therapy, Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle.
  • Lisa Mahaffey, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA, is Professor, Department of Occupational Therapy, Midwestern University, Downers Grove, IL.
Article Information
Education of OTs and OTAs / Multidisciplinary Practice / Rehabilitation, Participation, and Disability / Special Issue on Occupational Therapy and Disability Studies
Research Article   |   June 11, 2021
“A Legitimate Place in the Profession”: Author Reflections on the 2005 Disability Studies Special Issue
American Journal of Occupational Therapy, June 2021, Vol. 75, 7504180005. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2021.045294
American Journal of Occupational Therapy, June 2021, Vol. 75, 7504180005. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2021.045294
Abstract

Importance: In 2005, the American Journal of Occupational Therapy published a special issue focused on disability studies. Contributing authors challenged readers to reflect on their practices and recommended ways to change the field, yet literature on the current state of the integration of disability studies into occupational therapy is scarce.

Objective: To engage the original authors of the 2005 special issue in an examination of perspectives on how disability studies perspectives have contributed to changes within occupational therapy and what work remains.

Design: The research team conducted semistructured interviews with 11 authors who published an article in the special issue. Interview transcripts were analyzed using thematic analysis. Triangulation of coders, multiple phases of data analysis, and member checking were used to establish trustworthiness.

Results: Five themes emerged from the data: (1) exposure to disability and disability studies, (2) impact of the special issue on occupational therapy, (3) changes observed in occupational therapy beyond the special issue, (4) challenges integrating disability studies into occupational therapy, and (5) disability studies–informed recommendations for occupational therapy.

Conclusions and Relevance: Although the original contributing authors acknowledged the transformative impact of disability studies on their own practice and scholarship, the results suggest that disability studies remains outside mainstream occupational therapy scholarship. Exploring the connections and divergence between disability studies and fields such as occupational science could improve understanding of how disability studies concepts are defined and used in theory and practice.

What This Article Adds: Since the publication of the original special issue in 2005, the field of disability studies has continued to influence occupational therapy, although more often in individual than in systemic ways. Work is needed to embrace a disability studies–informed critical and intersectional foundation for the profession and explore the ways in which occupational therapy can better partner with populations through a disability studies lens.

In 2005, the American Journal of Occupational Therapy (AJOT) published a special issue dedicated to the academic discipline of disability studies (DS), the interdisciplinary scholarly field related to the “socio-political-cultural examination of disability” (Linton, 1998, p. 525). Another important aspect of DS in the United States is its connection to the disability rights movement and, more recently, to the disability justice movement (Sins Invalid, 2019), emphasizing the field’s political and academic foundations. In some respects, the special issue answered the criticism of many in the DS field that health and rehabilitation fields, such as occupational therapy, were often not adequately meeting the needs of the disability community using traditional service provision paradigms (Linton, 1998; Oliver, 1990).
The issue’s editorial acknowledged occupational therapy’s opportunity to integrate DS into scholarship, education, and practice and to critically examine the field and shift its concepts and practices away from traditional impairment-based and medicalized models of disability (Kielhofner, 2005). Specifically, the special issue emphasized DS implications by applying concepts such as the Social Model of Disability (Oliver, 1990) with specific diagnostic groups (Taylor, 2005), embodiment of disability (Thibodaux, 2005), population-level perspectives (McColl, 2005), and critical approaches to research disability identities (Neville-Jan, 2005) and experiences (Franits, 2005). Contributing authors sought to innovate occupational therapy education (Block et al., 2005; Gitlow & Flecky, 2005), critique frameworks (Hemmingsson & Jonsson, 2005) and occupational therapy services (Paikoff Holzmueller, 2005), and advocate for meaningful community living (Paul-Ward et al., 2005) and participation for people with disabilities (Cottrell, 2005). The issue laid out specific recommendations for ways in which occupational therapy researchers, educators, and practitioners might rethink conceptualizations of and approaches to disability and their work by incorporating DS perspectives (Kielhofner, 2005).
With the American Occupational Therapy Association’s (AOTA’s; 2016) Vision 2025 establishing leadership in “changing policies, environments, and complex systems” and embracing “diversity in all its forms” (p. 1) as fundamental aspects of the profession, along with increased scholarship on occupational justice (Durocher et al., 2014) and critical occupational therapy (Hammell & Iwama, 2012), potential connections to DS have continued to develop since the special issue’s publication. Yet, literature on the current state of integration of DS into occupational therapy is scarce (Heffron et al., 2019). In this study, we aimed to explore the following research questions: How have DS perspectives contributed to changes within occupational therapy, and what work remains to further integrate DS concepts into the profession?
Method
We used a qualitative research design, rooted in a social constructivist paradigm that centers the socially and historically influenced perspectives of participants (Cresswell & Poth, 2018) to capture reflections of authors of the 2005 special issue articles through individual in-depth interviews. Interviews took place between February 2019 and July 2019. The institutional review boards of the research team–affiliated institutions determined that this study did not constitute human subjects research and did not require further approval.
Participants
Using purposive sampling, the research team attempted to contact all living authors of articles published in the 2005 special issue, viewing them as experts and established scholars in the intersection of the fields of DS and occupational therapy. Using publicly available email addresses, we sent each author a standard recruitment message explaining the purpose and design of the study.
Data Collection
We conducted 60- to 90-min semistructured individual interviews via phone or in person. The interview guide, developed by the research team, included questions regarding authors’ connections to DS, their vision for occupational therapy related to DS integration, the impact or potential impact of DS and the special issue on occupational therapy, and perspectives on the contemporary integration of DS in occupational therapy. We recorded the interviews with the authors’ permission and then transcribed interviews verbatim for analysis.
Data Analysis
All team members engaged in thematic analysis of the interviews, and each transcript was coded by two coders, including the interviewer. Multiple phases of inductive and deductive thematic analyses resulted in a codebook organized by themes and subthemes, including discussions to reach a consensus (Miller et al., 2019). We shared theme definitions and epitomizing quotes with the interviewees to member check for trustworthiness and truth value (Miller et al., 2019). The team revisited and resolved any discrepancies between the original analysis and author feedback.
Reflexivity
The research team consisted of six occupational therapists with doctoral degrees in DS or currently participating in a DS program. Some team members identify as disabled but, as described in previous work (Heffron et al., 2019), we acknowledge that our orientation in this study was from a primarily nondisabled framework. Most research team members worked as faculty in occupational therapy education programs, and many had interacted with the participating authors in a professional capacity before the study. We recognized that our previous professional experiences and engagement with the authors’ scholarship could influence our analysis of the interview results. We reflected on these potential biases through frequent group debriefing throughout the study and took measures such as using an interview guide and multiple coders per interview to account for subjectivity.
Results
We contacted 13 authors from the 2005 AJOT special issue on DS, and 11 agreed to participate. Eight participating authors served as sole author or primary author of their articles. Five major themes emerged from the data, with definitions derived from coding and analysis (Table 1).
Table 1.
Themes and Definitions From Author Reflections on the DS Special Issue
Themes and Definitions From Author Reflections on the DS Special Issue×
ThemeDefinition
1. Exposure to disability and DSExperiences of being exposed to DS concepts, such as the lived experience of disability and political concerns of the disability community. Includes personal or professional relationships, contextual factors, and the impact of exposure on personal and scholarly understandings of disability.
2. Impact of the special issue on occupational therapyPerspectives on the influence of a single article or the general body of literature from the special issue on scholarly discourse at the time of publication and in contemporary thought. Includes an extension of dialogue to the disability community and international groups.
3. Changes observed in occupational therapy beyond the special issueNarratives describing notable shifts in theory, education, clinical practice, and research attributed to increased dialogue related to DS since the publication of the special issue.
4. Challenges integrating DS into occupational therapyPerceptions of barriers to fully achieving the potential benefits of integration of DS within the field of occupational therapy.
5. DS-informed recommendations for occupational therapySuggestions of strategies to incorporate concepts of DS into scholarship, practice, education, and policy.
Table Footer NoteNote. DS = disability studies.
Note. DS = disability studies.×
Table 1.
Themes and Definitions From Author Reflections on the DS Special Issue
Themes and Definitions From Author Reflections on the DS Special Issue×
ThemeDefinition
1. Exposure to disability and DSExperiences of being exposed to DS concepts, such as the lived experience of disability and political concerns of the disability community. Includes personal or professional relationships, contextual factors, and the impact of exposure on personal and scholarly understandings of disability.
2. Impact of the special issue on occupational therapyPerspectives on the influence of a single article or the general body of literature from the special issue on scholarly discourse at the time of publication and in contemporary thought. Includes an extension of dialogue to the disability community and international groups.
3. Changes observed in occupational therapy beyond the special issueNarratives describing notable shifts in theory, education, clinical practice, and research attributed to increased dialogue related to DS since the publication of the special issue.
4. Challenges integrating DS into occupational therapyPerceptions of barriers to fully achieving the potential benefits of integration of DS within the field of occupational therapy.
5. DS-informed recommendations for occupational therapySuggestions of strategies to incorporate concepts of DS into scholarship, practice, education, and policy.
Table Footer NoteNote. DS = disability studies.
Note. DS = disability studies.×
×
Theme 1: Exposure to Disability and Disability Studies
Authors described both personal and professional experiences that led to their exposure to DS concepts and that proved to be instrumental in shaping their research and clinical interests. These experiences provided vocabulary and context for the authors’ lived experiences of disability. One author described their experience with their emerging disability identity as follows:

It was a lifesaver for me. Disability studies was like doing [occupational therapy] on myself. I came out of a dark place and . . . it provided a theoretical framing for everything I was experiencing that I knew was wrong but I didn’t have the language to explain why it was wrong. (Author 1)

Another author detailed seeking out answers because of a family member’s negative personal experiences with medical professionals, leading them to seek out DS:

It’s very deeply personal for me. So, my personal/professional lives really do intertwine quite a bit . . . my childhood was spent going to clinics . . . to try to find something that would help my brother. I could see my brother being poked and prodded, and stripped down to his underwear. . . . It was just dehumanizing. (Author 2)

Other authors discussed how their initial exposure to DS provided them with explanations about disability that they had been grappling with in their daily lives or their work as occupational therapy practitioners.
Several authors were involved in fields complementary to occupational therapy or worked in academic settings in which DS was available as an area of study. They described collegial interactions with their peers or mentors in DS programs and how these interactions introduced them to DS and engaged them in a greater critical understanding of disability that occupational therapy did not provide:

I thought, maybe this [DS] is a good fit. . . . I took one course to see how does this feel . . . and it was such a good fit, such a tight fit, really piqued my interest. . . . [It] fit a lot of the stuff that I already have been interested in thinking about, and talking about, and reading, but I just didn’t have a name for it. (Author 3)

All of the authors said that their initial exposure led to further exploration and engagement in this field. Specifically, they talked about exposure to the disability rights movement and witnessing the impact of specific policies such as the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 (Pub. L. 101-336), and they described learning about theoretical frameworks such as the Social Model of Disability and critical theory. Authors described these experiences as transformative because they challenged their assumptions and preconceived notions of their previous scholarly or clinical work, including recognition of the power dynamics in their work and potential allyship to disability communities. This exposure to DS was a “disorienting dilemma” that influenced their career trajectory as a practitioner, scholar, or researcher.
Theme 2: Impact of the Special Issue on Occupational Therapy
The authors identified many ways in which their single articles and the compilation of articles in the special issue as a whole influenced them as scholars and the field of occupational therapy more broadly. They discussed the impact of the special issue on discourse within and outside of occupational therapy concerning understandings of disability at the time of publication and in contemporary thought, including dialogue with disability communities and discourse around theoretical frameworks.
On a personal level, writing these articles solidified shifts in authors’ perceptions of disability, such as highlighting positive views of disability identity; valuing collaboration with disability communities in scholarship; and shifting understandings of disability from narrow, impairment-based perspectives to more nuanced and complex frameworks. From a professional perspective, several authors noted the value of publication in this issue in the high volume of citations in U.S.-based and international research and across occupational therapy and DS journals. Beyond citations, authors also saw the special issue as highlighting the intersection of the two fields, particularly the increased conversation around the relevance of DS within occupational therapy. As one author commented,

I do think this special issue finally brought to the forefront that DS was relevant to occupational therapy. . . . You couldn’t ignore it, that there was a whole issue on DS. My hope was that it did bring to light for in-the-trenches practitioners who never thought of this part of occupational therapy to say, “Oh, I need to really think about the person’s voice in decision making.” (Author 2)

Authors described a particular impact of the issue on theory development and scholarship, particularly with respect to the Model of Human Occupation (Kielhofner, 2008) and the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF;World Health Organization, 2001). Authors also reflected on the impact of articles that used the Social Model of Disability and other DS frames of reference, in particular noting connections to the development of occupational therapy models and theory in the field of occupational science.
Authors noted the broader and longer lasting legacy of the issue. As one author described,

The faculty members and the students [who] were studying and more junior or midcareer at the time when this article was published are now senior or midcareer in the field, and they’re driving these ideas forward with more force, greater numbers, and with high-quality scholarship. (Author 4)

However, some authors noted that the impact of the special issue was not as extensive as they had anticipated:

I think I anticipated that it was going to have a much greater impact. . . . This is the start of all sorts of good disability studies work happening in [occupational therapy] because it’s such a good fit and, that kind of enthusiasm that I was feeling, I thought was going to be palpable within the rest the profession, and that I don’t think that happened at all. (Author 3)

Theme 3: Changes Observed in Occupational Therapy Beyond the Special Issue
Although not specifically linked to the DS special issue, authors noted related shifts informed by DS in the field of occupational therapy since the special issue’s publication. These included shifts in intervention focus and frames of references, such as moving away from impairment-focused models and addressing the environment or community accessibility. Authors felt this environmental perspective in practice has become more ingrained and “common sense.” They also noted shifts within occupational therapy to focus on population health and health disparities and emerging practice areas, such as primary care. One author spoke to revisions made to the Occupational Therapy Practice Framework: Domain and Process (4th ed.; AOTA, 2020), commenting:

I do think what’s really resonated with me . . . is the population health stuff . . . the change that was made in the framework to be more inclusive of who our clients are and recognizing organizations . . . it’s communities and populations. (Author 5)

Again, authors identified that despite anticipating significant change in the field as a result of the special issue, these shifts occurred much more slowly than expected. They specifically highlighted that knowledge translation has grown and expanded with new technologies for information dissemination, but when it comes to incorporating knowledge from the DS field, one author stated, “We might talk the talk, but I don’t think we walk the walk yet” (Author 6). Another commented that changes are more subtle or obscured by the use of alternative language; topics relevant to DS perspectives are often included in occupational therapy arenas, but the actual DS terms are not often used. This author noted that DS “is not in [practitioners’] consciousness” (Author 5).
Theme 4: Challenges Integrating Disability Studies Into Occupational Therapy
Authors described a variety of barriers to fully achieving the potential benefits from increased exposure to DS within the field of occupational therapy. They acknowledged broad professional challenges within the field, including a lack of awareness of and commitment to DS concepts, as well as concerns about not attending to DS critiques related to professional issues, such as the frequent failure to consider disability in diversity and inclusion initiatives. For example, 1 author noted that occupational therapy as a whole has not established true partnerships with the disability community, nor has it fully embraced the environmental influences on health and participation: “We should be hand in hand with persons with disabilities, to sort of embrace the ICF and think of different ways we can be creative. But, we, we’re still stuck in that mud” (Author 7).
Related to practice, authors spoke about various challenges to integrating DS across a variety of settings. They noted the rigid practice models often experienced in hospitals or clinics with reimbursement, funding, and documentation driving practice rather than responsiveness to client or community experience. One author described,

I experience that [health care is] still dominated so much by the whole health care system and organized from the biomedical model still, which I think is a limitation in what health care systems can do, but I see, I see progress also at the same time. (Author 8)

Challenges related to practice were often connected with occupational therapy education challenges, with authors highlighting the disconnect between curricular content and practice realities so that even if DS content is included in education, it is not reinforced for students in fieldwork or after graduation. They identified a conundrum: Although occupational therapy doctorate curricula have more room for DS-aligned content related to systems-level practice and social justice, jobs that include these elements are often not available to students as they begin their careers:

You get into the whole issue of, well, now you’re saddled with student debt . . . and you’re going to go work wherever the hell you can to pay your student debt off. So, it’s . . . a very complicated thing that I don’t know if you think about when you’re just into entry-level practice. (Author 9)

Authors, many of whom serve as faculty in occupational therapy programs, also described feeling pressure to leave politics out of their lectures, despite seeing the political connections to service provision and other topics, such as social determinants of health:

When we talk about issues of justice, and we talk about legal issues that impact justice and accessibility and health care, it’s going to seem like I’m talking about specific politicians, and sometimes I might. But, you know, we’re in current events. . . . It’s a struggle. (Author 3)

They also noted the privileged backgrounds of many occupational therapy students and described students’ hesitation to be critical of or reflective about educational material or methods and their positionality. One author described how students focus on “helping people” without interrogating the foundations of the profession using a social justice or systemic lens. This author further elaborated on the related shortcomings of current approaches to teaching disability and culture:

Just doing a case study where you say “Mr. Perez is a 69-year-old Puerto Rican male” is not a thoughtful and an intentional way to teach culture. So, I don’t think that we’re intentional enough in how we attend to things like culture or disability. (Author 1)

In addition, several authors described difficulties balancing the infusion of DS concepts and perspectives to meet curriculum standards with preparing students to pass certification exams and develop the technical skills required for the profession.
Authors discussed challenges related to research and scholarship, including who is included and excluded. They spoke to a troubling reality of academic discourse, citing examples of scholars ostracized for publishing critical viewpoints within occupational therapy, other health and rehabilitation fields, and even DS. Authors also described how their DS-aligned research was often not legitimized in the academy; one author described receiving questions such as “Why is this important?” or “Why would students need to know this stuff?” from fellow educators when discussing research on disabled consumer–led access audits (Author 7). Authors identified broader systemic barriers, including a lack of large sustainable funding allocation for DS-informed research and excessive teaching workloads for many faculty, limiting time for scholarship.
Authors pointed to a variety of other structural barriers related to politics, social structures, and cultural attitudes, noting that empathy toward people with disabilities cannot in and of itself bring about change. They identified factors such as capitalistic societies that place high importance on people’s ability to contribute to the economy and attitudes that view disability as an individual issue as significant barriers to achieving disability rights. In occupational therapy specifically, some commented that practice continues to align with biomedical approaches rather than with disability rights approaches. One author stated,

I just don’t think very many [occupational therapists] identify with the disability movement. I also think that there’s some legitimacy associated with being allied to medicine. I think people look that way rather than to a community disability way for their values or identity. It’s a bit of a reflection of the culture. (Author 6)

Finally, several authors discussed challenges surrounding theory, including the translation of DS theories and frames of reference into occupational therapy practice, research, and education. Authors spoke to the tension between medicalized and social models of disability within the profession. One author commented that despite valuing DS perspectives in education, “I think we get so caught up in the medical model of things in order to make . . . good entry-level practitioners. I see it in my own institution” (Author 1). Another author used the metaphor of “swimming against the stream” (Author 6) to describe how it feels to push for emphasis on DS theory in a profession that remains medicalized in many ways.
Theme 5: Disability Studies–Informed Recommendations for Occupational Therapy
Practice-based suggestions on what the field of occupational therapy could improve on to reflect DS tenets included interprofessional collaboration, especially that targeted toward working to advance community- and environment-oriented practice areas, including reimbursement pathways. As 1 author noted, there was an underlying call to the profession that attending to these practice concerns was critical to the profession’s future, stating, “We just can’t afford anymore to be one on one with patients and doing outpatient therapy” (Author 7).
Authors viewed the incorporation of DS as a way to illustrate that the distinct value of occupational therapy lies in the field’s unique perspectives on participation in chosen life activities, recognizing this corresponds naturally with a DS perspective. One author commented, “It has always been person–environment related to each other. . . . It’s never only one of them; it’s always both of them” (Author 10). The participating authors also shared perspectives on practical ways practitioners could illustrate the distinct value of occupational therapy to expand services and better address the social barriers that prohibit participation. For example, authors reflected on how efforts to facilitate community integration and accessibility versus institutionalization, aligning with the disability rights movement, should be a natural part of interventions. One author commented, “I don’t think that everyone is going to be an activist or a scholar about DS, but I do think that practitioners need to be aware of the basic resources that are available in their community for people” (Author 2).
Authors saw opportunities for practitioners to partner with the disability community and become leaders in their own communities of practice to encourage others. They emphasized that by continuing along a path focusing on individualized restorative approaches: “We do ourselves a professional disservice if we just go along to get along and to kind of follow along medicine and try and fix people” (Author 1). However, authors recognized that these practice-based recommendations would occur not spontaneously but only in response to personal and institutional initiatives to shift from individualized to structural and broadly contextual understandings of how occupational therapy services are delivered and experienced.
The authors also provided recommendations for occupational therapy education, seeing many opportunities to incorporate DS content within curricula, such as broad nonmedicalized views of disability, the lived experience of disability, and community-based services. In particular, participating authors saw entry-level and postprofessional occupational therapy doctoral education and the capstone experience and project as a promising opportunity to engage in undeveloped or unexplored practice settings.
Recommendations included ways to incorporate DS concepts in research and scholarship with calls for increased DS and disability community representation in all areas, including grants and funding mechanisms:

Having others in the . . . international community challenge existing biomechanical and rehabilitation models . . . because as we get the grant funding, and . . . get a seat at these tables, on the review panels . . . on the appropriate review panels—that’s where the power sits. (Author 4)

Moreover, there was a call for the profession to enhance the value placed on nontraditional research methodologies that collaborate with and center marginalized populations’ place in the profession: “I would like to see the guidelines for publications . . . allow more critically reflective pieces. . . . They have that very narrow notion of science, that science is quantitative” (Author 11). This author also discussed the importance of collaborating with activists in scholarship, commenting, “If you are not directly engaged with activists and giving credit for theories like disability justice, which are created by activism, not academics, then what you are doing isn’t critical theory. It’s appropriation” (Author 11).
The authors doing research steeped in tenets of DS made specific recommendations for increasing DS visibility through innovative methods of translating this research into clinical practice as well as distributing it widely in a way that can produce change at the community level. One author commented,

I think that sense of dissemination that is related more to community dissemination and in education, I don’t know why we don’t think that’s scholarly. . . . We need to share written work and scholarship with the community as well as within our own profession. (Author 7)

The authors acknowledged the importance of continued use of DS-informed theory to guide occupational therapy practice, education, and research but highlighted the importance of critically examining theoretical frameworks to avoid bypassing potential issues in use. Authors noted the value of incorporating layered and multiple perspectives into theory but emphasized the importance of addressing biases, such as ableism, that may be present in theoretical frameworks. They suggested drawing from multiple frameworks and avoiding reliance on one school of thought as a sole provider of knowledge.
Discussion
The legacy of the 2005 AJOT special issue on DS is complex and nuanced. Although the special issue authors acknowledged the ways in which this scholarship not only shaped their careers but also provided a platform for discourse often omitted from traditional occupational therapy research, they also acknowledged the many ways in which the field has not successfully integrated DS into practice, education, and scholarship and highlighted persistent barriers to such integration. Although the authors identified many challenges to incorporating DS into occupational therapy, they also envisioned a future with many possibilities for improving work with the disability community. These possibilities include the increase in occupational therapy doctorate programs for both entry-level and established practitioners, noted by many of the interviewed authors as a prime opportunity to introduce DS into occupational therapy education.
Exposure to DS had a transformative effect on these authors. However, it is important to acknowledge that this exposure went far beyond an initial encounter. Authors described experiencing a fundamental shift in their epistemological stance, from one of disablement caused by underlying impairment requiring a cure to one of disablement being the result of social and systemic barriers. They recognized that to truly address participation, occupational therapy must expand its scope to include alliance with the disability community in addressing these barriers. There is no single or ideal way to be exposed to DS, but witnessing how this field of study helps inform occupational therapy, whether through meaningful personal, clinical, or academic connections, is an important entry into this area of scholarship.
These interviews affirm that DS remains outside mainstream occupational therapy scholarship, as also demonstrated by infrequent articles in AJOT that explicitly take a DS perspective or incorporate DS concepts into research (Heffron et al., 2019; Mc Grath & Sakellariou, 2015). As some of the participating authors noted, discourse around occupational therapy and DS is more likely to occur outside of traditional U.S. occupational therapy scholarship. It is important to acknowledge the difficulties in assessing the true impact this special issue had beyond the perceptions of these authors on their own professional and scholarly development. With the increased scholarship and discussion around concepts such as occupational justice and critical occupational therapy, DS-aligned perspectives may be more prevalent than noted, but perhaps the terminology and ways in which this content is discussed remain inconsistent. In particular, exploring the connections and divergence between DS and occupational science could help develop better understandings of how concepts are defined and used in theory and practice.
Just as there have been calls within the field of DS to embrace a critical and intersectional foundation that “centers the needs, perspectives, and interests of marginalized people with disabilities and enables the advancement of disability justice” (Miles et al., 2017, p. 1), the perspectives of the authors of the special issue support a similar imperative for occupational therapy. The impact of the special issue, ongoing challenges, and recommendations from authors echo calls to critically examine occupational therapy’s position in the health and rehabilitation landscape, in particular in the ways contemporary client-centered practice upholds professional knowledge and economic profitability as more valuable than lived experience and access to justice (Gupta & Taff, 2015; Pollard & Block, 2017). Much work remains to achieve the goals of Vision 2025 and evolve into a profession more responsive to the needs of disabled people and disability communities, and DS provides an invaluable knowledge base that warrants further integration into occupational therapy.
Implications for Occupational Therapy Practice
Occupational therapy students, practitioners, scholars, and educators should position themselves to further the integration of DS into occupational therapy by familiarizing themselves with DS, disability rights, and disability justice; by connecting with disability-focused organizations and the larger community context; and by establishing mutually beneficial and respectful partnerships with people with disabilities to enhance equity and efficacy in both practice and research. Occupational therapy professional organizations should allow for increased critical discourse by providing additional support for scholarship and curriculum development that promotes the integration of occupational therapy and DS.
Conclusion
This qualitative inquiry into the integration of DS into occupational therapy reiterates the imperative from the 2005 DS special issue to critically examine occupational therapy’s position and responsibilities toward disabled people and communities. Although progress has occurred in this area, many of the recommendations and implications raised in the research persist. Increased integration of DS into occupational therapy education, scholarship, and practice is ongoing and valuable work.
Acknowledgments
The authors thank all the contributors to the 2005 Disability Studies special issue of the American Journal of Occupational Therapy, including the authors participating in this study. The authors have no known conflicts of interest to disclose.
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Table 1.
Themes and Definitions From Author Reflections on the DS Special Issue
Themes and Definitions From Author Reflections on the DS Special Issue×
ThemeDefinition
1. Exposure to disability and DSExperiences of being exposed to DS concepts, such as the lived experience of disability and political concerns of the disability community. Includes personal or professional relationships, contextual factors, and the impact of exposure on personal and scholarly understandings of disability.
2. Impact of the special issue on occupational therapyPerspectives on the influence of a single article or the general body of literature from the special issue on scholarly discourse at the time of publication and in contemporary thought. Includes an extension of dialogue to the disability community and international groups.
3. Changes observed in occupational therapy beyond the special issueNarratives describing notable shifts in theory, education, clinical practice, and research attributed to increased dialogue related to DS since the publication of the special issue.
4. Challenges integrating DS into occupational therapyPerceptions of barriers to fully achieving the potential benefits of integration of DS within the field of occupational therapy.
5. DS-informed recommendations for occupational therapySuggestions of strategies to incorporate concepts of DS into scholarship, practice, education, and policy.
Table Footer NoteNote. DS = disability studies.
Note. DS = disability studies.×
Table 1.
Themes and Definitions From Author Reflections on the DS Special Issue
Themes and Definitions From Author Reflections on the DS Special Issue×
ThemeDefinition
1. Exposure to disability and DSExperiences of being exposed to DS concepts, such as the lived experience of disability and political concerns of the disability community. Includes personal or professional relationships, contextual factors, and the impact of exposure on personal and scholarly understandings of disability.
2. Impact of the special issue on occupational therapyPerspectives on the influence of a single article or the general body of literature from the special issue on scholarly discourse at the time of publication and in contemporary thought. Includes an extension of dialogue to the disability community and international groups.
3. Changes observed in occupational therapy beyond the special issueNarratives describing notable shifts in theory, education, clinical practice, and research attributed to increased dialogue related to DS since the publication of the special issue.
4. Challenges integrating DS into occupational therapyPerceptions of barriers to fully achieving the potential benefits of integration of DS within the field of occupational therapy.
5. DS-informed recommendations for occupational therapySuggestions of strategies to incorporate concepts of DS into scholarship, practice, education, and policy.
Table Footer NoteNote. DS = disability studies.
Note. DS = disability studies.×
×