Alisa Jordan Sheth, Jacqueline Kish, Laura H. VanPuymbrouck, Jenna L. Heffron, Danbi Lee, Lisa Mahaffey; “A Legitimate Place in the Profession”: Author Reflections on the 2005 Disability Studies Special Issue. Am J Occup Ther 2021;75(4):7504180005. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2021.045294
Download citation file:
© 2021 American Occupational Therapy Association
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.
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
This PDF is available to Subscribers Only
For full access to this pdf, sign in to an existing account, or purchase an annual subscription.