Occupational Therapy's Role on the Design Team

My doctoral capstone explored the emerging role of occupational therapy on the design team through partnerships in commercial and home design with a particular focus on advocacy, education, and interprofessional collaboration.

Student name: Daniel-Hannah Grace
Name of Mentor: Dr. Jessica Dashner OTR/L, Sarah Pruett OTR/L, Hunter Redman AIA
School: Washington University in St. Louis
Setting and location: Santa Fe, New Mexico
Virtual / In-person / Hybrid: Hybrid

As the profession of occupational therapy expands their focus to emphasize population and community health, practitioners will need to collaborate with industries outside of the traditional health domain to achieve social outcomes that move beyond person specific solutions to generate sustainable, effective, change for communities. One of these adjacent industries is the field of architecture and design as it relates to the built environment as a facilitator or barrier to participation.

My doctoral capstone project practiced interprofessional collaboration through the two partnerships: One partner, The Universal Design Project, is a non-profit organization whose vision is, “for every community across the USA to have a surplus of homes and opportunities for social participation that are universally and financially accessible”. They work towards this vision by creating universally accessible residential home plans through inter-professional collaboration between builders, architects, and healthcare professionals, with input from people with disabilities. The other partnership was with an architect, Hunter Redman, during the renovation and new construction of a historic building in Santa Fe, NM for purposes of a hotel/resort.
This role exploration included understanding and defining the occupational role on the design team, advocating for the occupational therapy perspective, educating non-OT professionals on our role, and adding value to the design team through site specific universal design recommendations.

The Universal Design Project: My capacity as a team member of the Universal Design Project included the creation of advocacy and education materials. I contributed to their Good Fit Poor Fit podcast, and contributed to content for their educational courses on universal design, the role of Occupational Therapy on the design team, and interprofessional collaboration as a solution to the lack of accessible housing problem. Check out my podcast below, UD and Me, where I discuss how I became interested in Universal Design and some of my favorite UD features.

Washington Inn Project: During my partnership with the architecture firm, I created an online reference document for use throughout the remainder of the building of the hotel/resort. This portfolio provides education on universal design, the value added through an occupational therapy perspective, and specific universal design recommendations and explanations on their effect on function and ease of use for spaces throughout the hotel (i.e. entrances, lobby, hotel rooms etc.). Additionally, I created a lunch and learn style presentation that educates design professionals on the benefits of universal design and interprofessional collaboration that will be used during an AIA chapter meeting, and can be disseminated to architecture and design graduate programs for additional education.

As the profession of occupational therapy grows into Vision 2025, it is apparent that collaboration and advocacy will be tenets of this growth. The fruit of these efforts to expand the perspective of occupational therapy into other industries, can lead to effective change for populations and communities and building the skills to collaborate and advocate effectively in school lays a foundation for using these skills in practice.

The work done during my Doctoral Capstone fulfilled my goals of exposure to a non-clinical, emerging area of practice and I was able to practice consistent advocacy for the profession and develop effective communication during interprofessional collaboration. This capstone experience laid a foundation for the process of partnering with non-OT professionals, and establishing the value added by occupational therapy in an industry not familiar with the role and scope of the profession.

Ideas for next steps to build on this topic:
I strongly believe that advocacy and education lay the foundation for any emerging role of occupational therapy, and ultimately act to propel the profession forward. The role of occupational therapy on the design team is still emerging and so this project heavily emphasized advocacy and education in hopes that the site would implement some of the recommendations during the build phase of the hotel/resort. Next steps could be implementing universal design recommendations during the build phase of a project or partnering with architecture and occupational therapy graduate programs to implement universal design and interprofessional collaboration directly into the professional curriculum.

2-3 tips for students undertaking a similar project:

1. Practice interprofessional collaboration in school: Research shows that practicing interprofessional collaboration in schooling builds a foundation to collaborate effectively in practice. Interprofessional collaboration is the avenue through which we can partner with non-OT professionals to create change.

  • Joining or starting interprofessional collaboration student groups in school develops advocacy skills early
  • Organizing community events builds advocacy skills to the community

2. Learn the language of the industry: learning the language and perspective of the industry you are interested in expanding into allows you to understand, 1) where occupational therapy can add value, and 2) how to effectively communicate with industry professionals leading to better communication and effective partnership.

  • Explore statements and articles published on non-OT professional websites
  • Conduct informational interviews with industry professionals
  • Listen to podcasts and articles that expand your knowledge of non-OT professionals

3. Create Relationships: There is no handbook for emerging roles of occupational therapy so creating opportunities to benefit from knowledge and experience pooling is crucial. Establishing relationships also creates opportunities for future advocacy and education efforts.

  • Join coalitions that share knowledge and experiences, especially with non-clinical roles, such as “The Clinician Transition” or “OT Potential”
  • Stay informed and involved with the champions of the industry (for Universal Design this includes people and institutions such as UD advocate, Gustavo Serafini, and the IDEA center at the University of Buffalo)

Deliverables (link when applicable):
I have sprinkled links to some of my key deliverables above. In addition to those deliverables, I also became a Certified Aging in Place Specialist, submitted an article to AOTA’s OT Practice, and more. I would love to hear your thoughts on my non-traditional capstone in the comments!

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I love the tips @daniel-hannah ! Def gonna share with other students!

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Thank you! I love connecting with future students so feel free to pass along my name!