Tuesday, April 12, 2011

OT A to Z: J is for (Occupational) Justice

Occupational justice is a concept that has arisen in the field of occupational therapy in recent years. Occupational justice refers to the humanistic principle that all members of a society have a right to equally participate in in their occupations. Conversely, occupational injustice occurs “…when participation in occupations is barred, confined, restricted, segregated, prohibited, underdeveloped, disrupted, alienated, marginalized, exploited, excluded, or otherwise restricted,” (Kronenberg & Pollard, 2005, p. 66). Typically, the people most at risk for occupational injustice are those who lack resources, are refugees, imprisoned, or ill.

Since the role of occupational therapists is to engage people so that they
may participate in occupations, considering issues of occupational justice seems a natural extension of our role. Activities related to occupational justice may occur at the societal level and include such activities as assisting those experiencing injustice to advocate for their rights or address policy issues. Forerunners in the area of occupational justice have often addressed in the context of international needs. For instance, the Occupational Therapy International Outreach Network (OTION), established in 1999 by a group of Australian OTs, is an organization focused on addressing the occupational needs of those in under-served countries.

While it is is easy to imagine the occupational deprivation that may occur in developing countries, where there are often limited resources including employment, healthcare, and education, as well as the often ongoing potential for political instability, how often do we think of occupational injustices that exist in our communities? What could - or should - our role as OTs be in own communities to bring awareness to situations that consciously or unconsciously limit the participation in occupations to ALL of those in our communities?

Note: Photo retrieved from the National Council of Independent Living


Kronenberg, F. & Pollard, N. (2005). Overcoming occupational apartheid: A preliminary
exploration of the political nature of occupational therapy. In F. Kronenberg (Ed.), Occupational Therapy without Borders: Learning from the Spirits of Survivors (pp. 58-86). London: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone.


  1. Here in the UK we have just had a 10 yearly census. It would be great if it had asked people about what occupations they like or would like to do for planning 'occupational services' as well as just municipal ones.

    From my experience working with older adults loneliness seems to be a key issue related to older age, simply because there isn't the sense of community anymore. We've got the Royal Wedding coming up and although some places re planning parties in many others neighbours hardly even speak to each other. My sister and I have lived in our house 3 years and we only just found out there is a neighbourhood watch in our area and that's because our local councillor told us not whoever runs the watch.

    I loved Jamie Oliver's Pay it forward concept of teaching recipes and then people inviting others round to pass it on to them and in turn they do the same. Sooo occupational therapy.

    Sorry that's not a very cohesive reply.

  2. That would be a great idea to be able to obtain information about people's occupations!! What fascinating data that would be!!

    You are right - loneliness and isolation are definitely key aspects of occupational injustice, at least in developed countries. It is so true that we often don't even know our neighbors!

    I am not familiar with Jamie Oliver's pay it forward approach to cooking, but he sounds like an OT at heart!!

  3. Anonymous said...
    You bring out very good points. Occupational injustice is quite complicated thing in developed countries also. Welfare system supports people when for example they don't have work but sometimes with this system its more profitable to be unemployment than go to work. Also we know what risks long-standing unemployment brings to people: social exclusion, mental health problems etc. so this brings out big problem: it's more profitable to be at home without work but how to keep up occupational balance and be one of society's member without work? I think this is OTs place to bring out how to keep the occupational balance in life f.ex. when people are unemployment and in this way promote occupational justice.

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