Accessing healthcare should not be a privilege but a right for all individuals.
Health equity is focused on creating equal opportunities for all people to achieve health, well-being, and quality of life.
Minority populations are groups of people that are racially, ethnically, or culturally distinct within populations and communities. Minority groups have often experienced historical oppression and have unique needs.
Occupational therapy provides services that help diverse clients live life to the fullest by promoting participation in meaningful activities. This is accomplished by helping clients adapt their environment or task or develop skills to engage in daily activities such as work, school, and cooking.
Health Equity in Occupational Therapy
Health equity is focused on creating equal opportunities for everyone to achieve their best health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states: “Health equity is the state in which everyone has a fair and just opportunity to attain their highest level of health.
Achieving this requires ongoing societal efforts to:
- Address historical and contemporary injustices;
- Overcome economic, social, and other obstacles to health and health care; and
- Eliminate preventable health disparities.” (CDC, 2022)
Health equity is a human right, a public health issue, and an occupational justice issue. It's one of the most important global issues facing our society today.
People from marginalized groups also experience more health-related stress than others. Because of this minority stress, members of marginalized groups are at greater risk for developing certain conditions such as asthma and autoimmunity conditions (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, 2022).
Some conditions disproportionately affect minorities, including people of color and LGBTQ+ people. Minority populations are believed to have higher allostatic load, which contributes to increased stress beyond that of the contribution of health determinants (Rodriquez et al., 2019).
How Occupational Therapists Can Advocate for Health Equity
Occupational therapists are in an ideal position to advocate for the health and well-being of diverse populations.
As part of this process, it's important for occupational therapists who serve marginalized communities that they aren’t part of to:
- Understand what makes those communities unique
- Learn about different cultural norms so they can better serve their clients
- Utilize needs assessments for populations to ensure client-centered care
- Use strategies aimed at improving communication, advocacy efforts, & promoting occupational justice
There are many reasons some clients from marginalized groups may be reluctant or unable to access care. The most common include language barriers, immigration status, and other issues that make it difficult for people in these groups to receive quality healthcare.
In some cases, language barriers can be overcome by using interpreters or translators when needed.
Accessibility is a right for all people, not just for some. People from marginalized groups have unique needs that can be met through access to quality healthcare. We need to advocate for health equity as we strive to improve the overall health of our communities.
The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) is committed to improving the health of all people by improving professional education and advocacy efforts for historically marginalized populations.
Occupational therapists play a critical role in promoting healthcare equity through advocacy, education, research, program development, and client care.
Here are a few strategies you can take to promote health equity:
- OccupationalTherapy.com offers a course by Tasha Perkins Holmes on improving patient-centered care for diverse populations.
- The AOTA is committed to promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the profession with their DEI strategic plan and has free education and resources.
- Learn to practice occupational therapy with cultural humility with this OccupationalTherapy.com course presented by Adeola Solaru, MSOT, OTR/L, and Caitlin Rhoten, OTD, OTR/L.
- Support legislation such as the Allied Health Workforce Diversity Act.
- Become educated on CDC initiatives such as the Social Determinants of Health Maps and Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Health (REACH).
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. (2022). Diseases disporportionately affecting minorities (NIH Publication No. 0925-0668). U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health. https://www.niaid.nih.gov/research/diseases-disproportionately-affecting-minorities
Rodriquez, E. J., Kim, E. N., Sumner, A. E., Nápoles, A. M., & Pérez-Stable, E. J. (2019). Allostatic load: importance, markers, and score determination in minority and disparity populations. Journal of Urban Health: Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, 96(1), 3–11. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11524-019-00345-5
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). What is health equity? Office of Minority Health and Health Equity. https://www.cdc.gov/healthequity/whatis/index.html