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.