The Power of a Pixel: 400 Advocates Put OT in High Def on Capitol Hill
By Stephanie Yamkovenko
Across the nation’s capital and in the halls of congressional office buildings, our nation’s lawmakers heard the voice of occupational therapy from 400 occupational therapy practitioners and students. The 2010 Capitol Hill Day was AOTA’s largest, and the record-setting number of attendees were excited and passionate about advocating for the profession and the clients they serve.
“You get to see people from all across the nation—we’re really represented all the way to the West Coast today—and that is exciting,” said Stephanie Singleton, OT/L. “There are people who have done this multiple times, and then there are people like me who are here for the first time.”
During AOTA’s legislative briefing, attendees learned about the ins and outs of meeting with lawmakers and staff, a summary of the most pressing issues facing the profession today, and tips on how to convey their message effectively. AOTA President Florence Clark, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA, reminded attendees that for occupational therapy to be in high definition, each “pixel” needs to speak with a powerful voice. For the remainder of the day, 400 advocates for occupational therapy met with policymakers from more than 20 states.
“I was so touched and impressed that no less than 400 occupational therapists, occupational therapy assistants, and students went the extra mile to put occupational therapy advocacy in high definition,” says Clark. “I witnessed up close how each one of us (a distinct pixel in the room) contributed to a collective vibrancy, making perfectly clear the importance of the profession for consumer health and well-being along with our most pressing policy concerns.”
Advocating for the Profession
Above: AOTA President Florence Clark with lobbyists Ralph Kohl (left) and Tim Nanof making the rounds on Capitol Hill.
Practitioners, students, and AOTA leaders attending Hill Day discovered the energy of meeting with lawmakers and putting advocacy in action.
For example, Singleton is the former state president of the New Mexico OT state association and, as a student, completed an internship with AOTA Federal Affairs staff. “I’ve been involved in different areas of advocacy, but this is the first time that I’ve attended Hill Day and it was very exciting,” she says. “I decided I needed to really walk the walk and talk the talk—what better way to do it than to join 399 of my fellow professionals and students out here today?”
Yvonne Randall, EdD, OTR/L, FAOTA, traveled from Nevada to attend her first Hill Day. “I felt it was really important to attend as the incoming speaker of the Representative Assembly, but also because of the political component of really needing to be active to make sure all of our clients have access to services,” she says.
Students from many universities attended as well.
“We brought students today to let them learn more about advocacy and give them the opportunity to advocate beyond the patient level and have the opportunity to meet with their respective congressperson,” said Diane Hunter, MS, OTR/L, academic fieldwork coordinator for Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC).
During a meeting with a staff member for Representative Roscoe Bartlett (R) of Maryland, occupational therapy assistant students from CCBC and occupational therapy students from Towson University spoke passionately about the clients their profession serves and explained the issues clearly and concisely. After that first meeting, the students were energetic and ready to attend more congressional meetings.
Advocacy Beyond the Hill
As the 400 occupational therapy practitioners and students advocated in Washington, D.C., AOTA members from across the nation participated in Virtual Hill Day by sending letters to their representatives and senators.
For those who did not attend Hill Day this year, Singleton urges all practitioners to sign up for next year’s event to make their voices heard on Capitol Hill. “Any time that you have the opportunity to promote the profession, you should,” she says. “The first meeting I was nervous, and I didn’t expect to be, but it got better after that. I thought, ‘I can do this, I am the professional, I know what I’m talking about, and let me get in there and tell them what I know.’”
Clark believes that the effects of members’ advocacy during Hill Day and Virtual Hill Day will be wide-reaching. “I have no doubt that because of our enthusiasm, clarity, and just sheer numbers we will have unprecedented successes in advocacy in the coming months—and right now is the time for victories!”
View photos of the 2010 Capitol Hill Day on OT Connections.
Stephanie Yamkovenko is AOTA’s staff writer.