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OT and Volunteering: The Perfect Match

Vol. 24 •Issue 18 • Page 11
Reflections on Practice

OT and Volunteering: The Perfect Match

Volunteering is one activity for which you may accrue professional development units (PDUs) to meet renewal requirements for NBCOT re-certification. You may to volunteer your time and talent with a well-established organization or create the activities through which you donate your skills.

Although it takes effort to research suitable organizations and determine your "fit" within their scope of service or to develop your own activity, you can weave volunteering into your schedule. Transportation to the site is usually the only cost you'll incur.

During the past year I've increased the frequency of roles I occasionally practiced before and have begun some new roles. One of these roles has been assisting people with organizing to improve independence and home accessibility.

My friend Cathy was greeted one morning by the driver of a delivery truck. It turned out her recently-widowed father had packed up all of his wife's belongings and shipped them to his daughter. Following her mother's death, Cathy's rheumatoid arthritis had flared up, and she could barely navigate from the outside door through the family room, much less sort through even one box.

Since it was summer time, I called a school-system peer and good friend, Sharyn, and we set a date to help Cathy clear the room. In three hours we had placed every box, one at a time, in front of Cathy at an optimal height for her reach and view, and she made hundreds of decisions on what to keep, share or toss. More than half of her decisions required our gentle verbal "cueing" to help her distinguish between the actual and sentimental value of the object.

Sharyn and I loaded up the items Cathy had decided to "share" and headed for Goodwill. Almost a year later, Cathy reports having improved access to her home through her family room and has even hired a teen to help her move boxes to her attic.

My approach to helping another friend was much more comprehensive in nature. Michele is a clerical worker in an office building I frequently visit. Fiercely independent and non-complaining in nature, she daily navigates two flights of stairs in order to reach her work space. Once there she sits for eight hours at a work station, which is uncomfortable and fatiguing.

Only a few people know that she has significant physical needs. She doesn't discuss them.

An opportunity for friends to break into Michele's tightly walled self-reliance came when new computers were installed in the entire building.

Several friends worked behind the scenes to ensure that Michele received a huge monitor to accommodate her visual needs. We "happened" to rustle up a desk chair with casters that made it easier for Michele to sit down and swivel toward her work area in order to access the computer. Fortunately, there were many "glitches" in how the new computer worked with the specialized software needed in her job, so various tech-savvy colleagues worked side-by-side with Michele to help her get things running smoothly.

Little by little, Michele began to open up and ask for specific assistance, first in matters related to the job and then, slowly, home accessibility.

That following summer, Michele allowed her friends into her home to help make it more accessible. At first just we relocated, shared or trashed just the unnecessary furniture and items in the hallways. In later sessions, we overhauled the kitchen, master bedroom, family room and storage room.

A retired physical therapist formerly with our school staff functioned as "case manager" and worked with various community agencies to secure funds to have the bathroom remodeled and install a pass-through door into the tub. Also, the washer/dryer, formerly housed in the garage, was moved into the large kitchen.

Although Michele acknowledged how easily she could now manage the laundry and how the tub adaptation had made bathing less difficult for her and a family member with disabilities, the real success, to me, was her willingness to discuss her needs and thoughts about the future. Those of us who worked on the teams are able to ask how specific home projects are progressing, and we all delight in her independence and planning for the future.

Look around you. There are countless friends and acquaintances who might need a helping hand in organizing their homes or work spaces to improve independence and accessibility. This is just one way in which occupational therapists can utilize their training and experience in a volunteer capacity.

Karen Wellek Scott, MS, OTR, is an occupational therapist with Chesterfield County Public Schools in Chesterfield, VA.


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