What in the World Is WFOT?

This week ADVANCE introduces International Perspective, a new regular column on occupational therapy worldwide. Dr. Terry Crowe, a respected leader in the field nationally and internationally, will help readers enlarge their view of the profession by sharing her insights and expertise in international issues.

Did you know that the World Federation of Occupational Therapists (WFOT) helped develop occupational therapy in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka?

Did you know that through the WFOT Web page you can network with occupational therapists who are interested in international opportunities in developing countries?

Did you know that WFOT assisted occupational therapists practicing in many countries throughout Africa to join together, form an African organization (Occupational Therapy Africa Regional Group-OTARG), meet as a group and share practice ideas? WFOT provided the seed money for the First and Second African congresses. The Third African Congress will be held in Mombassa, Kenya, in August 2003. WFOT's vision is that occupational therapy will be available in every country in the world!

As the world becomes "smaller" through communication connections and other influences, American occupational therapists must view the profession from a global perspective and learn to share that vision. We can learn a lot from the occupational therapy activities and perspectives at the world level, and International Perspective will introduce you to them.

WFOT had its formal beginnings in discussions among occupational therapists at a meeting in England in June 1951. The following year 10 countries formed the first world federation and developed a constitution. The United States joined Great Britain (England and Scotland), South Africa, Sweden, New Zealand, Australia, Israel, India and Denmark to inaugurate WFOT.

Helen Willard served as temporary chair of WFOT until formal officers were elected, and Clare Spackman served as its first secretary/treasurer. She also became the first WFOT delegate from the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) and went on to become WFOT president from 1959 to 1961.

Willard and Spackman, of course, wrote the textbook many OT students still use today; it was first published in 1947.

The profession has grown greatly in the past 50 years. In 1952, there were only about 5,000 OTs in the entire world! Over 3,000 of them were residing in the United States. By contrast, the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy Inc. reports that in 2002, there are 114,924 occupational therapists (OTR) and occupational therapy assistants (COTAs) certified to practice by U.S. standards. Most practice in the United States. In addition, according to AOTA statistics, there are 19,858 students studying to be either occupational therapists (15,351) or occupational therapy assistants (4,507).

Currently there are 57 member nations belonging to WFOT.

AOTA members elect three individuals to represent the United States in the World Federation. The delegate is the voting member at WFOT Council meetings and until 2004 will serve on the AOTA Board of Directors. (With a recent by-laws change, this individual will no longer be a voting member of the board after that.) The first alternate delegate sits in the Representative Assembly to represent AOTA members who practice in foreign countries. The second alternate delegate acts as a liaison helping therapists who would like to work temporarily or permanently in other countries. He or she also assists in the planning of the International Day at the annual AOTA meeting. Currently I am the AOTA delegate, with Dr. Frank Stein of South Dakota serving as first alternate and Karenlynn Williams of Texas as second alternate.

Unlike AOTA, WFOT does not have a building or main office in which it houses federation functions. The organization depends upon volunteer leadership by occupational therapists from many countries around the world. There is only one part-time paid secretary, who lives in Australia. The executive leadership elected last June is from Hong Kong, Chile, Taiwan, Australia and Canada.

Every two years the WFOT Executive Board and the official delegates of the national member organizations meet in a member country for a Council meeting to govern the affairs of the Federation, to consider applications of new members and to determine the financial position of the organization. WFOT was recently restructured with five main programs: education and research, promotion and development, standards and quality, international cooperation, and executive. Delegates work on projects of interest at both the Council meetings and throughout the year. For example, the education and research program is writing new minimum educational standards to guide education of occupational therapists around the world.

You can learn more about the World Federation of Occupational Therapists by logging on to its Web page ( To become an individual member, you can join WFOT when you begin or renew your AOTA membership. The membership rate is $23. You will receive the WFOT Bulletin, published two times a year.

The U.S. has the largest membership, with 1,620 joining last year.

I have been a member of WFOT since I became an occupational therapist in 1974. I believe it is important to support the development of our profession worldwide. WFOT is instrumental in helping countries promote occupational therapy. Please consider joining this worthwhile effort!

Terry K. Crowe, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA, is the founding director of the occupational therapy program at the University of New Mexico (UNM) and a professor in the department of orthopaedics in the UNM School of Medicine. She has worked in Bangladesh and Mexico and traveled in 38 countries around the world. She is also the United States delegate to the World Federation of Occupational Therapists and a voting member of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) Board of Directors. The views expressed in this column do not necessarily represent the positions of AOTA.

International Perspectives Archives


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