Advocacy: How to Get Involved

There’s a good reason why writing letters and calling legislators is the most popular form of advocacy—it is effective. However, at the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) we understand that not all practitioners will find writing and calling legislators an easy or enjoyable task. The good news is that advocacy comes in all shapes and sizes. As occupational therapy practitioners, we look for the skills, abilities, and strengths of our clients to help them live their lives in the best way possible. Why not do the same for ourselves as occupational as advocates for our profession?  We have a diverse and vast array of talented individuals in our profession; let’s use that to our advantage. For every passion or skill, there is a form of advocacy.

Meet With Your Legislator in DC

  • Congressional Meetings in Washington, DC
  • AOTA’s Capitol Hill Day

If you’re a sociable person, the traditional modes of advocacy—Capitol Hill visits and calling legislators—are perfect for you. If you live near the Washington, DC area or like to travel, participate in AOTA’s Capitol Hill Day in the fall. You will attend a morning briefing on the issues most important to occupational therapy, and then spend the day visiting the offices of your representative and senators.

If you cannot participate in Capitol Hill Day, you can schedule appointments with your legislators at almost any time of the year to talk about occupational therapy and the issues affecting our profession. Visit the Tips and Tools page for information about coming to Washington and everything you need to know about setting up a Congressional meeting.

Meet with your Legislator at Home

  • Congressional Meetings in your State/District

If you want to participate in advocacy for your profession from your own backyard, start at your state capitol. Contact your state occupational therapy association to participate in their advocacy efforts, including their state capitol lobby days. Your state legislators are developing and deliberating on legislation that could affect insurance coverage, reimbursement, and your state’s scope of practice definitions. Schedule meetings with your state legislator either at the state capitol or at their local office, and talk to them about occupational therapy.

You don’t have to go to Washington to meet with your federally-elected officials. You can arrange the same meetings back home in their districts. The process is the same. Visit the Tips and Tools page for more information on setting up meetings with your Members of Congress.

Remember that for both federal and state officials, you don’t have to arrange a meeting in their office. You also can participate in town hall meetings, or invite your legislator to tour your facility or speak at your school.  It is important to remember, that setting up these meetings takes time.  It may be six months from your first contact to the final meeting, but stick with it and your efforts will pay off.

Call or E-mail Your Legislator

  • Legislative Action Center
  • Virtual Capitol Hill Day

If you want to action right now, you can communicate with your legislators today from the comfort of your own home. To inform them about your profession and the issues that are important to you and the clients you serve, go to AOTA’s Legislative Action Center to monitor current legislation, identify your Members of Congress, gather your legislator’s contact information, and even contact you member’s office directly through the Legislative Action Center. Or for a more personal approach, craft your own letter that clearly explains the issue to your legislator and what actions you would like him or her to take.  Template letters are available on the Legislative Action Center; write your own, use the template, or do a bit of both!

You can also participate in AOTA’s Virtual Capitol Hill Day by writing your legislators about occupational therapy on the same day as other practitioners are making visits. Stay tuned for the next Virtual Capitol Hill Day.

Support AOTPAC

  • Donate to AOTPAC
  • Hold fundraisers for AOTPAC                                             

If advocacy is not your passion, but you still care deeply about the welfare of your profession, you can contribute to the American Occupational Therapy Political Action Committee (AOTPAC). The purpose of AOTPAC is to further the legislative aims of AOTA by using funds to support federal public officials (U.S. Senate or U.S. House of Representatives) who support or advocate for the profession of occupational therapy by introducing or supporting AOTA-drafted bills. Supportive legislators may also act by raising awareness about issues affecting occupational therapy by asking questions during Committee hearings and making statements for the record.

Students who want to contribute to AOTPAC, but have budgets that are pretty tight, can also join their occupational therapy classmates in taking  the Student Challenge or get ideas on how to put on fundraisers and contribute as a group. If you are absolutely passionate about advocacy, apply for an AOTA fieldwork position and spend time working with policy staff and occupational therapy experts at our national office.

Advocate Through Social Media

  • Comment and Like on Facebook
  • Follow on Twitter
  • Post on OT Connections

Chances are that your legislators are on Facebook and Twitter. Have you “liked” them yet? Follow them on social media and start a conversation with their staff (use the Legislative Action Center to find their congressional website which will link to Facebook and Twitter). Comment on their updates, re-tweet their breaking news, and send messages to let them know about the profession. You can also use your social media skills to create an advocacy group or blog on OT Connections, which offers forums, blogs, and groups where practitioners are already talking about advocacy; or visit Facebook, which currently has a Stop the Therapy Cap group, or other social media platforms. Join today and invite your colleagues and write and share information about advocating for occupational therapy.

Get Involved with AOTA

  • Be a member of AOTA
  • COOL database                                 

The most important way to be a full-time advocate for occupational therapy is to continue being a member of AOTA, which is something all practitioners can do. Encourage classmates and fellow practitioners to join AOTA by telling them about the benefits of being a member of our national Association.

If you want to get even more involved, AOTA has an extensive range of opportunities. AOTA has a team of policy experts who monitor and respond to legislation and rulemaking that might affect occupational therapy. This team is composed of lawyers and lobbyists who understand the intricacies of politics in DC and all 50 states. However, sometimes we need the help of practitioners to understand how rules or policies will affect the profession in practice. If you are an expert in an area of practice or on a specific topic, the policy team could use your help in analyzing rules, developing clinical examples of how rules would affect clients, and gathering other information that would assist in writing comments and letters to policymakers. To participate, complete a volunteer profile on the COOL database and select advocacy as your interest area.  

Get Involved With Other Organizations

If you are a strong AOTA advocate, but you are also passionate about your clients and want them to have access to your services and the ability to live life to its fullest. Your state and federal legislators want to know about problems people are facing in the communities that they represent, so call or write and tell them. Your perspective as a professional will be valued. You can also join and participate in patient advocacy groups such as the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, National Disability Rights Network, Center for Medicare Advocacy, Councils on Developmental Disabilities,  Easter Seals, and many more. Lend your occupational therapy expertise to these organizations to advocate for your clients. Also, every state has advisory boards, commissions, and committees for a range of topics such as patient rights and aging and disability. Many of these groups require an appointment by the governor or a legislator. Explore your state government’s website to see if any opportunities exist and if you can serve as an appointed member or a volunteer.