Want To Do Advocacy? There’s Something for Everyone
By Stephanie Yamkovenko
There’s a good reason why writing letters and calling legislators is the most popular form of advocacy—it is effective. However, at AOTA we understand that not all practitioners will find writing and calling legislators an easy or enjoyable task. Good news! Advocacy comes in all shapes and sizes. No matter where your talents lie, or how much time you have available, you can be an effective advocate for occupational therapy. Below, determine which statements are most applicable to you and click to get personalized ideas on how to promote the profession to elected officials.
You like to talk and meet new people
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, D.C., area, or like to travel, participate in AOTA’s annual 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 any time of the year to talk about your profession, or even easier, schedule a visit to their district office to meet with them or a staff member when Congress is not in session. 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. Lastly, you can call your legislators today to tell them about your profession and the issues that are important to you and the clients you serve. Look up your elected officials by your zip code on AOTA’s Legislative Action Center.
You’re most interested in local issues
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 you—from mandating autism coverage to licensure laws that affect your state scope of practice. Schedule meetings with your state legislator either at the state capitol or at their local office, and talk to them about occupational therapy. You can also participate in town hall meetings when your legislators hold them in or near your home town.
You are an expert in a certain area of practice or topic
Did you know that AOTA has a team of policy experts who monitor and respond to legislation and rulemaking that might affect occupational therapy? The team is composed of lawyers and lobbyists who understand politics in D.C. and the states inside and out. 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.
You are passionate about the clients you serve
Maybe you aren’t exactly an “expert” in your practice area, but you are 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 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, and Easter Seals. 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 Web site to see if any opportunities exist and if you can serve as an appointed member or a volunteer.
You like to write
If your pen is mightier than a sword, you can use your skills to write letters to your legislators. Monitor AOTA’s Legislative Action Center and find out what issues you need to take action on. After reviewing AOTA’s resources and examples, craft a letter that clearly and concisely explains the issue to your legislator and what actions you would like him or her to take (you can view examples of letters at the Action Center). Not everyone can write an effective letter, so help your colleagues and other AOTA members by providing examples and ideas on how to communicate effectively with Congress on OT Connections.
You are a student
Students can be powerful advocates for occupational therapy. Join the hundreds of students who participate in Capitol Hill Day every year to meet their legislators and talk about the profession. You also can call and write your legislators about issues affecting your future clients and the profession. Participate in your state association’s lobby days and other advocacy efforts. Encourage classmates to join AOTA by telling them about the benefits of being a member of the national Association. Want to do even more? You can contribute to the American Occupational Therapy Political Action Committee (AOTPAC); take the Student Challenge; and get ideas on how to put on fundraisers. If you are absolutely passionate about advocacy, apply for an advocacy fieldwork position and spend a semester working at AOTA Headquarters with policy staff.
You understand billing and coding and reimbursement issues
97003, HCPCS, L codes, CPT, ICF. Still with us? AOTA’s Reimbursement and Regulatory Policy department (RRPD) works to ensure that Medicare, Medicaid, and private payers cover and pay for occupational therapy services. If you have experience with billing and coding for occupational therapy services, the RRPD team could use your help. When writing comment letters, meeting with Medicare contractors and administrators, and examining rules it is helpful for the RRPD team to be able to understand the way you code and bill for services. You can assist the team when they are analyzing new rules and local coverage determinations. Start participating today by monitoring the RRPD forum on OT Connections and adding comments and replies to the posts. Also, complete a volunteer profile on the COOL database and select Reimbursement & Regulatory Issues as your interest area.
You are a technology and social media junkie
Chances are your legislators are on Facebook and Twitter. Have you “liked” them yet? Follow them on social media and start a conversation with their staff (find Facebook profiles for members of the U.S. House of Representatives here and the U.S. Senate here). 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, Facebook, or other social media platforms (check out the Stop the Therapy Cap group for ideas). Invite your colleagues and write and share information about advocating for occupational therapy. OT Connections has forums, blogs, and groups where practitioners are already talking about advocacy—join the conversations today.
You are an occupational therapy practitioner, researcher, or student (everyone can do this one!)
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. You can also contribute to and support AOTPAC.
We want to know how you do advocacy. Tell us on OT Connections.
Stephanie Yamkovenko is AOTA’s staff writer.