The Inaugural Experience, From the Eyes of an AOTA Member


By Stephanie Yamkovenko

As President Obama was leaving the stage following his second Inauguration, he turned around, looked out at the crowd gathered on the National Mall, and said, “I’m not going to see this again.”

Anne Cronin, PhD, OTR, FAOTA, was thinking the same thing.

As the winner of the American Occupational Therapy Political Action Committee (AOTPAC) contest, Cronin was watching the Inauguration from only a few hundred yards away. “It was such a simple spontaneous reflection from President Obama,” says Cronin. “I realized that the same was true for me—this was a once in a lifetime experience.”

AOTPAC sponsors two contests that offer AOTA members the opportunity to attend the high-level political events of the Inauguration and the Congressional Swearing-In. (Read about the AOTA member who won the contest to attend the Congressional Swearing In here).

Cronin’s weekend kicked off on Friday afternoon, and throughout the weekend she attended a gala, a brunch, a reception, a dinner, the Inauguration viewing party, and an Inaugural Ball. Cronin attended the events with the AOTPAC Chair Gail Fisher, MPA, OTR/L, FAOTA; Christina Metzler, AOTA’s chief public affairs officer; and Heather Parsons, AOTA’s director of legislative advocacy. Kelsi Shough, an occupational therapy student and AOTA legislative affairs intern, was able to participate in two events and Karen Jacobs, EdD, OTR/L, CPE, FAOTA, who was visiting her daughter in D.C., also joined AOTA at a few events. AOTA co-hosted both the Inauguration viewing party and the Michigan Inaugural Ball.

Cronin was not the only who had never attended an Inauguration. “I didn't realize the Inauguration was such a big event in D.C.,” says Fisher. “There was so much excitement and celebration. My experience served to motivate me as a leader, educator, and citizen.”

Throughout the weekend’s events, the AOTA members and staff were advocating for occupational therapy with a variety of politicians and decision makers, as well as the general public who were attending inaugural events. These events bring together a variety of people from around the country. “It is definitely not business as usual in Washington, D.C.,” says Parsons. “I think that change of pace and the excitement helps to open people up, and to get them talking. In this way, it was a great time to talk about occupational therapy and the difference it makes in people’s lives.”

Cronin spoke with AARP staff about CarFit and talked about occupational therapy with people in marketing and Web design, and with regional managers for national companies. “I talked about occupational therapy at every event,” says Cronin. “I was able to help many people better understand the enormous scope of what we do.”

Fisher spoke about occupational therapy with the governor of Illinois, U.S. Representative Danny Davis, and U.S. Representative Tammy Duckworth’s chief of staff. “While I mentioned occupational therapy to everyone I met with, our longest conversation was with Tammy Duckworth’s chief of staff,” says Fisher. “We talked about mutual interests since Representative Duckworth received extensive occupational therapy after her helicopter was shot down. The chief of staff was very receptive and encouraging.” Duckworth was a speaker at AOTA’s 2012 Annual Conference & Expo—watch a video of her presentation here.

In addition to promoting the profession, the AOTA members and staff attending the events were also inspiring the younger generation. “As a student, I felt so privileged to be able to participate in the inaugural events attended and hosted by AOTA,” says Shough. “When you get the opportunity to interact with individuals that have substantially impacted the profession of occupational therapy, you can’t help but be influenced by the intense passion and motivation that radiates from all of the OT advocates.”

The AOTPAC contests provide AOTA members the opportunity to participate in historic events and see AOTA staff in action, says Fisher. “It is a reward to our donors and a reminder of why contributing to the PAC is important. Hopefully, the winners will be more motivated than ever to participate in grassroots advocacy and to support the PAC on an ongoing basis.” Learn more about donating to AOTPAC here.

Cronin has been a regular AOTPAC donor for many years and, with 30 years of experience in the field, knows the importance of promoting occupational therapy to policy makers and political groups. “I very much enjoyed experiencing the pomp and circumstance of this event, but probably the greatest thing I gained was the opportunity to sit down with Gail, Chris, and Heather and better understand the priorities and efforts AOTPAC and AOTA make on my behalf.”

Stephanie Yamkovenko is AOTA’s staff writer.

See more pictures of AOTA at the inaugural events here.