OT Graduate Student Nicole Matyas, from Thomas Jefferson University, discusses the International Disability Rights Affirmation Conference held at Virtual Ability on October 3-4, 2014.
With every new presentation we hold in Second Life we learn a little more about the virtual community and a lot more about ourselves as future occupational therapists. Our most recent discussion, “What is OT?” was held at the Sojourner Auditorium in Virtual Ability. The discussion was an exciting one for us; we continually learn throughout our courses about the importance of advocacy for our future profession, meaning we need to act as educators and proponents for OT and all that it entails. Widespread understanding of our skill set is important because only through increased awareness will we be able assist all potential clients and communities that may benefit from our services. Professionals and clients alike need to comprehend the impact we could possibly have on various situations so that the necessary requests and referrals can be made to begin therapy. Without an accurate understanding of our scope of skills, accommodations and interventions may be withheld, thereby withholding progress from people. Therefore, we were especially motivated for this presentation because it gave us a way to get the word out about OT and act as advocates for the profession to which we have devoted our lives!
The prior knowledge we gained through our courses at Thomas Jefferson University, Jefferson School of Health Professions this year definitely shaped the structure and content of our discussion. We began by asking our audience what OT means to them to try to gain an idea of the experiences people have had with OT. As we anticipated, there was some confusion about what OT encompasses, though some attendees did report prior OT interactions. We used this opportunity to outline occupational therapy, including the populations served, the environments addressed, and the interventions used.
According to The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), occupational therapy “helps people across the lifespan participate in the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of everyday activities (occupations).” Our audience was extremely forthcoming in their responses and shared many activities that they do every day that hold meaning for them beyond just the activity itself. Responses reflected a desire for mastery and independence in daily functioning; for instance, putting on a woman’s undergarment meant much more to one attendee than just getting dressed; it meant she could take care of herself. OTs play a key role in helping people to attain goals such as this one.
We also discussed why OTs use meaningful occupations in therapy specific to each client. The audience members recognized that OT works this way in order to utilize people’s own intrinsic motivation to progress. One attendee shared an experience her mother had in a session that was not meaningful or stimulating for her because it did not include activities that were personally meaningful for her, so her motivation to progress was absent. Though we never like to learn about negative experiences, stories such as this one help us OT students realize the importance of staying client-centered in therapy. We are excited that our graduate experience is preparing us to work with our clients in this way.
Our discussion then progressed to cover some of the specifics of OT, including the environments in which we work (schools, clinics, hospitals, industries, senior centers, and many more), the populations we work with (across the lifespan and all diagnoses), and the practices we use and believe in. One of the practices that sparked a lot of conversation was Universal Design. Universal Design has 7 principles: equitable use, flexibility, simple and intuitive nature, perceptible information, tolerance for error, low physical effort, and adequate size/space. These principles are meant to guide the construction of spaces so that everyone can participate and engage equally within the space, regardless of size, shape, ability, and needs. Our audience thought of many ways this idea could be applied, and we hope to see more UD in the future since all people have the right to a comfortable, safe environment that meets all needs.
This discussion was one of our favorites because OT is our passion. We were fortunate to have such an interactive audience, filled with participants of many backgrounds with a wide range of experiences and knowledge about OT. We hope we shed light on our profession, its goals, and its services. We plan to continue to act as advocates for OT and for our clients throughout the future.
Note: You can see our slideshare presentation here
As graduate students new to Second Life, we continue to learn about the similarities and differences between “real life” and the virtual world. For example, we know that in both, technology adds a new layer to the ways we define and experience relationships. But, while we are very familiar with how people communicate through texting, email, and various social media outlets in real life (RL), we wanted to understand the relationship experience in Second Life (SL). Do people build and maintain relationships differently than in “RL”? How are relationships structured in SL? Do SL and RL relationships overlap?
Our preparations for this event differed from our past events, which were largely scripted, beginning with an informative presentation and leading into open discussions. Since we are SL newcomers, we felt that our points of view on this topic did not hold much value. We went in with quotes from users found on community forums, a few relevant statistics on SL relationships, and some formulated questions to guide the discussion. From there, the attendees took the reins.
The attendees expressed a sort of translation between SL and RL social behaviors and relationships of any kind—friendship, companionship, or romantic: there are boundaries, norms, and expectations. With that said, some individuals indicated that SL is a place where they can compensate for challenges in RL, such as disabilities, relationship troubles of their own, or self-esteem issues. As explained in Leshed & McLeod’s (2012) article and shown throughout the discussion, people in SL reveal their “layers” in different arrangements than in RL: “…individuals share experiences, emotions, and who they are from the inside while holding back information such as material life name, contact details, occupation, and age.”
This goes hand-in-hand with “alt-avis,” a theme discussed in depth. People use these to adopt identities for different purposes—education, social interactions, etc. The majority of attendees expressed their choices to keep their identities separate. There seemed to be no overlap between these avis; lives were organized and structured on SL accordingly. Dr. Boellstorfff’s talk delves deeper into the structure of the SL community and how individuals with disabilities fit into these communities.
We left the discussion with the realization that Second Life relationships are not different from RL. In our lives, we take on different identities that we share…or don’t share…depending on the context. We often separate our professional life from our social life, and although we don’t call it an “alt-avis,” isn’t that what it really is? The only difference is that in RL, our external layers are the first to show. With the use of technology, however, this line is being blurred, and the ways in which we reveal our layers is jumbled. The discussion was an educational insight into the world virtual relationships, as well as a way to understand interactions in all dimensions.
How we are using an occupational therapy model to design an interactive exhibit in a virtual world
Have you ever engaged in a discussion about spirituality only to find yourself stuck? What is spirituality? How does it differ from religion? How do different people experience it? And, why does it matter? Answering these questions can be challenging for anyone. But, imagine not being able to use words to talk about it.
The team behind the Garden of Healthy Aging has been working hard to streamline the exhibits in Second Life and the linked wiki pages using the principles of Health Literacy. In the past few months, we updated exhibits and wiki pages on topics such as diabetes, healthy hearts, caregiving, social supports, healthy activity, and brain health to make them more user-friendly.
Though we experienced hurdles with each of these topics, by far the most challenging exhibit to develop was the exhibit on spirituality and aging. We wanted to address the difference between spirituality and religion and focus specifically on spirituality and its effects on aging. We found that while there was plenty of research on religion and aging, evidence on spirituality was more limited. We wanted the exhibit to be inclusive of all beliefs and practices, as well as being concrete enough to convey the meaning of spirituality and how it can be cultivated to improve health outcomes for aging adults.
Because the possibilities for interaction in Second Life are bound only by one’s imagination and building skills, we did not want to limit ourselves to using words as the primary medium. The most effective way to convey this information was to harness interactive capabilities such as animation, object/person interfacing, sound, and links to our wiki pages. The question was how to make it feel intuitive.
The first order of business was to identify a model or theme to guide the design of the exhibit and to ensure consistency of the information presented within it. In our theory class, we had studied the Kawa ‘River’ Model, designed by Japanese occupational therapist, Michael Iwama. This model is used by occupational therapists to help clients map or draw out their lives in a visual way in an effort to help the client identify supports and obstacles in their particular life circumstances.
There are several key features of the Kawa Model. The river itself represents the course of life, with a beginning and end. The river walls and bottom represent an individual’s social and physical environment (family, friends, co-workers). The water represents one’s energy or life flow. Objects in the river, such as rocks or driftwood, change the flow of the water, both positively and negatively. Rocks represent life circumstances (health conditions, injury, illness) and driftwood represents assets and liabilities (personality, values, skills, living situation). The idea is that fewer or smaller objects in the river promote a stronger flow, or better well-being.
The Kawa Model seems to suit the topic of spirituality and aging perfectly. The metaphor of the river and its grounding in elements of nature is fitting for the discussion of spirituality. The Kawa Model is open-ended, allowing for more client-centered exploration of spirituality, and individuals of any culture can relate to the image of the river. The Kawa Model also allows for change across the lifespan, which is an extremely important consideration in a forum focused on aging.
We chose the Kawa Model for use in Second Life because we could effectively convey ideas about spirituality across the lifespan using an interactive river within the exhibit. Visitors in the Garden of Healthy Aging will have the opportunity to obtain their own river models by clicking on a sign that gives them a kit comprising the river, rocks, and driftwood. They can then take the kit home with them and put together a personalized version by naming and positioning the rocks and driftwood as challenges, opportunities, life events, and so forth. For example, enrollment in OT school could be a “rock” that has moved the river in a particular direction. A piece of driftwood covering a portion of the river could represent a challenge or an opportunity presented to the student. In this way, visitors can examine their own lives by experimenting with their models, to show how these factors in their lives change or could change the course of their lives.
Below are screenshots of the spirituality exhibit within the Garden of Healthy Aging, including a close-up of the interactive model. The Kawa Model elements will be added to the Garden and the team will have a public event in which graduate students and faculty will explain the Kawa model as it applies to human adaptation. This event will take place later in September or in early October.
While the interactive model can be used as means of exploring spirituality, it does not necessarily have to serve that purpose and can be used however the visitor would like. Visitors can also give their models to Garden of Healthy Aging staff to be added to the river and become part of the exhibit.
The spirituality exhibit in Second Life is complemented by a corresponding wiki post which describes the Kawa Model, gives definitions and examples of spirituality, and provides evidence to support the cultivation of everyday spiritual experiences to promote health and well-being in older adults. The wiki was intended to be used as a springboard to enhance understanding of the topic of spirituality before diving into the exhibit in Second Life.
Our hope is that purposeful interactions within the Spirituality & Aging exhibit will enhance visitors’ understanding of this complex topic so that they can identify the rocks and driftwood in their river. Reflecting on their own opportunities, challenges, and life events may then help them understand the “flow” of their lives and avoid the feeling of being stuck.
Since our last update, the project team has focused on the importance of integrating health literacy principles into health care education and on developing a checklist for evaluating the fit of virtual world exhibits with principles of health literacy. We presented Exploring the depths of health literacy: Are we teaching this and why does it matter? at the Gerontological Society of America annual scientific meeting in November 2012. Then, in April 2013 we presented Promoting health literacy through leading edge occupational therapy education at the American Occupational Therapy Association. Most recently, we presented our ongoing work on health literacy in virtual worlds at the annual faculty development conference at Jefferson, Evaluating the fit of virtual world exhibits with health literacy principles:
By: Alyssa (Alzimarie) and Annalisa (ALiesel)
On September 29, 2012, Annalisa and I had the opportunity to present at the Pennsylvania Occupational Therapy Association (POTA) state conference about health literacy in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. This was a phenomenal opportunity to learn new skills, present to a larger audience, and empower others in our profession to work towards a more health literate society.
We spent many hours preparing for this opportunity; debating what information was most important to convey, and how to present it in a meaningful, empowering manner so that occupational therapy practitioners could immediately begin to apply health literacy principles in practice. We discussed what health literacy is, why it matters to occupational therapists, how we can apply it to our place of work, and how we’ve begun to apply these principles at Thomas Jefferson University. We also encouraged attendees to participate in Health Literacy Month which occurs throughout October.
About 25 occupational therapy practitioners attended our presentation and the discussion was thrilling! It was so exciting to see people consider how health literacy was already impacting their practice and share what they were doing to promote health literacy. We discussed that there are three levels at which we can impact change: the patient level, the provider level, and the systems level. Change at any of these three levels can have a positive impact on health outcomes. We learned so much from the experienced OTs in the room as they shared their ideas for change on these levels.
Practitioners shared how challenging it can be to communicate with their clients in a health literate way and also discussed some techniques they use to overcome this difficulty. They talked about the importance of checking client’s understanding by asking them to demonstrate a new skill. One practitioner shared that she often involves the patient’s family members in conversations as a way to promote plain language. She explained that some patients find it easier to understand directions when they hear them from a family member who uses familiar words and communication patterns. Another practitioner shared that she uses health literacy principles when providing durable medical equipment. She pointed out that this equipment can be confusing for patients to use unless they have very clear directions. One OT who works in a hand clinic said that she uses the “teach back method” with her patients’ home exercise programs. Before she finishes her treatment sessions, she asks her patients to show her how they will do their exercises at home. She said this helps her see whether or not her instructions were clear. Another OT talked about how she chooses words carefully when talking with patients. She gave the example of the word “flexion.” She explained that even though this word might not seem like jargon, it might not make sense to a patient.
This was a phenomenal learning experience for Annalisa and me. We learned so much about what goes into applying to present at a conference, preparing a presentation, and giving a presentation in a way that facilitates discussion. These were new skills that will help us as we move forward in our careers. I came away exhausted from an intense weekend and weeks of preparation, but am so excited about our next opportunity to present at the American Occupational Therapy Association’s national conference in San Diego, California in April 2013.
We are so grateful to Dr. Susan Toth-Cohen for her support and help walking us through each step of this process. Her insights and ideas were invaluable. Thanks also to each participant who came to our presentation and shared your own ideas. Thank you for your feedback and investment into us as future practitioners who want to provide the best possible care for our patients/clients.
It has been an exciting few months for our work in health literacy. We are thrilled with the opportunities that continue to arise; opportunities to spread the word about health literacy to our peers, professors, and the occupational therapy community at large. As we continue to learn about health literacy, we are increasingly convinced of its importance and transformative power in health care.
I recently read Helen Osborne’s book entitled Health Literacy from A to Z. Osborne talks extensively about how all health care professionals can change the way they interact with clients and promote health literacy. This makes the health care environment more accessible to all of our clients. We’re now reading the book as a team and working hard to apply the principles we’ve learned to our other projects. It is exciting to see my own writing and observation skills improving particularly in our work in Second Life ®.
When you visit the Garden of Healthy Aging, you’ll notice that we are updating our exhibits to be more user-friendly and provide information more clearly. In addition, we’re working to update our wiki pages. This is one of the most exciting ways to apply our knowledge of health literacy in writing, formatting, and design. Our hope is that we can create a useable site that provides a lot of “need to know” information in a way that people of all different reading levels can understand. We are making progress towards our goal, but still have a long way to go and a lot to continue learning!
We are excited to announce that Pfizer Inc. granted us permission to use their “Newest Vital Sign”, a health literacy screen for clients, within our Second Life ® exhibit. This will give users the opportunity to test their level of health literacy as well as tips for improving health literacy. We hope to empower clients to take a greater control in their health and gain confidence in asking health professionals questions.
Dr. Toth-Cohen, PhD, OTR/L is currently developing a course in health literacy for students in a variety of professions at Thomas Jefferson University. This is a great opportunity to help future health professionals gain a greater understanding of the importance of health literacy and how they can interact most effectively with their patients. This class also comes a time when the occupational therapy department at Thomas Jefferson is looking to incorporate the principles of health literacy into the curriculum. We presented to the faculty about health literacy which opened to the door for great discussion about the future of health literacy within the department and the future of our project
Annalisa, Dr. Toth-Cohen, and I will be presenting at the Pennsylvania Occupational Therapy Association conference this September about why health literacy matters to occupational therapists. This is an exciting opportunity to have our work recognized by other occupational therapists in our state and for us to encourage them to integrate health literacy principles into their area of practice. We are looking forward to sharing what we have learned and hope to be a catalyst for change within occupational therapy practice.
This is a thrilling time of change and progress with our program and I am honored to have the opportunity to be a part of it! My hope is that others will continue to catch the dream that we have and empower others to change the way the health care system operates. We are hoping to have many more opportunities to spread the word.