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Play to highlight experiences of Black occupational therapist students, practitioners

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A researcher at IUPUI wants to help diversify the occupational therapy field and believes theater can help accomplish that.

Sally Wasmuth, an assistant professor in the Department of Occupational Therapy in the School of Health and Human Sciences, is part of a team of researchers that interviewed Black occupational therapy students and practitioners from around the country.

A play, “Black Voices in Occupational Therapy,” is based on those interviews. It will premier virtually at 8 p.m. March 25 on YouTube and Facebook. Register for free at eventbrite.com.

According to Wasmuth, white women make up 83% of the occupational therapy workforce, and women altogether represent 85% of the workforce.

“There’s a history in this country of systemic racism that has impacted who gets accepted into programs, who gets recruited,” she said.

The project is supported by Indiana University’s Racial Justice Research Fund.

It’s not a surprise that occupational therapists are mostly women. Occupational therapy is the “touchy, feely part of medicine,” Wasmuth said, using arts and crafts and so on. The practice started when some realized giving people meaningful activities can have healing effects by itself.

Kelsey Johnson, who wrote the play, said the advantage to presenting this diversity problem through theater — as opposed to a lecture or PowerPoint slides — is it allows the audience to “take a step back” and listen to stories rather than a presentation.

“It gives them the opportunity to experience something and process it,” she said.
The play, which includes three actors, should last about 45 minutes. Johnson said the play is based on about 13 interviews, which made it challenging to decide what to include and what to leave out.

Unfortunately, many of those interviewed expressed the same concerns about the challenges they face in occupational therapy, Johnson said.

There will be a panel discussion with interviewers and interviewees after the play.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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