Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists

Current trends affecting occupational therapy

Changing health and social needs of Canadians and health care delivery systems have influenced occupational therapy practice. Some of these trends include:

  • an aging population.
  • increased awareness of the needs of persons with disabilities.
  • higher survival rates from accidents and injuries.
  • increased emphasis on health promotion and prevention to keep health care costs down.
  • higher incidence of mental health and family problems.
  • changes in work conditions such as job stress and early retirement.
  • a more informed public regarding health and health concerns.

Occupational therapy has expanded from traditional hospital settings to home and community care, where people can address their occupational concerns within the very context of their own environment. Occupational therapists may assume the role of clinical specialist, researcher, educator, administrator or consultant. The membership profile from the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists (CAOT) reveals an increase in the number of therapists working in private practice, research and management. Approximately 25% of CAOT members worked in private practice in 2000, a significant increase from 3% in 1990. Occupational therapists may also consult and advise government and industry in the areas of health policy, disability management and vocational rehabilitation; and act as consultants in assistive technology. The roles and responsibilities of the occupational therapist vary with the practice environment. The following list includes some emerging practice areas for occupational therapists.

Private practice

Working with clients of all ages, occupational therapists conduct both individual assessment and treatment, and group programs. They may provide consultation to industry, schools, government, communities and health facilities. Examples include: case management, return-to-work programs, hand therapy and splinting, stress management, caregiver education, wheelchair prescription, injury prevention, pre-employment functional capacity evaluations, play therapy and hand writing programs.

Home modifications

Occupational therapists consult with building industry professionals including contractors, architects and designers regarding home modifications for barrier free design. The demand for occupational therapy in barrier-free housing will increase as our population continues to age, and people need assistance in maintaining independence in their own homes.

Assistive technology

To ensure clients achieve optimal function at home, work or play, occupational therapists consult in seating and positioning, mobility, wheelchair prescription, computer technology, and environmental controls. The occupational therapist may educate potential users of the equipment, determine prerequisite skills, train the client and caregiver in technology, and evaluate the home, work or community environment for barrier-free access.


More and more occupational therapists are working closely with employers, employees and unions to prevent work-related injuries and to reduce on-the-job stress. Occupational therapists conduct ergonomic assessments, job analyses and functional capacity evaluations. They also recommend work site modifications and design return-to-work and disability management programs.


In addition to conducting research to ensure the cost-effectiveness of our services, occupational therapy researchers are involved in other exciting projects. Some examples include: identifying the factors which influence the personal and social well-being of children with disabilities and their families (CanChild Centre for Childhood Disability Research), and Auto 21 to improve vehicle safety for children and the elderly (Networks of Centres of Excellence).

Retail business

Occupational therapists consult in wheelchairs and other mobility equipment, bathroom safety devices, and activities of daily living (ADL) equipment.

School systems

Occupational therapy services for children with physical disabilities and/ or learning and attention problems may include conducting treatment programs, providing training for teachers and parents, or consulting on designing barrier-free classrooms and safer playground equipment.

Long-term care settings

Occupational therapists design and deliver activities for clients living in residential and nursing care settings to maintain, improve and prevent physical and/or mental health problems. Their role may include program development and evaluation; for example, a volunteer program, or providing in-service education for staff and caregivers.

Higher education programs

Occupational therapists teach occupational therapy or other health profession students in baccalaureate or post-baccalaureate programs, and occupational therapy/rehabilitation assistants in community college programs.




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