The Wellcome Library acquired the papers of the World Federation of Occupational Therapists (WFOT) in 2010. The collection has recently been catalogued in detail and is now available for consultation (SA/WFO).
Occupational therapists are health and social care professionals trained to help people who have difficulty carrying out their daily activities or occupations independently as a result of physical or mental illness, disability, developmental conditions or social exclusion. Thus, occupational therapists work with people from across the age spectrum.
The occupation stands apart from other more mainstream scientific health disciplines in that it often deals with disorders caused by a combination of factors including biological, social and economic.
The modern health profession of Occupational Therapy was conceived in the early 1910s and the subsequent world wars saw a rapid development of the profession in terms of training and practise. This was in response to the mass scale of injury and the need for subsequent rehabilitation.
The WFOT archive provides a valuable insight into the birth and subsequent growth and evolution of this international association and of the profession between 1951 and 2007.
The papers cover the administrative history, management structure and activities of the Federation primarily through various committee reports and minutes of meetings. It also reflects the development of the WFOT through growth in membership and matters related to education of occupational therapists in member countries which was at times a challenge for some national associations with limited resources.
The collection includes a wealth of contemporary clinical information. This is primarily through sources such as papers presented at International Congresses (held every 4 years); newsletter articles on topical issues contributed by national associations on a rotational basis; and study courses held at the International Congresses. The study courses provided a means of continuing education for qualified occupational therapists.
There are also publications by the Federation which provide information on the vocation of Occupational Therapy for the public as well as guidance for members on important practical issues such as employment requirements in different countries and a code of ethics.
Membership of the WFOT grew to represent associations from 76 nations (in 2011). The collection, therefore, gives fascinating insights on the challenges faced by occupational therapists working in different countries and continents with widely varying occupational health issues ranging from multiple sclerosis to educating disabled children.
Of particular interest are the oral and poster presentations given at the International Congresses. They demonstrate the methods used to deal with a range of conditions, often using new technologies and research and in response to a rapidly changing world. As an example, presentations at one congress could vary from ‘Children who witness violence: consequences and implications for occupational therapists’, in response to the conflicts in Bosnia, Northern Ireland, and Israel; to ‘High–tec solutions for individuals with physical and visual impairments’, a review of hardware and software adaptations such as voice recognition to aid physically and visually impaired individuals (see 12th International Congress, Montreal, Canada, Book of Abstracts, SA/WFO/B/12).
Historians of occupational therapy may also be interested in the book A Chronicle of The World Federation of Occupational Therapists written by Alicia Mendez, a former president of the WFOT. The book provides an informative overview of the federation’s development particularly in the sections on Council Meetings and the workings of the Standing Committee. Each decade (between 1952-1982) saw different phases of expansion: the 1950s were a formation and foundation era; the 1960s saw a rapid growth in membership and the 1970s and early 1980s were marked by progress in professional skills and knowledge. Colour is added to Mendez’s writings by use of anecdotal material and personal memories (see SA/WFO/G/12).
Image: Care for the community. Illustration of medical care in a neighbourhood (Credit: Neil Webb / Wellcome Images B0007074).
Author: Sejal Shah