Aust Occup Ther J. 2021 Nov 25. doi: 10.1111/1440-1630.12775. Online ahead of print.
INTRODUCTION: Assistance dogs perform multiple tasks to support people with disabilities and bring various benefits. Occupational therapists play a key role in assessing or referring clients for assistive technology, which includes assistance dogs. However, little is known about Australian occupational therapists’ experiences with assistance dogs and how they perceive their roles in this area of practice.
METHODS: A cross-sectional online survey was developed and distributed nationally to Australian occupational therapists to glean their experiences and perceptions of assistance dogs and their recommendations to support future practice.
RESULTS: A total of 220 completed surveys were received with all perceiving assistance dogs as beneficial for clients with disabilities. Over 60% agreed it was within their scope to assess or refer clients for assistance dogs, but more than two thirds had not had the occasion to do so and/or lacked relevant education and training. Common difficulties experienced in the referral or assessment process include challenges with accessing and navigating funding, lack of resources and/or assistance dogs, and perceived insufficient evidence to support the use of assistance dogs.
CONCLUSION: Findings indicate that occupational therapists’ lack experience and knowledge of assistance dogs although they perceive assistance dogs as within the scope of occupational therapy practice. This study highlights a need for increasing professional development opportunities for occupational therapists regarding assistance dogs, including assessment and referral processes. This will be steadily more important given the increasing profile and expanding application of assistance dogs, and funding organisation requests for occupational therapists in assessing clients for assistance dogs.
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