Debra Stewart (BScOT ’76), one of our illustrious alumni and an extraordinary occupational therapist, has spent the past four decades inspiring students and colleagues alike. Debra has made extensive contributions to both the academic and professional worlds, and the Ontario Society of Occupational Therapists (OSOT) recently recognized these contributions by awarding Debra with their Honourary Life Membership Award. We congratulate Debra on receiving this great honour and on her exemplary career in occupational therapy.
As an associate professor and former assistant dean of the McMaster University Occupational Therapy program, Debra has been an inspiration in educational leadership. She has integrated her love of the profession, focus on evidence-based practice, and desire for knowledge translation to teach, supervise, and mentor countless OTs. Through clinical leadership roles, such as being a founding partner of REACH Therapy Services and Director of Occupational Therapy at ErinoakKids, Debra has also provided numerous OTs with the privilege of her expert tutelage.
Debra’s passion for improving the lives of youth with disabilities and their families has been the driving force behind her many research endeavors over the years. As a member of the CanChild Centre for Childhood Disability Research, her innovative research has focused on best practices for the transition of youth with disabilities into adulthood, and has raised awareness about the impact of transitions on occupational engagement throughout the lifespan. Debra has also been involved with Partnering for Change, a research program aimed at transforming the way school-based services are provided in Ontario. In her role as project manager, Debra has liaised with CCACs and provincial Ministries to support systems and policy issues related to school-based OT services.
Debra has also shared her knowledge and expertise by authoring numerous publications. For example, she was editor of the book, Transition to Adulthood, and was a co-editor for two other important textbooks in occupational therapy. She has written countless book chapters, journal articles, and reports, and has given many scholarly presentations locally and around the world. Debra’s expertise is recognized both nationally and internationally, as she has been sought out as a speaker and consultant on multiple occasions.
Debra has been an active volunteer with OSOT throughout her years of practice and has taken on leadership roles as a member of the OSOT executive during a two-year term as vice-president. She also chaired the OSOT Task Force on Memo 81, which advocated for support services for students with disabilities in the Ontario school system. Debra then went on to help form and join OSOT’s new committee on Occupational Therapists in the School System, where she was able to share her knowledge and expertise for nearly a decade. Recently, this committee evolved into the OSOT School-based Occupational Therapy Committee, and Debra returned to help respond to recent governmental changes concerning OT service delivery in schools. She has also made invaluable contributions as an OT representative on the Special Needs Strategy Program Guidelines Task Group for Integrated Rehabilitation Services, under the direction of the Ministry of Children and Youth Services.
Debra has recently retired and can look back with pride on her outstanding career in occupational therapy and academics, and on the positive impact her work has had our profession and individuals with disabilities and their families. We wish her all the best as she moves forward into the next phase of her life!