Flourish and Be – a sensory-friendly, bespoke Occupational Therapy-led hairdressing salon – in Clonakilty, Co Cork has been announced as this year’s winner of the Ann Beckett Award.

Founded by practising Occupational Therapist, Emma Connolly, the salon was set up following Emma’s years of experience working with families with neurodivergent members and learning of their struggles with everyday activities – in particular, haircutting.

Emma, a native of Clonakilty, was presented with the 2023 Ann Beckett Award at the Association of Occupational Therapists Ireland (AOTI) annual conference, which is taking place today (05.10.23) and tomorrow at the Slieve Russell Hotel, Co Cavan. The Ann Beckett Award is presented to an Occupational Therapist who has showcased an innovative idea that has led to significant client engagement in meaningful activities.

Commenting today, Emma explained the concept of the salon: “At the salon, we’ve created a safe and welcoming space for individuals of all abilities that is specially designed to minimise sensory stimuli – like bright lights, loud noises and strong odours that can trigger sensory overload, anxiety and stress. The biggest advantage for families is our professionally customised services and pre-appointment consultations with me. Here, I work with individuals and their families to tailor the salon experience to the specific sensory needs and preferences of each client. This individualised approach ensures that everyone receives the care and attention they need.

“Occupational Therapy isn’t just about therapy sessions; it’s about enhancing the quality of life of individuals and families in their everyday activities. Our salon demonstrates the powerful impact that Occupational Therapy can have in real-life situations, by blending expertise and innovative design to foster sensory regulation, social interaction, self-expression and community inclusion.”

Emma continued: “I would love to see more businesses create more accessible environments and embrace neurodiversity for all customers – regardless of their abilities or backgrounds. What I’ve learned from being an Occupational Therapist, and now from running the salon, is that inclusivity benefits everyone, and by making small changes, we can make a really big difference in people’s lives.”

Congratulating Emma on her achievement, Odhrán Allen, CEO of AOTI, said: “Emma’s project is an excellent example of Occupational Therapy innovation that makes a real tangible difference in people’s lives – making her a very deserving winner of the Ann Beckett Award. Emma’s salon is one of a kind in Ireland and is fully integrated within the community in Clonakilty town so that it is easily accessible to everyone. It is a perfect example of inclusiveness, and how an environment can be respectfully tailored to meet diverse needs.”

AOTI Conference: The Healthcare Profession of our Time

The annual AOTI conference is taking place across two days featuring a range of speakers on various topics including palliative care, dementia, sexual health, service and resource development, and occupational science.

The conference will welcome over 250 professionals from the Occupational Therapy sector over the course of the two days. Speaker highlights from the line-up include:

  • Samantha Shann, President of the World Federation of Occupational Therapists;
  • Joanne O’Riordan disability activist, columnist and public speaker; and
  • Dr Anita Atwal, Associate Professor of Interprofessional Working, London South Bank University.

Mr. Allen added: “This year’s conference explores Occupational Therapy as ‘the healthcare profession of our time’. The need for Occupational Therapists across the country continues to grow – with an ageing population, an increase in chronic illness, in addition to an increased demand among people with disabilities, children, older adults, homeless people and people in mental health settings.

“As the demand for Occupational Therapy services continues to grow, Occupational Therapists nationwide are experiencing many challenges – particularly in relation to capacity issues arising from understaffing and long-waiting lists. These challenges continue to affect our members’ and indeed all Occupational Therapists’ capacity to provide the high-quality services that they want to. We cannot allow these issues to persist, and we are calling on the government and the HSE to work with us, to ensure that Ireland can provide the Occupational Therapy services that it is capable of, and that our Occupational Therapists are supported – not just as a commitment to our healthcare services, but as an investment in the overall well-being and independence of our wider communities.”

Further information about AOTI and the conference is available at www.aoti.ie