Using a computer is an Activity of Daily Living (ADL)

Lane and Ziviani (1999) state that technology access become an increasingly important Activity of Daily Living however I am not certain that occupational therapists think terribly deeply about the significance of computer access in daily life. It’s probably not even a standard question in an ADL assessment!

Using the Canadian Model of Occupational Performance and Engagement (CMOP-E) we can identify how pervasive the computer has become in our lives and see that assessing how, where, when and why our clients use computers is Core OT business!


How do computers impact affect? Well, we all know the frustration of a computer “crashing” or forgetting how or where you saved a precious document and so on, but we also know the joy of conquering a new program, making our first slide show, or maybe the sense of connectedness through emailing a friend or joining an online community.

Cognitive: Computer use varies in its complexity, depending on the task you are doing. Many people find computers easier to use with guidance and practice, demonstrating that accessing a computer regularly facilitates ease of use. (See “affect” above for impact of cognitive level and computer program level being mis-matched!)

Physical: The ergonomics industry (and many OTs and PTs… and optometrists) have worked out that the physical impact of the computer has seen a boom in business. Not being able to touch type, over-using a mouse and staring too long at a screen are three typical sources of over-use injuries brought about by computer use.

Occupation The CMOP delineates occupation into three main areas; Productivity, Self-care and Leisure. This Taxonomy is a guide in breaking down areas of occupation. This Taxonomy can also be a source of frustration when we think about what to put under each productivity, self-care and leisure (e.g.: is cooking productivity, self-care or leisure!? Answer: depends what you’re cooking!)

For this discussion we’ll keep it simple… Computers have changed the world! Computers enable people to participate in productivity, self-care and leisure occupations that didn’t exist 20 years ago. Computers store information (e.g.: work documents, recipes at home, photos, etc), connect people (e.g.: friends, family, support groups, work, social networking etc), provide entertainment (e.g.: games, social networking, buy tickets to a concert!), connect with databases and directories and so on.

Environment The CMOP names aspects of the environment as physical, institutional, cultural and social. All have been impacted by computers.

Our physical environments (built and natural) have changed since the advent of the computer. Computers have changed how we design and use our homes, people seek a place for their computer (or computers) that enables them to be online when they want and in a space they can spend extended periods. Wireless computer access has also meant that we can look up recipes while cooking in the kitchen, then take the computer to another room for another purpose.

In institutional environments such as the workplace, computers are the core tool used in nearly every industry, in towns and cities governments are paying for public spaces to be “connected” so that people can access their computers from almost anywhere. Our mountains have mobile towers on them and being able to access the internet using a mobile phone is fast becoming an expectation, not a dream!

Computers connected to the world wide web also enable access to new virtual communities. Virtual communities such as those in Facebook or MySpace create another social dimension for people to engage, socialize and learn from each other. Second Life is a rapidly growing community in the virtual world where you can walk and talk in the computer using an avatar to talk with other people. You can connect with special interest groups, get information on a range of topics, or simply “hang out” in a night club.

I think as OTs we need to keep in mind how to create safeguards to ensure that vulnerable people are not taken advantage of in all online communities.

Spirituality How does computer use relate to spirituality? Computers directly impact the users experience of purpose and meaning in their lives. Meaning and purpose is so often derived by the important roles we play and how we experience relationships with other people. Computers play a significant role in both these areas. Computers can enable us to achieve our potential in work and personal life. This is seen through the fact that so many people use a computer to effectively complete work tasks, to maintain links with and be involved in the lives of friends and family (email, Skype, MSN etc), to store precious memories in online photo albums, or to expand social horizons through social networking spaces or to manage personal problems in online support communities.

Engagement in the new text Enabling Occupation II (Townsend and Polatajko, 2007) ‘E’ was added to the model to depict ‘engagement’ in occupation.

Computers facilitate engagement in meaningful occupations in a range of environments. Therefore computer use is an important Activity of Daily Living and core OT business!

Lane, A., & Ziviani, J. (1999). Children’s computer access: analysis of the visual-motor demands of software designed for children. British Journal of Occupational Therapy, 62(1), 19-25.

Townsend, E. A., & Polatajko, H. J. (2007). Enabling occupation II : advancing an occupational therapy vision for health, well-being & justice through occupation /Elizabeth A. Townsend & Helene J. Polatajko, primary authors. Ottawa, Ontario: Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists.

2 thoughts on “Using a computer is an Activity of Daily Living (ADL)

  1. As an OT working in a regional specialist centre which conducts computer access assessments I’m bound to agree. For example for so many clients having access to the internet for communication is as vital as using the telephone. Using the computer is certainly an activity and I would assert that for the majority of us a daily occurance so the title of ADL is richly deserved!

  2. Thanks ukot for confirming my thoughts. Being a passionate computer user who is connected in so many ways through my computer I would be at a complete loss if this was taken from my life. I am connected to my family in Australia, my OT colleagues around the world and I use the computer for work, leisure, education and so on. Computers are the second industrial revolution.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s