When Laura Bulk, MOT’14, is on the job as an occupational therapist, she helps people who were injured in motor vehicle accidents continue doing the activities that bring meaning to their lives.
If someone needs help getting dressed to be able to meet a friend for coffee on Fridays, she arranges a care aid. For someone who wants to get back in shape, she develops an exercise program. If walking near traffic causes a person anxiety, she helps them feel comfortable leaving the house.
“Occupations are the puzzle pieces that make a person’s life meaningful,” Bulk says. “Sometimes an event or illness comes along and knocks those puzzle pieces out of place. Occupational therapists are like puzzlers. We come help you put those pieces back in place so you’re able to live a full and meaningful life.”
As a Master’s student, Bulk received the Tom Henrik Walter Occupational Therapy Award in recognition of her perseverance and hard work. Heddi and Tony Walter created the award in the UBC Faculty of Medicine in honour of their late son to ensure his passion for occupational therapy lives on. Tom graduated with a BSc (OT) from UBC in 1988.
Bulk appreciates the financial assistance and, most of all, the opportunity to meet the Walters.
“That was my connection to the supportive community of people out there who think what I’m doing is important enough to invest in. It’s really encouraging,” Bulk says. “And I was able to say to them: What you’re doing in your son’s memory, it matters.”
When Bulk isn’t working with people one-on-one to build skills and confidence to succeed in the ways they want for themselves, she is working toward her other goal of helping to shift society’s view of disability.
“In all the things I’m doing, I’m motivated by helping to reduce inequities,” says Bulk, a PhD student in the Faculty of Medicine’s graduate program in Rehabilitation Sciences. “Through research, I’m helping to create change at a larger level.”
Driven and inspired to influence policy relevant to blindness, Bulk plans to conduct in-depth interviews with people who are blind and those closest to them in the Vancouver area about their experiences and attitudes toward this sensory disability. She is also collaborating with a photojournalist to create an accessible e-book that challenges perceptions of blindness around the world.
Bulk’s interest in helping people with disabilities emerged from her own experience with blindness. She was born with rare condition called corneal anesthesia that left her without sensation in her face and eyes, making it easy to scratch her eyes without noticing. Her vision changes with the weather, lighting and how much sleep she’s had. Since she has difficulty seeing facial features, she recognizes people by how they walk, and she relies on technology to do her work.
Bulk grew up on her family’s farm near Butchart Gardens outside Victoria, and she makes a point of thanking her parents for their support.
“So often the emphasis is placed on independence. It’s really about interdependence,” Bulk says. “Helping people with disabilities isn’t all about one person. Often it’s about their engagement with family and community and being able to function well. It’s about a mother who loves to cook for her family learning to work with one hand after a stroke.”