Glimpse 1: Personal Transformation—Heavy Hitter Roles
Mr. Shrutarshi Banerjee lives in Kolkata, and if you are lucky enough to meet him, he will be introduced an entrepreneur, a manager, and a business partner. His life has changed so much from the days of pre-vocational class engagement that were not leading toward employment or other valued roles.
Several of his supporters, including his family, were exposed to the ideas of inclusive practice and valued roles through workshops and collaborations in West Bengal, and Amrita Roy Chowdhury was a notable early-adopter in West Bengal and across India. She wanted to have the experience of helping a few people move into valued social roles, and see the impact on the larger business community. Change-agentry on the individual and the societal scale are Amrita's passion.
Shrutarshi began his entrepreneurial career as one of three partners starting up a small-scale catering business known as Sip n Bite, with a few customers and some excellent experience. Mr. Banerjee is a person many people would quickly judge as not able to work, but his support team was determined to help people see his potential, and see him succeed. He is now a partner in a sidewalk café business located on a classic corner crossing in Kolkata, serving a lovely breakfast al fresco. Mr. Banerjee handles the business side of things by taking the orders, collecting the money, and making change. His business has been written up in many media formats, and is a part of the leading edge, up-and-coming business trends in booming Kolkata. At the same time, he shatters myths and stereotypes about people with autism, and does his family proud.
Amrita and her team understand from their exposure to Social Role Valorization the importance of highlighting the most valuable aspects of a role, while making sure the person also is authentically in the role. This understanding that people may need invisible support to more fully fill the role is an important SRV implementation concept. The transformation in Mr. Banerjee's life serves as a testimony to the importance of valued roles, and the potential to create valued space for everyone at the community table.
Glimpse 2: On Ownership
When Bhawna and Rosy left the shelter home, they owned nothing – not a stitch of clothing, a photograph, or a memento to tell their story, to hold their history, and ground them. Those who assisted these young women to leave that shelter home in the north of India and move to a typical home in a village understood the importance of having personal possessions. They are a form of asset, not only a financial asset but an identity asset.
One of the wounds often inflicted on marginalized people is that they experience grinding poverty – material as well as financial. The team who supported Bhawna and Rosy understood this well, and have worked to assist each young woman to develop her own personal possessions. Rosy and Bhawna are wonderful hostesses, and when they welcome you to their home, they are so anxious to show you their bedrooms, their almiras and, specifically, the things that they own now that they have had a fresh start. One of the reasons institutionalized people often have few possessions is that they are often stolen or create problems between people living in the institution. One of the important reassurances that Bhawna and Rosy have is that their space is theirs alone, their possessions are theirs alone, and they will be safeguarded and protected.
In SRV training, we think of the many wounds experienced by marginalized people as bricks on the backs of already vulnerable people. As a response, we recommend that people find ways to prevent, reduce, and compensate. Helping both these young women develop personal possessions that express them, define them, and give them deep joy and pride is one way to take bricks off.
Glimpse 3: A Vision with a Plan
In the city of Bengaluru, the families and leaders of Bubbles Centre and Pragati joined together to empower families to engage powerful, inclusive, person centered tools to help imagine and move towards positive and possible futures for the students and young adults they serve. Within their method, a group of families joined hands to learn to facilitate the PATH process as well as Personal Futures Planning. Over 20 such processes have been led by parent facilitators to work towards full futures for 20 individual children and adults, ranging in age from 5-35. As a result, young Maaya has gathered with over 20 family members, friends, teachers and neighbors to create an inclusive future. Arvind explored and developed a passion for care and healing of the earth through sustainable farming and water saving techniques, and Aditya sketched his desired future out, leading to his first experience in independent living in his own place. PATH is a wonderful way to create a vision of valued roles, and works so well when laid upon a foundation of Social Role Valorization.
Glimpse 4: ’Tis People that Matter
Kiran, a young woman with developmental disabilities, lived in a congregated, segregated institution under terrible conditions for many years, as both a child and an adult. Moving to a typical home with 3 other women was a big change in her life, and she had no friends or relatives to welcome her there, except for the staff who are working with her and the women she moved in with. As we all know in SRV, there is a tendency for natural relationships, if a vulnerable person has any at all, to be replaced by paid relationships in the form of paid workers. In Kiran’s situation, we realized soon after her move that she was surrounded by people who were paid to be in her life, or who were volunteers for her service organization. They are caring, committed, and dedicated staff, but one cannot forget that they are, indeed, paid workers, and people need more than just paid or volunteer workers in their lives.
SRV theory highlights the lack of freely-given relationships as a nearly universal “wound” experienced by so many vulnerable and devalued people.
The team began to wonder, where might young women be found who are about Kiran’s age in the town where she lives who might be excellent possible friends? Well, look and you’ll often find. A Community College sits quite close to the place where Kiran works, full of twenty something young women who are interested in many of the same things Kiran is, and might be interested in knowing her. With a few careful introductions, Kiran was quickly included in several friendships with students at the community college.
As we know from the SRV theme of “Personal Social Integration,” relationships with valued people in the community are important for many reasons. The relationships that Kiran is building with the college students have good chances of benefitting Kiran herself, her close social circles, and the community at large, for many reasons proven by empirical research but also in concert with the values ascribed to by our major civic and religious traditions.
And for Kiran, we now need to support her to hold on to, and get stronger in this valued role of friend, to be one step closer toward attaining a full, rich, and meaningful life within her community.
Glimpse 5: The Real Thing
Samarpan always wanted a job. He wanted to travel to work, get paid, and work just like any other young person his age. However, studying in a special school, he was constantly protected, and taught skills in “pretend situations,” so for him, real work had not been a real consideration. And then came the introduction to SRV. A personal futures plan was developed alongside Samarpan, in which he expressed his desire to work at a real job. At the same time, the organization that supports Samarpan, Ashish Centre, was exploring SRV implementation, and had learned about some important aspects of skills teaching relating to helping learners develop real skills.
Soon, Ashish Centre was approached by a company who said they wanted to hire people with disabilities for e-commerce operation. They were excited about guiding Ashish to develop a special area in their building that looked just like their materials handling room, so that Samarpan and others could “train up,” and when they were ready, move into the real work setting and the real job. Sounds great, right? Except that SRV had taught us differently, and we gently negotiated on this point, and asked that Samarpan and any others interested in applying learn and train on the job, in the real workplace. So, Samarpan went to his new place of work, and learned the skills he needed for his job, on the job.
His supervisors were very helpful and Samarpan learned about his job, on the job, from his peers and supervisors. There was no transfer of skills required from one setting to another and he stepped into the valued role of staff in a manner which was similar to any person in a new job. Now the Ashish Centre has assisted several other people with autism to work with the company, with two of them already promoted to supervisory positions. As firm believers of ‘pedagogical verisimilitude,’ Ashish has moved away from creating pretend situations. They learn the skills they need in local businesses and restaurants, using real public transportation to navigate in the society by being in society.
As a professional working with those with disabilities, I often come across situations where schools create ‘mock’ situations to teach skills to people with disabilities. We might find pretend shops, pretend workplaces, and even pretend restaurants located in the school itself. Social Role Valorization approaches the idea of competency enhancement with a developmental approach, and one aspect is that people learn best when they are taught in the environment where the behavior is expected to be carried out. In fact, when one learns in the “fake” environments, one is simply less likely to generalize successfully. Dr Wolfensberger coined the term “pedagogic verisimilitude,” meaning that teaching is most likely to be successful when the tasks are real, not fake “mock-ups,” and when they are taught in the natural, real environment. Simply speaking, it means teaching skills in an environment which is as close to the natural situation as possible, and using real materials, not representational ones.
For Samarpan, as well as many stakeholders in the process of trying to use SRV, it was a timely connection of the right idea…. coming at the right time…. with the right people listening.
Glimpse 6: Bending Over Backward to Strengthen a Role
Person-Centered Planning can be a powerful method to help envision all sorts of valued roles a person might move into. Autism Society West Bengal gave their organization a powerful boost when they combined their SRV savvy with a tool like PATH to give a roles-based vision. Mr. Amitava Basu took center stage at his PATH planning session, surrounded by the people he most trusts and regards. When he began to talk about how important his role is as a classroom assistant at the Lake Gardens unit of ASWB, his circle members listened. They began to think about ways he might fill the role of school employee more fully. STRENGTHENING existing valued roles is one of the important parts of SRV theory, and the people in Amitava’s circle understood this, and used this idea in supporting him.
One way to strengthen Amitava’s role was to help him take on more valued activities in that role. Amitava is a natural public speaker and a man who loves to be in the center of things. He decided he would like to be a part of the orientation team at his school, providing training presentations at the parent training sessions. Not only does this strengthen his current role, but it is also a very fine example of the conservatism corollary (bending over backward to compensate) in practice. After all, being a part of the new batch of parent training means you are automatically respected and listened to as a mentor. As Amitava teaches about school-wide policies and procedures, he is also perceived as an expert on the subject, an added bonus to all the “good things of life” coming his way.
Glimpse 7: Individual Transformation: Life-Giving Roles During Lockdown
Social devaluation and marginalization diminishes people, makes people seem small, and even makes people invisible to the rest of society, particularly if they are locked away in mental hospitals. Valued social roles, even small ones, have the capacity to help people be bigger, stand taller, feel stronger, and shine.
This video shows how five women incarcerated in a mental hospital are able to shine as they affirm their participation as volunteers, helping in a movement to keep people safe within the walls. It illustrates the dramatic impact of social roles for people who are starved for them.
Anjali Mental Health Rights Organization, working toward the freedom of the most marginalized, created this video, and we thank them for reminding us of the potential for people even in the most formidable circumstances.
The lockdown for the COVID-19 pandemic has not been any different for some 3,000 residents of government mental health establishments. They are perennially in a state of lockdown owing to institutionalized stigma, discrimination, apathy, and lack of political and public will. Support from Anjali provides a respite from the grim uncertainty surrounding this lockdown as they are stampeded by a system, community, and world oblivious to them. With Anjali’s support, they have taken on the role of being responsible, knowledgeable care resources for their fellow residents.