Woman holding frame for making paper sheets from waste paper pulp. Selective focus. Decorative and applied art. Recycling concept, ecology.

Handwork and Heartwork

The artisans and craftspeople of native places know that their art and craft carries the knowledge of those that have gone before; the honed skills of producing something beautiful, meaningful, and useful with your hands; and the knowledge that a created object is more than its form and shape.

Family Focus

Family Focus

Efforts to help people with disability to fully contribute their gifts, as well as to lead full, expansive lives requires more than hoping, wishing, and half-hearted efforts. In fact, much of the work of elevating the status of marginalized people goes against the grain of societal devaluation, and so it stands to reason that many good efforts are crushed early and decisively. The best efforts can be thwarted easily by circumstances, mind-sets, and disappointments. For this reason, our efforts to help elevate people’s lives must be made consistently, thoughtfully, pointedly, with focus, steadily, and often over time. The below story of losing and regaining family illustrates this so powerfully.

For many people, separation from families becomes a life-defining loss, a grief that comes to reside deeply within. A sense of being adrift, unmoored, and unrooted may be metaphors for how this loss is experienced. For Kiran, whose loss of family happened early in her life, this seems to have been her experience. While in the institutional setting, where she remained for years, it was simply known as a fact that she had a sister, but no details were known, an assumption that followed her over the years. In fact, her records stated that there was no reasonable hope of reunification or contact.

After re-establishing herself as a neighbour in a small community, those who were supporting her began to explore whether she might not have remaining family who could in fact be located. They did not stop there – they began to ask, to look, to actively seek such connections. It was not long before someone who knew someone who knew someone else was able to locate the region where her sister was reputed to live. It was many hours of travel away, and Kiran’s sister had no telephone.

But they did not stop there. They located the local shop close to where Kiran’s sister lived. They found that she sometimes used the shop’s phone. They got a message to her.

They connected and were told her sister would not be able to come to visit because the travel was long.

But they did not stop there. They made sure Kiran and her sister were able to talk periodically on the phone, building their relationship.

But they did not stop there. They arranged for a video call so they could see each other for the first time in many years.

But they did not stop there. They organized transportation until finally, a reunion happened, as eight of Kiran’s relatives re-entered her life with great joy. Kiran seems bigger somehow, more sure of herself, and more rooted, and some of that at least can be attributed to her knowing “her people.”

This reunion is instructive in many ways, but what is standing out right now is how efforts to assist people with disability to have strong connections and full, rich lives require real focus. The team who supports Kiran did not rely on rumor and assumption. They explored and investigated. They did not give up. Their detective work spanned months of thinking through next steps. Disappointments were met, acknowledged, and the goal was again placed on the horizon. New efforts were made; different directions were explored. That FOCUS was required to bring a result that matters. This resolve and even stubborn refusal to accept assumptions, to move on to easier tasks, and not to give up bore such important fruit in Kiran’s life. A lot of people are richer for it.

Two men work in a field harvesting plants. One man crouches down to pick the plants while the other stand in the dirt in a newly harvested area.

Discovering and Exploring Identity

Mr. Arvind Sekar is the sort of person who reveals himself only over time. About a year ago, his circle of support – a group of people who care about Arvind and his future, spent some time helping him to think about what the future might hold for him. After holding down a number of short-term jobs, Arvind was back in a job-readiness program, where he has spent a good part of his life. Making items for sale did not seem to interest him, the hospitality industry was not a fit, and an internship at Café Coffee Day seemed to engender little excitement.

When the discussion turned to caring for the land, Arvind’s entire face lit up and he began speaking with such animation about caring for the earth, about farming practices which make careful use of water and soil, and about  preserving elements of the soil and caring for plants. The circle came alive with ideas for roles Arvind might fill in environmental advocacy, positive farming techniques, protection of the earth, and working for a good cause.

A young man uses a post hole digger to drill a hole at the edge of a clearing.

Finding the Right Fit

Helping people, especially young people, find their place in this world is affirming work. For many people, including people with disabilities, finding out what is “a fit” requires having lots of experiences, stretching a bit, and experimentation to see what brings out the best in us.

Mohammed has always stood out to his family and friends as a unique teenager who has big ideas about his future. When the pandemic struck, the centre which he attends each day in Bangalore switched from hands-on, face-to-face support to online classes and online activities. He was not interested in this, and those who know him well could see this.    However, the onset of the pandemic opened up new possibilities for him. He shifted with his family to their farmhouse in Hyderabad, where he may well have discovered his niche.


Putting the Developmental Model to Work: New Ways of Teaching and Learning in West Bengal

An invisible entity, a tiny virus has changed what we knew as normal. The lockdown in India brought everything to a standstill. The closure of schools and programs sent parents of those with special needs in a tizzy, and it sometimes seems that everything is in jeopardy. No doubt, within a crisis lies possibility and promise, and Autism Society West Bengal decided to use the strong ideas they have been learning to adapt and help students thrive. The Developmental Model, a major theme of Social Role Valorization theory, incorporates a number of broad principles which are likely to result in great learning for all people, including those with disability. This was an opportunity to put some of those ideas into practice.

Alyx-cropped (ImageCredits)

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Photo by Sujata Khanna Photography. Sitting in the first SRV workshop was like looking into a mirror for Elizabeth Albuquerque (Liz).
“… my belief system, of how every human being deserves respect, dignity and a purpose in life …. was right there staring back at me.” Creating meaningful and valuable social roles for each person is the basis of a happy, productive individual, leading to a happier and more productive community. It was important for Liz, to facilitate Alyx, her daughter, into making a difference, however small, by being a contributor in the community, a giver rather than being a taker at all times.

Transformation-in-Life-Glimpse-6-amitava_and_path (Canva-edited)

Bending Over Backward to Strengthen a Role

Photo by Sujata Khanna Photography. 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.