In the Driver’s Seat

Prayatna is a small organization in Pune, Maharashtra, dedicated to supporting adults and children with developmental disability. Founding partners Radiya Gohil and Mridula Das attended the inaugural Social Role Valorization course  in 2016 in Delhi, and were struck with the concept of assisting people who have been often over-controlled and over-protected to maximize their personal autonomy and be “in the driver’s seat” of their lives.

They thought, talked, discussed with the people they serve, the families they serve, and the staff, and formulated an idea. Prayatna has a vocational training program which was fairly typical across these sorts of programs. The people served in this program are all adults, and they are assigned work tasks such as paper bag-making, masala preparation, and creation of craft items for exhibition. When Radiya and Mridula began to think about how to increase the opportunities for choice and control, they began to question why such tasks were assigned and controlled by the staff, and whether they could change that. After all, decisions made about the tasks people are involved with define how people’s time is used, and whether people experience a sense of pride in their work.

As a result of this exploration, the people they serve formed a “Friday Work Meeting,” essentially a democratic staff meeting in which the workers themselves negotiated and decided which work would be done by whom. You can imagine the room for real competency enhancement here, as the people served learn to negotiate, advocate for their interests, work together, compromise, and lead. In addition, people gain the benefit of having some control over their next work week, and how they will spend their time. As an added unexpected benefit, they noticed that Fridays had often been a day when people decided to stay home from the program. Once the Friday Work Meeting was in place, people realized that their presence was important on Fridays, and attendance went up. After all, if you weren’t at the meeting, you didn’t have control of your time and activity for the following week.

This practice is evolving as the role of the workers in managing the meeting continues to increase and the role of staff decreases.