Keystone Human Services (KHS) is a non-profit organization that is a part of a global movement to provide support and expertise to people with disabilities.
Keystone Human Services Glimpse 6
If you walk into the employment section of Autism Society West Bengal, you won’t hear the workers and trainees referred to as “our children.” You won’t see the walls jam-packed with donation plaques lauding all the generous benefactors, nor see all sorts of autism awareness and diagnostic posters on the walls. These examples are “red lights” that contribute to the people served being seen as forever children, charity burdens, or medical problems which need to be remedied. You will hear families referred to by their proper, respectful names rather than “Tarun’s Mom,” you will see the school section full of the sorts of school-typical décor and positive messages about learning, and the work section with messages you would expect a workplace to have. These are all “green lights” which encourage people to think of those served as full human beings and full fellow citizens.
Image enhancement is one of the vehicles through which one can access valued roles in society, and image can be used to put good things into the minds of people about other people. Autism Society West Bengal (ASWB), an impassioned organization working for change, was captivated by this idea as a result of their training in Social Role Valorization, and immediately set about with a metaphorical magnifying glass to check out the image messages around them.
The imagery that surrounds a person with disability has a huge impact on how others will judge them, and, in turn, the juxtaposition of positive imagery positively affects the judgement people will make. Oftentimes, programs for people with disabilities are simply chock-full of imagery that conveys powerful “silent messages” that aren’t so positive. ASWB decided to tackle this issue by conducting a detailed and intensive search in the physical building where ASWB is located.
They did so with a mind-set of uncovering any images that might reinforce negative roles such as eternal child, societal burden, clinical objects, or sick. Once uncovered, they would work to remove or mitigate the impact of such images. Some of the changes were small, like the notice board, initially used for instructions to teachers, was replaced with age appropriate visuals for the students, much more normative for a school. The ‘donated by’ plaques which reinforce the negative role of burden of charity, were changed to ‘gifted by’ after convincing donors this was more enhancing. A library was started for the students, in line with a resource you would expect a school to have for the students, reinforcing the idea that the students are learners with great potential for increasing their knowledge.
In the past, many of the staff would refer to the adults they worked with as “our kids.” This term was intended to be endearing and affectionate. However, they identified that this very term reinforced the age-degradation that limits expectations that people hold for adults, as well as displaying a sense of ownership that may limit the personal agency. Immersion in SRV study and learning helped the teachers realise that the chronological age needs to be kept in mind whenever they talk to an individual regardless of the severity of disability, and that interaction style should match the age and cultural expectations for typical people.
Deciding to take a step-wise approach to SRV implementation, ASWB has taken a good hard look at the image messages in the physical environment. This was an excellent starting place in implementing SRV, impactful, and simply “doable,” even when larger systemic changes seem out of reach at first. The team members at ASWB have transformed into image detectives, and this has made a difference in how the people they serve are seen and treated.