What does it mean to carry a mindset that disability in society is a gift that we cannot live without? That people experiencing disability and those gifted by fullness of presence of such people in their lives carry important skills, lessons, and technique that have benefit to all people? This bit of beautiful work illustrates just such a moment, where we can recognize the methods drawn from work within the lives of people with disability.
Just this very concept was demonstrated in Purulia in December 2021, as a group of people committed to a stronger, safer world borrowed a powerful tool from the disability movement and applied it to their work.
As is well known, planning is often done by those who carry both voice and power, and the result of such planning often serves to direct others who are expected to conform and comply. For decades, this has been done to people with disability, as professionals, governments, organizations, and even families direct their futures. In this process, the voices and agency of people with disability sometimes remain unheard. For people with intellectual and developmental disability, this has often led to small, constrained lives, where people never have a chance to offer their gifts.
Person-Centered Planning techniques were first developed as a way to recognize the agency and full-personhood of someone who may need help in directing their future. In fact, these types of techniques require that the person be at the almost literal center of the planning process, while those in support of the person listen deeply and make respectful guesses about what the person might want, need, or desire in order to live a full life. These process, such as PATH, or MAPS, or Personal Futures Planning, are being used to plan WITH rather than plan FOR people with disability in India.
A small but passionate group of people from diverse areas are working in Purulia, West Bengal to adapt such techniques, bringing together lots of diverse stakeholders to guide the vision and the action of a new initiative, Aadhar (an Outreach Project of Biswa Gouri Trust), designed to empower local organizations such as Bandhu, Purulia doing important community work. Experienced in using PATH as an inclusive process for people with disability and their families, Sarbani Mallick, Meena Jain, and the team at Biswa Gouri Charitable Trust and her colleagues decided to borrow from their planning tools for people with disability to craft their work together, as they knew that the local people working and living in the communities they serve must have both a voice and a choice in the planning stages. The images say it all – diverse people putting their hearts, minds, and heads together in a way that honors those at the centre of the work. One can see that the circle of support is all participating fully in developing both the vision and the path to get there. Thank goodness that the presence of disability within society has taught us to listen better, adapt, grow, and thrive. We meet together in circles in family homes, in meeting rooms, inside, outside, in the fields and the forests alike, to dream together, and to actualize that dream. All voices are heard, and all voices matter.