Social Role Valorisation or ‘What do you do?’

How long does it normally take for someone to ask what work we do? It normally doesn’t take long. This might be because what we do defines how others see us. Some jobs get a better response than others. Some jobs are more valued by society.  Our role in society or our value to society is often measured by the job we do.

For people with disabilities finding work is harder than it is for other people. Businesses are designed to make money. The best person for any job in the business is often employed based on a person specification that targets an ideal candidate. Whilst that may be understandable, it often excludes people whose disability excludes one or another aspect of a lengthy person specification.

We have other roles in society like husband or wife. We can be athletes or personalities. We can be good neighbours.  Our society often places barriers for people with certain disabilities in each of these valued roles.

Certainly young adults with learning difficulties face societal barriers in gaining a valued role in any aspect of our society.  Many employers place many such people in the too hard basket. We could speculate why that might be but there are probably many reasons some of which may even have validity.

There is discomfort if a young woman, on the spectrum, enters a relationship with someone. We fear for her safety in a way we wouldn’t if a neurotypical woman of the same age entered a relationship. Barriers are often placed in the way of such relationships.

Many young adults are destined to never have their own home in which to live their lives and develop good neighbourly relations of their own.

This makes conversation with young adults with learning difficulties harder than they need be. Social Role Valorisation is a concept outlined by a sociologist called Wolf Wolfensberger. He suggested that society needed to recognise the barriers we placed in the way of people in their pursuit of valued roles in our society.

Wolfensberger suggested that we should have Personal Future Plans. We all have one eye on the future. Personal future plans would mean that everyone in a person’s circle could support that person in meeting constantly adapting goals towards fulfilling societal roles. It isn’t unusual to write down personal goals or to have support in meeting those goals yet some of us might benefit from our supporters being aware of our goals.

At Katrina’s Kitchen Garden (KKG) we are trying to do our part in supporting young adults from Oaklynn Special School in achieving part of a personal future for a number of older students. Students who expressed an interest in gardening were invited to train with Katrina and Steve. The students are supported by two of the teaching staff Jess and Julie. Together it is a mighty team of determined gardeners doing their bit for the environment.

Using biodynamic principles KKG are turning lawns into foodscapes. Clients are starting to taste food grown in their own gardens with love. The KKG team are experts in composting and worm farming. Their carbon footprint is getting smaller and smaller. Neighbours in Titirangi have donated large tracts of garden that are allowing KKG to develop urban farms where once were lawns. A disused eight bath worm farm is being resurrected to collect food waste from the local community.

Last week I heard one of the students, a 19 year old young woman, reply . . . “I’m a gardener.” to the question of “What do you do?”

-Steve McCarthy