14 Jun Social Role Valorization: My perspective and learning
By Jaya Srinivasan
A few months ago, I had the opportunity to attend a workshop on Social Role Valorization (SRV). Conducted by the Keystone Foundation, this workshop mainly featured participants who worked with people with disability: caregivers, professionals, founders of organisations, and parents. Interestingly, most of the participants were women, perhaps highlighting their involvement in the sector and the significant role they play in caregiving in their families.
My introduction to SRV came through a colleague, who learnt of it at a workshop on community mental health late last year, where he represented the citiesRISE youth mental health initiative. CitiesRISE seeks to transform mental health policy and practice around the world, especially for young people. In India, Ennovent has been working closely with citiesRISE to establish operations in Chennai. Given my own involvement through Ennovent as citiesRISE coordinator for Chennai, I was curious to understand SRV and explore the ways in which it could be incorporated into our work with not-for-profit organisations, social enterprises, and beneficiaries, in healthcare and beyond. As we focus on an approach rooted in the local context, the SRV workshop reinforced the need to follow an inclusive approach – in our case, with young people facing a wide variety of challenges and marginalisation, and the broader supporting ecosystem.
SRV is defined as “the enablement, establishment, enhancement, maintenance, and defense of valued social roles for people at value-risk by using, as much as possible, culturally valued means”.
The concept was formulated by Dr Wolf Wolfensberger in 1983, succeeding his previous formulation of “normalization”. I will add a disclaimer here to say that these theories have received their share of criticism, but the purpose of this piece is only to present an overview of SRV and my experience as well as learning from the workshop.
SRV looks at how people who have been devalued historically and culturally can be placed in valued roles, which are defined with them and not for them. In today’s world, people are devalued for various reasons: age, gender, economic status, caste, religion, disability, etc. SRV posits that the “good things of life” – such as family, friends, meaningful work, dignity, acceptance, participation in society – are consequently less accessible to devalued people than to others. SRV has been applied to people with disability across the world. However, it is capable of application very widely, across different groups of marginalised people, as demonstrated during the workshop through a very insightful exercise.
In this exercise, we were asked to pick an individual or a group we devalued often, and examine the associated attributes. This was based on an important teaching of SRV: how our judgemental nature causes us to value or devalue people. While people are generally exhorted not to be judgemental, SRV practitioners say that judgement is unavoidable – but the conclusions we make can be influenced. Upbringing, norms, physical appearance, environment, and a host of other factors contribute to the role we ascribe to a person. Through the exercise, we used these and other prompts to analyse why we devalued the individuals or the groups we had identified. As I discussed this exercise later with some of the other participants, I learnt that all of us had started out thinking that we didn’t really dislike anyone; but as our analyses unravelled using the prompts supplied, we connected with deep-seated prejudices we had been consciously or unconsciously keeping from becoming very obvious or troublesome.
In summary, SRV asks that we should support people to attain the valued roles that will give them access to the good things of life. For better or for worse, valued social roles improve access to good things. The facilitators were quite emphatic when they told us that we weren’t learning new ideas. Over the two days, they helped us get back in touch with our better side and remind ourselves of the simple things we have all learnt as children, through our families, stories, and education systems. Personally, I was exposed to the complexities that caregivers and parents of children with disabilities experience. With many of my own prejudices arising out of ignorance, I now feel better equipped to address them.
These are lessons to be applied not just in everyday interactions, but also at project and programmatic levels – and not in disability or healthcare alone, but across sectors, ranging from environment to livelihoods. For Ennovent and citiesRISE, this is especially critical, as we work towards mainstreaming conversations around mental health and enabling young people to access support when they need it. Indeed, SRV practice is a reminder to everyone using a human-centered approach to be participatory and inclusive, ensuring that beneficiaries are equal stakeholders in designing solutions to their challenges.
To learn more about citiesRISE and Ennovent’s work on health, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information on Social Role Valorization, please visit https://socialrolevalorization.com/