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  • Community Partner 3 – Vera

Vera was a forty four year old wheelchair user, who had recently moved out of institutional care into her own home.   I had known Vera for some time before the course started.  When I started my PhD studies, I had taken up a part time job to support my studies.  It was through this job that I met two of the participants in what would become the ‘mixed abilities’ group.  They both lived in a residential care setting and my job for a year was that of “Community Transition Coordinator”.  This involved supporting two individuals to move out of residential care into their own homes.  In this thesis I call them Vera and Michael.  My blog on the digital archive associated with this project[1], notes my surprise at how much I liked this job. It is relevant to this research to note that when I went for the interview for this position I was not expecting to get the job – I had never worked with people with neurological, physical and intellectual disabilities – nor indeed was I particularly interested in the job.  I realised at the interview for the job, something later confirmed by the interviewers, that my past work which included advocacy with people living in Direct Provision was very relevant to this position.  As I describe later, the realisation and understanding of these linkages became a strong theme within the learning process of this project, not just for me but also for participants.  I was equally surprised when I started in the position that:

…I had discovered a whole new world.  More than that, I had discovered a profoundly new way of seeing, experiencing and understanding the meaning of life. This would be no ordinary job.  These were no ordinary people. In fact I can’t think of this experience as a “job” as such. It was a learning experience in how to be a human being and it is this experience that I want to share in this story. I didn’t feel like a worker in an economy. I felt like a person in a society. And sometimes we forget that this is what we are in this busy, digitally-driven, globalised manic world which we now inhabit.

Vera and Michael were highly interesting, intelligent, profound, brave and inspiring individuals living in a residential care home in Cork.  Vera had lived there for seventeen years.  In 2013, the organisation that ran the residential centre began to take a lead role in Ireland in supporting residents to move to their own homes.  They used a “Social Roles Valorisation”[2] approach to their work and trained us new ‘Transition Coordinators’  (my position) to a deeper understanding of what this meant in reality.  I came to know both Vera and Michael very well and had an extremely good relationship with both.  By the time I arrived at year three of my PhD I was no longer working with them.   However, when I decided to run the Global Citizenship course with students and people attached to three disability support organisations in Cork, I knew that both would be delighted to attend.  After a long consent process (Appendix 5), to ensure that I was not imposing my own assumptions, I was delighted to welcome both of them onto the course along with the other participants, including Finuala. I asked Vera if she would be one of my key community participants, alongside Finuala, and she graciously agreed.   Vera attended all six of the Global Citizenship workshops, where she actively engaged in each class.

As explained above Vera and Finuala were two of the students, including myself as researcher, who worked on developing a digital archive about the voices of people moving out of institutional care in Ireland.  The archive concentrated on the life of Michael and Vera, who told their story through the medium of film and through the use of their own images.  The website associated with this archive is:  Vera’s video story is on the attached USB and entitled No Looking Back.

My method of data gathering with Vera as participant was: field notes taken after each of the six Global Citizenship workshops; narrative analysis of the digital archive and her digital story and of the entire process of making the story.

[1] with sections also on the attached DVD in file called “Moving On”.

[2] Social Role Valorization (SRV) is the name given to a concept for transacting human  relationships and human service, formulated in 1983 by Wolf Wolfensberger, PhD, The major goal of SRV is to create or support socially valued role s for people in their society, because if a person holds valued social roles, that person is highly likely to receive from society those good things in life that are available to that society, and that can be conveyed by it, or at least the opportunities for obtaining these. In other words, all sorts of good things that other people are able to convey are almost automatically apt to be accorded to a person who holds societally valued roles, at least within the resources and norms of his/her society.