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Betsy Neuville

Keynote speaker Elizabeth Neuville shared her stories of implementing programs assisting persons with disabilities in challenging places.

Help in unlikely places

Keynote offers message of hope

June 8, 2018 — 

If helping persons with disabilities to lead full, rich and meaningful lives in Moldova, the place known as the world’s most unhappy country wasn’t formidable enough, she said it was only a dress rehearsal for an even more daunting challenge: India.

Keynote speaker Elizabeth Neuville shared her experiences on the opening day of the international Social Role Valorization (SRV) conference at the Fairmont Hotel this week.

The executive director of the Providence, R.I.-based Keystone Institute described how SRV—a  theory in the development of programs for populations with disabilities that emphasizes enhancing valued social roles—has seized a deeper hold in places that experienced the disempowering effects of institutionalization.

“That serves as our watermark of what’s wrong. SRV gives us a powerful way to say, ‘OK, we know that this is wrong, but what would be right?’ ” she said. “How do we help with disabilities to live rich, fulfilling and meaningful lives?”

Western service models are already being implemented internationally at a rapid pace, while SRV presents an alternative vision, Neuville said, adding that while the future of SRV remains uncertain, teaching and using the theory in new places presents lessons she shared with the audience.  

Conference organizer, Prof. Zana Luftiyya said a primary draw of the conference is the opportunity for service workers of persons with disabilities, families, SRV trainers and educators to gather and share ideas.

“There’s a lot of content and information from all over the world—presenters from Canada, the United States, Australia and Japan. … Being exposed to the work of other people who have the same concerns as you do but they take a slightly different twist on it. So that’s very beneficial.”

Consequently, Lutfiyya said organizers deliberately scheduled long breaks, presenting the opportunity for people to meet during the conference, which is held only about every three years.

What made this year’s event unique was the emphasis on education, Lutfiyya said, reflecting that the event was organized by the Faculty of Education, where SRV is offered among PBDE courses, in-service training, and is a requisite course for the province special education certificate.

For the first time, the conference featured a two-day pre-conference event on SRV and education.

“One of the things that surprised me was how many people said, ‘I never thought SRV was connected to education: That’s so interesting.’ ” Lutfiyya said.  “For us in the Faculty of Education, the connection is pretty obvious but, I think that’s a really unique twist for people here.”

Conference attendees were also impressed during school tours, gaining exposure to use of SRV methods in classrooms.

“It isn’t just about supporting people with disabilities,” Lutfiyya said, suggesting SRV also has a role in facilitating reconciliation.  “In Manitoba, there are groups who speak different languages, have different cultures, and that’s respected and valued in the school system.  That work in reconciliation is very important, and I know that impressed people. I sat in on their last presentation yesterday afternoon and they were quite taken with that. Quite surprised.”

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