Social Role Valorization
Helping landmine survivors and people who have disabilities to achieve valued social roles in their communities is an important strategy in developing effective victim assistance programming. Having valued roles, not only positively impact people’s self-esteem, but elevates their status in a societal context.
We often take for granted the benefits of having valued roles, not so for those who are in less than valued or “devalued” roles.
People have many roles in society, some that are aspired to and others which people are cast into. Social roles have certain value ascribed to them and vary somewhat from person to person, community to community and from one culture to another. However, some social roles are universally, throughout all cultures and throughout history, valued or devalued by the dominant culture. Being a parent, teacher, clergy, lawyer, doctor, businessman, athlete or musician are all examples of roles that are most often valued by the dominant culture. Conversely being labeled a drug addict, prostitute, criminal, menace and other deviancy roles are examples of people having a devalued status.
It is abundantly clear that people in devalued roles are assigned low value by society and thus treated poorly. They often suffer poverty, poor health, isolation, maltreatment and social ridicule. They are society’s most vulnerable citizens frequently without work, basic health care, family and friends. These negative roles often become life defining. There is a significant difference between having a drug addiction and being a “drug addict” well beyond mere semantics. Similarly, in the disability field labels not only classify people, but essentially certify people’s “differences and differentness” from the rest of us. One becomes a schizophrenic,” “a down’s” or in the case of a landmine survivor, “an amputee” or the eternal “patient”. Each label elicits both conscious and unconscious assumptions about what people can and cannot do and even their intrinsic worth.
There is a direct correlation between the roles one has in society and whether or not people are afforded the “universal good things in life” such as economic security, work, family, friends, absence of imminent threats, being respected by others, a place to call home and a general sense of belonging. The more highly valued the role the more likely that one will attain many of the good things in life. Therefore, it is not surprising that landmine survivors who have incurred a physical or psychological impairment are cast into negative roles that prevent them from the full realization of many of the good things in life, particularly economic security and sense of community inclusiveness.
The negative roles often prescribed to landmine survivors are frequently, although inadvertently, reinforced by the human service programs that are attempting to rehabilitate landmine survivors. Vocational and other training programs that congregate and segregate landmine survivors isolate them from the community at large thus loosing the opportunity to diminish stereotypes and prejudice about people with disabilities through greater and more intimate contact with civil society. Services that reflect a high level of understanding of the importance of valued social roles for landmine survivors go to great lengths to counteract the effects of negative stereotypes and overall prejudice against people with disabilities. This is often done by using existing vocational and educational programs within local communities that are integrated and not just for people with disabilities or a particular target population such as landmine survivors.
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