DEVELOPING ALTERNATIVE VALUES

Developing Alternative Values is a programme that explores innovative ways of helping to expand the interests and cultural horizons of persons with a learning disability. Eva Carey, Co-ordinator, Developing Alternative Values, 12/13 Prussia Street, Dublin 7

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In 1998 Eva Carey was asked to devise a specially-tailored programme to meet the needs of individuals who are not in receipt of a disability service. The programme would try to meet the needs of adults who had ‘dropped through the cracks’ or drifted away from a recognised day service because of personal circumstances, perhaps because they lack a family support network; individuals who may not have been involved in training or work for many years, or at all.

The ‘Combination Course’ of Developing Alternative Values (DAV) seeks to develop participants’ self-esteem and introduce them to a wide range of new skills. Course coordinator Eva Carey and her colleagues run the course with support from FÁS, and this year from the Northern Area Health Board. Many of the participants on the programme were known to Eva, and they have received several referrals. Before taking part, each candidate participates in an ‘Induction Module’. Twelve adults are currently engaged in the third (final) year of the course—some have moved on to work or other training. Several other people visit DAV less formally, as a drop-in centre.

The Combination course consists of several modules:

  1. Thinking skills and home management. This first module encourages participants, who may never had had the opportunity to do so before, to think logically, form opinions and make responsible personal choices. Practical personal healthcare and home management skills are included in the module.
  2. Literature skills. A lack of literacy skills does not prevent people from taking an interest in literature, plays and poems and their meaning. On completion of the course, participants should be able to name six authors and be able to talk about them and some of their works.
  3. Drama skills. Self-expression through drama involves many facets—physical awareness, balance, posture, vocal exercises, concentration games, mime, role play, improvisations, rhyme and drama appreciation. Visits to the theatre are enjoyed, and experiences are reinforced through model building.
  4. Art skills. Art is also vital medium in encouraging self-expression and discipline. As well as learning how to express oneself in various art media, many other skills are also developed, e.g. observation, manual dexterity, colour sense and spatial awareness.
  5. Photography skills. Photography has become very accessible with such variety of cameras and most participants can learn to produce very good results. They learn how to use a camera as a practical piece of equipment and have an opportunity to express themselves through photography. Their photographs become valuable documentary recordings of their learning and leisure experiences.
  6. Horticulture skills. This training programme encourages respect for nature and an understanding of plants and soil. Participants are encouraged to use their senses, to plant, grow and cultivate—whether in an open planting area, a window-box or with indoor plants. Some participants discover a practical interest in garden maintenance. The module includes proper garden up-keep and the use of garden tools and equipment.

As in all good learning experiences for people with intellectual disabilities, the modules of the DAV Combination Course are based on learning through doing. The various modules interlock, enabling participants to build on each new skill and to utilise them in their daily routines, work setting and/or leisure. They all share in the same learning opportunity, tailored to their individual needs. The chief goals of the course are to give the participants a strong sense of belonging, to develop their range of social and self-management skills, and to expand their interests and cultural horizons.

DAV clients undertook a major environmental project for Cúan Aoibhín, in the grounds of St Mary’s Hospital in Phoenix Park, where they completed major clearance work on a former chapel/mortuary building, prior to its restoration by the hospital.

August was annual holiday time for a group of 21 clients and three staff members. From their base in Letterkenny, they explored the county of Donegal, land of Colmcille and the golden eagles in Glenveagh National Park.

DAV is exploring another new initiative—to produce miniature gardens and water features in a business entitled ‘A Celtic Touch’. The enterprise aims to provide employment opportunities that will blend the art and horticultural skills developed by the clients during the Combination Course, with their appreciation of Irish culture.