Charitable organisation Dignity and Services empowers young adults with learning disabilities for better opportunities in life.
Usual scenario: We encounter a person with a learning disability as we go about our daily life, we indulge a small feeling of guilt for a little while, and we move on without giving it another thought. It may never even occur to us how old they could be, if they are making a living by themselves or if they are living on their own. The general assumption would be that they are being taken care by someone, either family or an organisation.
Proving all of our outdated suppositions wrong is Dignity and Services, a charitable entity which works on providing adults with learning disabilities better opportunities in life. The organisation focuses on providing them with supported living as a way for them to learn to live independently in their own pace.
Taking place every weekend, Options for Supported Living programme enables the adults to learn basic life skills on their own, without the usual parental or guardian supervision. The programme alternates between a one-night stay and a 2-night stay at a home in Taman Tun Dr Ismail where the adults with learning disabilities (18 year old and above) and the support staff from Dignity and Services stay together.
“The aim of Options is for the persons with learning disabilities to lead a normal life while spending a relaxing weekend with their peers. Together with our staff, twelve of our members will discuss about the weekend’s menu – breakfast, lunch, and dinner – and what they want to buy to cook their meals. Then, they will come up with a grocery list and will be brought shopping for them to buy what they have decided to put on their list”, says Helen Teh, the Executive Director of Dignity and Services.
According to Helen, the weekend programme does not entail any classroom-style of teaching but rather presents the adults with everyday decision-making situations and consequences. For example, if the programme participants fail to purchase certain items on their grocery list, they then have to improvise on their menu, with the guidance of the staff members of course.
“We want them to pick up on their own how things are outside of their comfort zone. When parents drop them and leave, it is already their first step towards independence. Apart from that, through our supported living programme they also learn to give and take when they discuss what to cook, as they wait for another week to eat their favourite meal”, explains Helen.
Apart from coming up with the menu and the grocery list, the participants learn a variety of other skills, including making price comparisons, using money correctly and accepting change. Being away from the comfort of their homes, with their parents where everything will be taken of, also allows them to be more of themselves in the smallest ways, including expressing their feelings better.
Decades Old Legacy
The story of Dignity & Services began in 1991, when the late Reverend Peter Young visited a home for the mentally-challenged in the outskirts of Bangkok and came across a large group of boys he would later term “prisoners in their own homes”. The boys were found to be neglected and isolated, with the responsibility of looking after them falling on the family and caring institutions. There was no awareness in the rest of the country on their plight and no opportunity for social inclusion either.
Then it dawned on Peter that there must also be a similar situation in Malaysia. He found two ready accomplices in paediatrician Datuk Dr S C E Abraham and social activist Dr Denison Jayasooria. The three formed the first board of directors and thus was born Dignity and Services.
In the beginning, Dignity and Services was strictly an advocacy group with the mission of putting people with learning disabilities on the national agenda. Due to their small size, their prioritised on lobbying for better human rights and returning their dignity to them, with the idea of more people coming along and helping with the services part later on.
Sure enough, not long after an experienced Executive Director came along and introduced Options for Supported Living. Next were the employment opportunities – One Two Juice and Bake With Dignity – that Dignity and Services was able to facilitate into fruition and maintain at the moment.
“On weekends our members are able to join Options but what about the weekdays? Most of them did not have anything to do. So through the projects we wanted to provide them with the opportunity to earn a living for themselves while being included in the society as well.”
More information on Dignity and Services can be found on www.dignityandservices.org.
Photos courtesy of Dignity & Services.