By Carli Friedman, CQL Director of Research
As we found in our Personal Outcome Measures® Benchmarks: 2022 report, the second least present outcome was People Perform Different Social Roles. In fact, in 2022, only 23.1% of people with disabilities performed different social roles. As noted in the Personal Outcome Measures® manual, “The roles we fill in life express what is important to us… The opportunity to play all of these roles enriches our lives and the lives of others” (The Council on Quality and Leadership, 2017, p. 64).
Due to not only the importance of social roles but also how much they were lacking in 2022, this month’s Capstone Newsletter is all about social roles. First, I share data that highlights the impact of social roles on the lives of people with disabilities. Then CQL | The Council on Quality and Leadership staff share examples of how organizations can support people to build social roles.
Social Roles and Quality of Life
My analysis of 2022 Personal Outcome Measures® interviews indicates performing different social roles significantly improves every area of people with disabilities’ quality of life (see Figure below). For example, the odds of people with disabilities being free from abuse and neglect increased by 176% when people with disabilities performed different social roles. Another example – the odds of people with disabilities interacting with other member of the community increased by 377% when people with disabilities performed different social roles.
The Impact of Social Roles on Other Quality of Life Outcomes
Despite the positive impact on every other area of quality of life, only 21.9% of people with disabilities received organizational supports to promote different social roles in 2022. But my research indicates that when organizational supports are in place, people are significantly more likely to perform different social roles.
In fact, when organizational supports were not in place, the probability of people performing different social roles was 7.0% (Figure right). When organizational supports were in place, the probability of people performing different social roles was 80.1%, indicating the widespread impact of individualized supports.
To provide guidance for strengthening your services in this area, we turn to CQL staff who share their tips about how you can support people to perform different social roles.
Organizational Supports to Promote Social Roles
Promoting Social Roles
Leanne Fenez, Quality Enhancement Specialist
As in all good support, we start with and are led by the person. What do you know about the person’s interests, gifts, and talents? What is meaningful to the person and fills them with purpose? With this knowledge as your guide ask yourself, where do people spend time? Are they passive observers? Are there opportunities for them to get more involved and contribute? What gifts, talents, and interests are currently not being used? Could these turn into social roles? You can’t create social roles, but you can encourage, educate, support, and cheer people on! Remember that people may have limited experience or exposure and may not know what could be possible.
Katherine Dunbar, VP of Services and Systems Excellence
One way to promote social roles is to support people to develop and maintain relationships. Ways to do this may include supporting the person to develop routines in their communities so they are recognized, as well as exploring new activities. For example, people can also be supported to build social roles on social media. Gaming, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, YouTube, etc. may be used to interact with people all over the world.
It seems that, for many Americans, their jobs/careers are intrinsically wrapped in their identities and help define who they are and their place in society. Yet, too often, people with disabilities do not work competitively. Supporting people to find jobs or create careers allows ample opportunity to develop social roles. Volunteering can also produce the same results. Another way is to simply talk to the person to determine their interests and then implementing the “Three E’s” (education, experience, and exposure).
Epp O’Neill, Quality Enhancement Specialist
You can help people foster social roles by supporting people to be part of their neighborhood by offering to help with neighbors, rake leaves, take out trash, walk a pet, take over a meal when someone is sick, and other roles that are meaningful. Remember and celebrate important events such as the birth of a new baby or death of a neighbor, with a card, some treats, small bouquet of flowers, or small plant. The gift of giving can be simple but is very valuable!
Beckie Amidon Austin, Quality Enhancement Specialist
The Three E’s are a great method to help people discover activities/social roles of interest. Help the person learn the unwritten and written rules of social relationships, and then provide support to make connections and perform the role to the level they expected in the role.
Rebecca Kasey, Director of Special Projects
Promoting social roles and building social roles begins with knowing what people you support want and like to do. This can only be achieved by fully ensuring that people you support receive education, experience, and are exposed to an array of options. A person you support may love to go on hikes or nature walks and express an interest to engage in these activities more often.
This is an opportunity to promote social roles surrounding this interest. You may work on discovering how to learn more about the person’s interest, find clubs or a group of people to share in this activity, discover more places to hike across the region, or join locally sponsored nature clubs. Belonging begins with attending, so help the person discover what they want to do and find ways for the person to attend.
Anne Buechner, Quality Enhancement Specialist
Examples of social roles opportunities include joining actively promoting groups or club initiatives. Become a contributing member of a team, chorus, a theater group, arts (any/all arts in general), sports team/club, a civil or social action movement, a faith-based group or movement are also beneficial. More “micro” social roles include:
- Helping neighbors with running errands, lawn work, collecting mail, etc.;
- A family member who takes on additional duties such as caring for an ill-relative; and
- A relative who takes on responsibilities which are greater, more largely scoped than just being naturally born into (e.g., organizes reunions, plans and synchronizes joint family celebrations or trips).
For children/youth specifically, social role opportunities include:
- Sports team member or special role such as captain, school club member/officer (e.g., thespian club, foreign language club, chess club, etc.);
- Chorus, choir, or theater group member;
- Girl/boy or cub scout and earning ranking(s);
- Youth ministry/faith-based youth leader (e.g., vacation bible school teacher aid for some faiths);
- Hall monitor;
- School council member/officer;
- Neighborhood watch member/officer; and
- School or community drives or campaign member/officer
Micro roles may be with family such as a caregiver to a sick adult or child relative. Another micro role in the neighborhood could be mowing the lawn or shoveling snow or bringing in the paper or trash bins for a neighbor.
Betsy Burns, Quality Enhancement Specialist
Sometimes the organization and staff keep people from having valued social roles due to their own personal values about their own roles in supporting people with disabilities. Many organizations need help with this due to their own culture, and lack of staff. For many organizations, promoting social roles may require them to step out of their traditional organizational box. To do so, share with people what is “out there,” and help them to experience those things by exposing them to what is “out there.”
Michael Clausen, Director of Personal Outcomes
Social roles should be built based upon people’s interests, passions, strengths and naturally occurring connections. For those people with limited experiences and social connections outside of their services, there may be benefit in supporting people to have education, experience, and exposure (The Three E’s) to a variety of opportunities so they can discover what it is that they enjoy and what they are most passionate about.
An essential skill for staff members is knowing when to fade their supports so that the relationship can continue naturally. Staff members should focus on being the bridge to allow these relationships to form. Once a level of comfort and trust is developed, it may be possible to eliminate staff supports entirely within the confines of an ongoing social role.
Reciprocity is a necessary element that should exist within all social roles. It is important to remember that social roles are a relationship and not a title. While people may have social roles as a family member, co-worker, or teammate, it is the contributions that people make within these roles that support the development of social capital.
Social Roles Benefit Everyone
Social roles improve the quality of life of people with disabilities. They keep people safer and healthier, and promote the exercising of rights, among many other benefits. Social roles also serve as a way for people to shift from passive visitors of the community to active contributors to their communities. With the right individualized supports, everyone can be an integral part of helping their communities thrive.
- The Council on Quality and Leadership. (2017). Personal Outcome Measures®: Measuring personal quality of life (3rd ed.). Author.
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