Introduction of Socio-cultural activities in the vocational rehabilitation program with the aim to increase the quality of PWD’s life

University Rehabilitation Institute/ Slovenia

Target Group People with disabilities (PWD), employee representatives, local community 
In our institute, in 2016, VRC started implementing activities that emphasize empowerment of the users in the field of culture, their values and their needs. Users are participating in social-cultural activities, based on their free will, regardless to their age, social status and psychophysical condition.

Socio-cultural activities are carried out through various activities: travelogue lectures from travelers who are sharing their adventure experience, shots and videos; tea parties with media-recognized personalities from the local environment; art exhibitions byrenowned artists; promotion of poetry of our users; musical performances; theatrical/drama performances; interactive gatherings and discussions with writers; activities on behalf of the Slovene Book Daysin April, called  ‘Donate a book and a word' in cooperation with humanitarian Association 'innerWheel Maribor; musical events and interactive socializing with pupils and students from primary and secondary schools in our neighborhood and with a regional center for persons recovering from brain injury; intergenerational integration meeting with elderly people from the Retirement homes in the local environment; vocal and instrumental performances by the users of VRC; art workshop or mini colony - in devising.

Within a year, there were more than 30 different socio cultural activities organized.

We estimate, that all conducted activities were attended by approximately 95% of all users, which presents a positive acknowledgment and a challenge for the future.

Purpose and meaning
The described approach is unique in the field of occupational and vocational rehabilitation in Slovenia.
The primary purpose is to bring the world of culture in the shape of word, art, poetry and creativity to users in our center, who have unmet needs in their narrow living environment - either because of distance, lack of interest or financial incapacity.
The secondary purpose of the activities is the integration of our institution with the local environment (library, primary and secondary schools, associations, institutes, centers). The implementation of socio-cultural activities is aimed in particular at facilitating and developing important new experiences for participants in VRC.
The meaning of an individual experience can be a unique contribution to self-knowledge, discovering and learning something new, improving self-esteem, preservation of values and self-actualization.
Although the primary purpose of socio-cultural activities is adventure orientated, these activities are most common accompanying by healing therapeutic effects. According to the testimony of participants, such activities also have therapeutic healing effects, which have not yet been analyzed and tested, although we are systematically monitoring our results. Extremely important is recognizing and encouraging creativity of participants, not only within the limits of cultural activities, but also in the way of integrating cooperation of users in the process of pre-activity preparation, their implementation and evaluation.

Do activities reflects the needs in the society?
Feedback we gained from users and employees testify that such activities are well accepted and their own initiative for participating in such activities increase - they are even making proposals and creating content of future socio-cultural activities. Participation in activities has increased in number and interest for events is in unprecedented rise.

How do we approach?
Our approach is in-directive, each user may and can be included depending on their own level of motivation. The model of social-cultural work is taking into account - individual, but mostly group work, on behalf of the professional-theoretical baseline and methodological work. A significant role in the structure of the group play - the group leader (manager), team members, ways of communication, organizing place, time and materials for the activity - all are taken into consideration. Considered are non-variable factors in the establishment, that affect the course of the activities (schedules, support from program managers, the Foundation's purpose). We are also taking care of spatial factors and listen to our users’ needs, expectations, psychophysical capabilities and their similarities and differences. Considered are the goals and intentions expressed by the participants: desires, expectations which primarily lead to their involvement in socio-cultural activities and secondary to their self-actualization.

How are people with disabilities embedded in the implementation of activities?
People with disabilities (our users) co-operate with their performances (vocal or/and instrumental performances, presentations of their own poetry).  They are participating in preparation - making invitations, advertising panels, preparation of venue. They also have the opportunity to communicate directly with the guests during the implementation of socio-cultural program.

What is the contribution ?
People with disabilities and our staff, who is helping them, are faced with many constraints and handicaps in everyday life. Participation in the organization of socio-cultural program has therefore shown to be a very welcome added value in their lives.Participants of socio cultural activities, express great satisfaction, verbal and non-verbal. They say that their participation in the activities offers relaxation, promotes a sense of aesthetics and encourages positive emotions and well-being. Since the activities are attended also by our employees there has been proven that the interrelationship between employees and users is better and that the people with disabilities are very satisfied with such an approach, because they do not feel uncomfortable or different, but equal. So this is, we believe, a small stone in a mosaic of rehabilitation that helps with recovery and successful reintegration into a healthier, more productive life.

Can these activities be transferred to other sectors?
Since participators in the activities come from the local area, this represents the assumption of limitations for transferring them to other sectors . But it could be also transferred in other sectors.

Does these activities involves new approaches, new thinking?
The approach is an innovative practice within the URI and VRC department. It emphasizes the animation process of users with a focus on the psychology of creativity and connects users with the external environment and employees. It offers them the possibility of sharing, spreading knowledge, encouraging a sense of aesthetics, encouraging integration and transfer through interaction with invited guests. The majority of the users of VRC services do not participate in the usual socio cultural activities - not in the local andfurthermore not in wider local community, so this kind of program, by their own words, is much desired. 
Staff and Resources

Contact /more information
Jasmina Plavsic, Head of Vocational rehabilitation Center
Evalda Bizjak, occupational therapists