An Intellectual Disability Doesn’t Keep Mary from Speaking Her Mind

image of Mary answering the phone at SRVS
image of Mary answering the phone at SRVS

Mary has been coming to SRVS, a Tennessee nonprofit that serves people with disabilities, for more than 30 years. She has participated in the adult learning center programs, gone on community outings, and, until she retired a couple years ago, did office work at the group’s occupational workshop.

Mary, outgoing and sweet, seemed content with her choices of activities at SRVS, staff members say. But when Mary was asked in a Listen4Good survey what she thought SRVS could do better, she answered that she wanted to be busier, more active.

“I didn’t want to be sitting at home sometimes, but I didn’t want a job,”’ Mary says. “I wanted to volunteer.”

Felicia Robinson, SRVS’s director of outreach support, says the surveys have helped remind the organization of the importance of hearing directly from clients.

“We hear from families and other people,” she says, “but we don’t often get to hear from the people we are serving. [Listen4Good] has helped us be more person-centered, more enlightened about the people we work with.”

Staff members, called direct support professionals, who each work with up to seven clients, receive page-long reports, showing in illustrated charts how each client responded to the surveys. They also receive reports summarizing survey results among all the clients at their program site.

The biggest takeaway, says Felicia: “We are in a culture that always wants to protect people, but that sometimes turns unintentionally into taking away some independence. We have always tried to provide choice to clients, but we discovered that people wanted more choice and wanted to do more and learn more.”

On an SRVS field trip to a local hospital, staff members encouraged Mary to introduce herself to hospital officials and find out about volunteer opportunities. Turns out, Mary didn’t need much prodding.

“I just went right up to the woman who was the head of it and I said who I was, and she said who she was, and she asked me what I can do,” Mary says. “Now, I am doing it. I’m a volunteer.”