Classifying Peace Corps programs addressing the needs of disabled persons
One central problem in describing any of the work of the Peace Corps is deciding how to classify so many diverse assignments in so many countries using so many different kinds of people. Indeed, why should we bother to do so in the first place? It sometimes seems that attempts to classify diverse activities can result in obscuring information rather than in clarifying it. Nevertheless, the Peace Corps is held accountable for the performance of its mission by a tax-paying public, a watchful Congress, and a management staff that must look for ways to improve the performance of all Peace Corps programs.
Peace Corps' efforts concerning disability are much more broadly based than one might first imagine. Peace Corps Volunteers are often found working with handicapped children as a secondary activity in the evenings or on weekends - work which is not "counted" in any statistical sense. For example, agronomists have taught mentally retarded boys to farm, primary health care workers have worked to prevent blindness and birth defects, and architects have built new schools for physically handicapped children. While these activities would not likely be identified as special education or rehabilitation projects, it is clear that they have had an impact on the lives of disabled persons.
Simply stated, it is not possible to measure the full impact of Peace Corps' efforts concerning disability. It is possible, however, to get a sense of the level of activity in each country and to group some of the major activities in a format that can be useful.
Any attempt at data collection for classification purposes should strive to meet at least one of the following criteria:
1. The information collected has value for the volunteers themselves (e.g. it might help them network information with volunteers in other countries).
2. The information has value for Peace Corps staff (e.g. a better knowledge of volunteer efforts with the handicapped may result in better planning and more successful assignments).
3. The information is valuable to the world community concerned with the quality of life of handicapped people (e.g. many organizations need information on designing programs for handicapped persons in villages and rural settings).
4. The information has accountability value for congressional testimony or government evaluation purposes.
In an effort to begin to address the above criteria, the authors devised the following classification scheme to provide a graphic overview of Peace Corps' efforts relating to disability. Peace Corps countries are listed alphabetically and are followed by categories that denote the level of Peace Corps activity in that country, the Physical Quality of Life Index, and four categories describing the distribution of Peace Corps assignments by work sector, locale, volunteer specialty area and the disability served.
Five of the individual components of the classification scheme are described in more detail below.
One of the most common questions asked about Peace Corps' efforts concerning disability is: How much activity takes place in a given country? One way to approach answering this question is to categorize each country in the following manner:
Class I (No Activity): Countries classified as Class I will have had little or no PCV activity relating to the needs of the disabled or to disability prevention.
Class II (Occasional Assignments): Countries in Class II will have had only occasional PCV assignments in activities to benefit the disabled. No systematic use of volunteers or planned sequence of volunteer activity exists.
Class III (Projects for the Disabled): Countries in this class have a number of PCV assignments which are programmed in such a way as to constitute a "project" addressing the needs of the disabled. The term "project" is used here to denote a situation in which all volunteer activity in a given country concentrates on one specific disability need area or activity, or conversely, when there are a number of single volunteer placements, each addressing a different disability need area or activity. In both cases, assignments might be programmed either simultaneously or sequentially.
Class IV (Programs for the Disabled): A Class IV country is distinguished by, in effect, combining the two kinds of "projects" described above. That is, it systematically coordinates Peace Corps "projects", each with a number of volunteers, into an overall program addressing a variety of disabilities and specialty areas. For example, a country which has a number of volunteers working in a polio or rubella vaccination project (disability prevention), a deaf education project (special education) and a vocational training project for blind young adults (vocational education) would have a "program" for the handicapped.
Using this system, we see that in terms of activity, Peace Corps presently has 17 Class I countries, 10 Class II countries, 10 Class III countries and 12 Class IV countries working in activities to benefit disabled persons (see charts that follow).
This system could also be applied to other Peace Corps programming areas such as Fisheries or Forestry/Conservation. In this classification scheme, the total number of volunteers in each project is not as important as their systematic assignment in particular project areas.
The Peace Corps is also asked questions such as: How many physical therapists are in the Peace Corps? How many volunteers work in rural areas? or, How many volunteers work in schools with mentally retarded children? These kinds of questions, whether raised by the White House, a journalist, or a professional association, are frustrating because they are impossible to answer precisely. However, they typically have one thing in common. The questions are generally asking something about the distribution of activities of Peace Corps Volunteers.
The following distribution categories have been chosen as most relevant to discussion of Peace Corps' efforts in activities addressing the needs of handicapped persons:
Work Sector: While the following categories are somewhat imprecise, they are commonly used by international organizations in describing the sectors involved in a particular development project: 1) Health sector, 2) Education sector, 3) Social Service sector, and 4) Vocational Development sector.
Locale: Three categories have been selected to indicate whether a volunteer is working in a predominantly urban or rural setting. The setting, 1) Urban, 2) Small Town or Village, or 3) Rural, often affects the material, institutional and human resources available to a volunteer.
Specialty Area: It may also be useful to program planners, recruiters, and the leadership of professional organizations to know what professional background the Peace Corps Volunteer brings to his or her assignment. For example, we may find that the Peace Corps has been very successful in recruiting volunteers from the speech and hearing professions while being considerably less successful in recruiting physical therapists. A systematic change in recruitment strategy might alleviate such a problem. The most common professional backgrounds of volunteers presently working in the areas of disability prevention and rehabilitation are social workers, physical therapists, special education teachers, occupational therapists, speech and hearing specialists, and nurses.
Type of Disability: It is also important to the program planner to know what kinds of disabilities are addressed by the work of Peace Corps Volunteers in a given country. For example, we may find that volunteers are more successful working in the area of deaf education than in the education of blind persons. If that were the case, it would have considerable impact on future programming decisions. Or, an APCD* considering new programming initiatives in a special education/rehabilitation field may wish to exchange ideas or get advice from another APCD in a neighboring country. One useful way of categorizing disabilities is as follows: 1) Seeing Problems, 2) Hearing Problems, 3) Learning Problems, 4) Mobility Problems, 5) Behavior Problems, and 6) Multiple Problems.
*Associate Peace Corps Director, generally functioning as field programmer
The charts on the following pages represent the above information graphically for a time period of approximately three years (1977-1980). The distribution categories are independent from each other and are not intended to illustrate whether a specific social work volunteer in Colombia is working in an urban area, small town, or rural site, or to relate one category directly to another. At any given time, however, a Peace Corps staff person may want to use a blank copy of the chart to assess the current status of Peace Corps assignments and substitute actual numbers for the dots used in this "recent history" status report, in which case the above correlations could be made. The format could also be adapted to describe other time periods representing, for example, "current status", the past five years, or the entire history of the Peace Corps.
NOTE: A blank square indicates that the authors found no documented evidence of PCV activity in that category for the time frame represented by the chart.
* Peace Corps phased out all activities in December, 1980
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