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Through Photovoice Project, Home Care Workers Show True Nature of Their Work

June 24, 2015

The results of Photovoice, a “participatory action research” project undertaken by seven Philadelphia home care workers earlier this year, are now available in an online video.

The aides were given cameras and tasked with taking pictures that show the reality of their work and their lives. But, as Amy Russo, a graduate student at Sarah Lawrence College who coordinated the project, said, Photovoice is “not just about taking pictures. The point is to create a sense of community and empowerment among people, allowing them to express themselves as a force to be reckoned with.”

Home care workers are “wildly under-recognized, underpaid, and underappreciated,” Russo said. Photovoice gave them a way to express themselves through the medium of photography.

The seven participants (pdf) — all home care aides from Home Care Associates, a PHI affiliate based in Philadelphia — met three times this winter. Working with Russo, they collaboratively developed several themes they wanted their photos to reflect, including money, time, and safety.

Amin Green, an HCA home health aide for the last five years, illustrated the safety theme with a picture of a consumer’s dangerously cluttered basement. Green must go down into the basement to do his client’s laundry, even though it presents a safety risk and fire hazard, he said.

The workers also wanted to show “what we go through before we leave for work, and what happens after work,” said Tyneeka Jones, one of the Photovoice participants. A single mother, Jones took pictures of her young son, illustrating her daily challenge of “getting my son to school and still managing to get to work on time.”

Jones, Green, and HCA President Karen Kulp agreed that an ideal audience for the Photovoice pictures would be policymakers — “the folks who have the power to get an increase [in Medicaid reimbursement] rates,” Kulp said.

She also said that, after showing the results (pdf) of the Photovoice project at a recent annual statewide home care conference in Pennsylvania, she was approached by administrators from other home care agencies, who asked if they could show them to incoming aides as a way of “showing people what the job is really like.” (Russo will also present the Photovoice video at the upcoming Healthy Aging Summit, to be held in July in Washington, DC.)

Ultimately, the HCA aides wanted to express the true nature of their job, and the often challenging conditions in which they have to work. “They wanted very much for people to understand what they do every day,” Russo said.

Most importantly, they wanted to convey that their work has real value — more value than most people realize. “Their pictures say, We really have skills here,” Russo said. “In fact, our skills help people to live their lives.”

— by Matthew Ozga

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