Charles M


All of UCP’s clients are mentally disabled. Their disabilities fall all over the spectrum of impairment. There are clients, such as Junior, who are basically self-sufficient but still need assistance to focus their attention. There are other clients, such as Brian, who need constant care to perform basic tasks like using the restroom or taking off a jacket. There are also clients at UCP who have physical disabilities as well as mental disabilities. I met two clients who use wheelchairs. I met a blind client. There are also a few clients who have stability issues and need assistance walking. Each full-time staff member of UCP has detailed explanations of each client’s disabilities available to them. As a volunteer, however, I was not given such detailed information so my explanation of differing clients’ disabilities comes simply from observation.
UCP provides a wonderful service to many members of the greater Carlisle community. UCP provides a safe and comfortable environment where adults with mental disabilities can interact, learn, and be entertained. Each day clients have the opportunity to practice household skills, play games, or simply speak with other clients and staff members. Often UCP shows movies or takes field trips into the community. Nearly all of the clients seem to really enjoy being at the UCP facility. In addition, UCP provides a wonderful service for the families of adults with mental disabilities. Many clients are dropped-off and picked-up by their parents. UCP allows family members to have normal work days without having to worry about the health and wellbeing of their disabled loved ones.
Personally, I don’t feel like I made a great impact on the clients of UCP. I only visited with the clients a few times for two hours at a time. That being said, I feel that when I was at UCP I brightened a few clients’ days. Junior, for example, always seemed very excited to talk and make puzzles with me. I don’t feel as if I truly helped him but I think I provided him with friendship and entertainment. I also think I was helpful to the UCP staff. UCP, on a typical day, has over 20 clients and only 4 to 5 staff members. Each time I visited UCP I felt like my extra eyes and hands were greatly appreciated by the staff.
I think all of UCP’s clients face many problems in “normative” society. First and foremost, every client is visibly disabled. When they are interacting in society it is instantly clear that they are not “normal.” I am sure that they all receive weird stares and are made to feel different by many people in “normative” society. Furthermore, all of UCP’s clients are not totally self-sufficient. They all need help with a variety of tasks and none of them are capable of living on their own. Many of the clients realize that in “normative” society adults are supposed to take care of themselves. Therefore, they realize they are not like other adults. Finally, most of UCP’s clients do not even have opportunities to interact with “normative” society. Some clients live in group homes. During the morning and the night they are with other adults with disabilities at their group homes and during the day they are at UCP. Many of the clients can go days without entering “normative” society.
I found my experience at UCP very rewarding. At the beginning of this course we discussed the way “normative” society looks at the disabled. During class discussions I always felt as if I was better than they average norm. I didn’t think I looked at the disabled any differently than I look at anyone else. My experience at UCP proved me wrong. During my first visit I felt extremely uncomfortable interacting with the UCP clients. I didn’t know why, but I just felt out of place. With each subsequent visit, however, I have become more comfortable interacting with the clients. I now realize that I do, like many people in our society, look at people with disabilities as not “normal.” At the very least, my time at UCP has opened my eyes to the way I treat those around me. Now when I see someone with a disability, I try to focus on the fact that “normal” does not exist and therefore I should take everyone as the come and only evaluate someone after I know them.

Tara, Jen and I arrived at UCP last Wednesday at 8:30 am. We spent the first ten minutes talking to one of the UCP employees. She tried to help us with the information we needed for our wiki page, but in the end she just referred us to someone who works in the main UCP office. We then started helping different clients as they arrived for the day. From 9:00 to 9:30 I helped Brian with different building block activities. I handed him a new project each time he finished the previous task. We did not talk, he just handed me one project and I handed him another. At 9:30 I went and talked with Tara, Jen, Junior and Michael. (Junior and Michael are UCP clients) We all worked on puzzles and talked about different television shows. At 9:45, Bonnie, one of the UCP employees, gathered everyone around and read information about Antarctica (the theme for the day). She then informed everyone that it was Suzie’s birthday and we all sang happy birthday. At 10:20 I left UCP.
This UCP experience was different than my past experiences. Typically, Tara, Jen and I work together with a group of clients. Today we all split up for a little while. Bonnie asked me to help Brian, so I went to work with him. Brian does not talk and doesn’t interact often with people at UCP. My time working with Brian was a little uncomfortable for me because I was just standing next to him. I tried starting conversation a few times but he was not receptive to us talking. I know that all I was suppose to do was keep him supplied with block projects but it felt weird for me to stand next to him without speaking. I enjoyed meeting Michael this visit. I had never met him before and he was very friendly. Typically Junior is the only client who feels completely comfortable talking with us. It was nice have Michael join our little group. He told me as I was leaving that he was glad we came to visit.
Every day at UCP is the same. The clients arrive at 8:30. From 8:30 until 9:45 they work on puzzles, projects or just do whatever they like. At 9:45 they all gather and a UCP employees reads the information of the day. Then there is either a fieldtrip or a movie before lunch. Then they have lunch. After lunch they clean up and go home. When I first started visiting UCP I was struck by how boring each day seems. But now I realize that all the clients have a wonderful time each day. The activities they do each day are very exciting for them even though they do them everyday. I now realize that UCP is great because it provides a comfortable environment for all the clients. It is a consistent place where they know what to aspect. It seems to serve the same purpose that the carnival serves for many of its employees and for all the Binewski’s. Everyone, for the most part, feels accepted within the perimeter of the carnival tents and trailers. The outside world is filled with “norms” and the unpredictable. UCP and the carnival are comfortable environments, where members of their respected communities feel truly at ease.

Tara and I arrived at UCP at 8:55 a.m. on Friday. We met Jen just after we walked into the facility. For the first 30 minutes, I helped clients enter the facility by holding open the front door. I was then told by a staff member not to hold the door for the clients because “they could do it themselves.” I then sat at a table with Jen, Tara and Junior (a client). We talked about Junior’s favorite TV shows and we helped Junior complete a puzzle. At 9:45 a.m. I approached a client named Suzie and asked her if she wanted to help us with a puzzle. She got very angry and yelled at me to go away. At 10:00 a.m. Richard, a staff member, gathered everyone together and read a fifteen minute women’s history packet in honor of women’s history month. At 10:15 a.m., ten clients went to the mall with Richard and Bonnie. The remaining clients sat by themselves doing activities and listening to music. For the last 30 minutes of the visit I sat at a table with Jen and Tara and talked.

This experience at UCP was not as positive as my first experience. When we arrived, I felt that I was having a lot of positive interactions with the clients as the entered the center. I was simply standing at the door and when a client arrived, I opened the door and said “good morning.” The staff member who asked me to stop opening the door was rude, and later I saw her holding the door for incoming clients, so I am not sure why she asked me to stop in the first place. My interaction with Suzie was upsetting. Suzie always approaches Tara, Jen and me and initiates conversation. Therefore, I felt comfortable approaching Suzie about the puzzle. Unfortunately, I misread Suzie and in the future I will wait for her to approach me. While Richard read the women’s history information I observed that not a single client or staff member was paying attention to what he said, so I was a little confused about the purpose of the activity. The finally 30 minutes of this visit were really uncomfortable. All of the “social” clients went to the mall, so the only clients left at UCP were the individuals who liked to be by themselves. Tara, Jen and I just sat at a table feeling like we should have been doing something but not knowing what to do.

A few clients at UCP have physical disabilities in addition to their mental retardation, but, for the most part, the majority of the clients have no physical abnormalities. In addition, many of the clients live at home with their families or in group homes where they are visited by loved ones. When I made this observation, I came to understand why I am not satisfied by the way in which Lethem portrayed the disabled in Motherless Brooklyn. Often times, people don’t expect “normal” individuals to be disabled. For example, the thinking is that only poor people get disabilities or people with physical disabilities also usually have mental disabilities. Society is surprised when someone coming from a “normal” background, who is otherwise completely “normal” has a disability. Lethem for some reason couldn’t let Lionel just have Tourette’s, he had to make him an orphan with a weird penis. By making Lionel not “normal” even without his disability, Lethem, in my opinion, is simple fostering the image that “normal” people can’t be disabled.

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