Rachael O

Cumberland Perry Association for Retarded Citizens is an organization of volunteers who help many people with different levels of mental disabilities. There are people who are able to live in an appartement building for the elderly, there are people who have their own rooms but live together in a house and then there are people who live in a cluster appartements. The cluster home is similar to that of the appartement building but they do not have as much freedom. Depending of how impairing the disability is, is how the volunteers of CPARC determine where to place a client under their care. In the appartement for the elderly, the people there are able to spend much of their time independantly. However, in the group home and cluster appartement, someone is always there in case of emergency.

The volunteers of CPARC seem to be there mainly for support of their clients. They visit with their clients and the interactions are those of friends instead of, for example, nurse and patient. They know what is happening in each other’s lives and seem to be genuinely interested in that. The majority of the people with disabilities who are a part of CPARC appear to be independant and with few exceptions capable of taking care of themselves. However, the volunteers do perform certain services that are helpful to their clients. They make sure they are taking their medecine, have good personal hygeine, make them dinner and help with any normal household repairs.

My interactions with the clients of CPARC would have personally impacted them as meeting a new friend. The time I spent with them was a social visit. We talked about the details of our lives, such as family, work and boyfriends. We also watched movies and talked about, to an extent, pop culture. I think it may have been exciting for them to meet a new person, as it is for all of us, but once the intial introductions were over, they seemed to lose interest and go back to what they were originally doing. However, they were eager to show me their rooms and to discuss what was new in their lives. The time I spent with them seemed to have a greater impact on myself than on them. They helped me to understand how ill-informed cultural assumptions are and that people with disabilities are people with real feelings and different personalities and shoud be treated as such.

The problems the people who utilize CPARC face in “normative” society are those similar to the problems the elderly face. People tend to see them without really seeing them. In other words, people will notice that they are in public, but not openly acknowlege their presence. People tend to treat them as a nuisance instead of an active part of society. Because they look, speak and behave differently from what is expected, the clients of CPARC have difficulty blending in to “normative” society. They have problems performing the most basic of activities, such as making dinner and remembering to take their medecine or to taking a walk without a cane or wheelchair. Unfortuntately, this makes them conspicuous enough in public for people to take notice and then pretend that they are not there.

This experience connects to my work in this class because it is a real life example of the theories and cultural assumptions we have been reading. The preconceived notions I had about people with disabilites were the exact cultural assumptions we read and with CPARC, I have realized they are mistaken. However, even though I am now able to recongnize my feelings, my time with CPARC has not been able to change those feelings. Each time I visited, I felt more comfortable, but before, during and after my service hours, I still felt the same annoyance, dread and then guilt for even having those feelings.

Today I went back to the group home that I had visited for my second service experience. This time, the three women were there plus the three men. When I first arrived, only two of the women were downstairs and so we talked about their day at work and what they had been doing since the last time I was there. Then the other woman and the younger man came downstairs and joined the conversation. The younger man asked us questions about who we were, our family, where we were from and our likes and dislikes. He told us about his family and his likes and dislikes. Then he wanted to show us his room and his video games, movies and cds. He told us which ones were his favorite and asked us which ones were ours. After he showed us his room, we went downstairs and watched SpiderMan until it was time for them to eat dinner.
During this visit, I felt relaxed and comfortable. Despite this, I still felt nervous about them touching me or myself sitting on their couch because I still feel as though they have a disease or that they are dirty. Even though with this class I am able to recognize my cultural assumptions and the fact that they are wrong and ill -informed, I can not help feeling this way. Also, the younger man kept pacing around the room and looking out the window and was continuously fidgeting with objects around the room. This made me feel very uneasy and I just wanted to tell him to stop and to sit down. One of the women was also moving around a lot and making jokes about one of the volunteers and laughing, which made me feel very much annoyed. The more time I spend with these people, the more I perceive them as people who should be incorporated into society. With their physical bodies, they are adults. However, their mental compacities are that of a young child. Their conversations and the way they are interested in their hobbies and daily life reminds me of the way a young child is interested in “adult life”. And the way in which I react to them is the way adults react to the behaviors of a young child.
This experience reminds me of the way Gilbert treats Arnie in “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?”. Even though Gilbert treats Arnie with respect and loves him, he becomes frustrated with his behaviors. Arnie’s body is that of a teenager, but his mental ability is that of a young child. There are times that Gilbert feels that Arnie should be acting in a socially acceptable manner of a teenager because when strangers see Arnie, they see him as a normal teenager instead of a person with mental disabilities. However, it is difficult for Gilbert because he realizes that he can not reprimand Arnie or be disappointed or embarrassed of his behaviors the same way he would be able to if Arnie did not have disabilities. Even though I was annoyed be this group’s behaviors, I was aware that I should not have had these feelings because they were not able to act differently. They are not able to learn social behaviors acceptable to that of an adult and so their actions remain that of a young child. Through watching the interaction between Gilbert and Arnie, I realize that I am not the only one who had conflicting feelings when interacting with people with disabilities. It helps me to understand that I am not the only one who can be frustrated, but that they can also be as frustrated as I am because there are times when I do not understand them.

I met one of the volunteers in the back parking lot of CPARC. We went to an apartment building where some of the clients live. Since it was a nice day outside, some of the elderly people who live there as well, were sitting outside on benches and we talked to them while waiting for one of the women to arrive that I was going to visit. The woman I was with became impatient and called the woman we were waiting for on the cell phone. They talked for a few minutes and then I saw a woman in a motorized wheelchair come flying around the corner. We went up to her apartment, where she talked to us about her boyfriend, what she had done that day but mostly about a seminar about the apocalypse and the end of the world that she had been attending. When we finished visiting with her, we went down the hall and talked briefly to a gentleman that also was a client of CPARC. Then we went downstairs and visited with another woman. With her, we talked about her boyfriend and tried to fix her VCR. With the last woman we visited, we talked about her participation in an historical project that Carlisle schools are doing. Afterwards, the volunteer from CPARC drove me home.
I was really surprised by how independant all of these people were. Even though they have disabilities, they are well enough to live in their own apartments, without someone watching them all of the time. Also, all of their apartments were clean and decorated as a home would have been. They were all involved in the community and were able to have lives outside of what was happening at CPARC. However, what really disturbed me throughout this entire visit, was the fact that the first woman I met with seemed to be completely duped by a so-called priest who was leading the seminar about the end of the world. She kept saying that she had found religion and that this was the best seminar she had ever been to and that if anyone had any questions about being a Christian, he should talk to this priest. It was really disheartening to hear her talk, because the pamphlet that this man was giving, was very fundamentalist. It concentrated on the evils in the world and did not give any suggestions on how one could better themselves. I was also worried because this man charged $50 for each pamphlet and so he was bascially profiting from this woman with mental disabilities, who, according to him, was a mistake as a person and will not be accepted into heaven when the end of the world occurs.
This experience reminded me of the short story, “Good Country People”. I felt that this priest was similar to Manley Pointer in that he was preying on people with disabilities and using the Bible and religion as a way to profit in life. This woman has obvious disabilities, and yet he still let her buy his pamphlet and was preaching his beliefs to her. It was quite clear to me that this man has extremist views about the interpretation of the Bible, but to her, he seemed to be preaching the truth. She felt that he could not do anything wrong and she was not able to wait until the next session of his seminar. However, because she has disabilities, in my opinion, she was not able to distinguish between his obviously skewed interpretation of the Bible and how preachers who have gone through seminary school teach the Bible to others. It was amazing to read what he had to say and realize that he had to be mentally sick in some way to really believe his thoughts were true and then to listen to her rave about how intelligent and sophisticated he was. Similar to Manley Pointer, I feel as though this preacher was looking for people who are easily influenced so that he can profit from their belief in him.

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