Mon 18 Apr 2005
Word Count: 1,200
I was not exactly sure what type of disabilities the people at UCP would have when I first found out I would be working there. However, I soon found out from Stephanie that the clients had been diagnosed with mental retardation. After my first day there, I realized that there were clearly different levels of severity the clients were dealing with. Some of the clients can communicate their thoughts clearly and are somewhat independent. I could have conversations with them and they were fully engaged in their surroundings. Another group of clients had more trouble communicating with others, needed supervision, and in some cases were not aware of their environment at all. Also, some of the clients just had a mental disability, while others have both mental and physical disabilities.
There are many benefits to UCP because of what they try to do for their clients. UCP helps the clients prepare for social situations. They go on field trips and are put into public, social environments, and they also learn to interact with each other by doing different activities during the day. They are told to clean up after themselves, to act appropriately (i.e. not cursing, not belching, no touching/hitting) and other things that they can use when they are not at UCP. This agency also really helps the clients because it allows them to be “normal”. Here, they are in a different context where they are surrounded by people similar to themselves. Their differences and needs are accommodated for and they can function properly.
I hope I personally impacted the people I worked with. I did activities with them such as puzzles, dying Easter eggs, math games, computer games, coloring, and other activities that would build their skills. More importantly however, I just opened up my mind and my heart and really experienced what they do in a normal day. I welcomed everyone there as a friend, and they seemed to really enjoy having me there. I really hope that I genuinely made them happy and that they felt comfortable with me. It felt really great to me that I was able to help them finish a project, help them with a puzzle they were having trouble with, or just talk to them about their day and what they had done that past weekend. If I could make their day a little better by talking with them or just making them feel special, that is really important and is it something great that I’m sure we all accomplished during this experience.
The agency faces problems when it comes to “normative” society because of the way our culture looks at people who are different. The workers at UCP take the clients out around Carlisle to get them out of the building, and to get them out into social situations. For example, some days the clients go to the Bosler Library. Although I think it is a very good idea for the clients to go on trips like this, it puts them in a vulnerable position and exposes them to people who are either not going to accept their difference, or are not going to know how to act around them because they have disabilities. The clients definitely receive “the stare” because some people just do not understand. They may get nervous because they don’t know what kind of disability the clients have exactly, so they may feel like the clients may be unpredictable or dangerous. It just shows how people not only need to be more accepting of others with differences, but also need to learn more about people who may have a disability, of any kind, because it really does cause problems and is extremely unfair.
I think two important themes from our reading came to my attention during my experience at UCP. The first one was discussed in Garland-Thomson’s reading. She writes about the fact that people with disabilities are perceived as childlike, innocent, and people who are always happy. This is something that I definitely felt during my time at UCP, and I know it was wrong of me. I think why I thought this was because of the environment: there are children’s puzzles, kindergarten math games, coloring books, etc. all over the building. To be quite honest, it really does look like a preschool when you first walk in. I think this is why I immediately took these people as childlike. This also leads to society believing that people with disabilities are also innocent people who are just always content. This is something that I also perceived when I first got to UCP. I realize now how dehumanizing that attitude really is. After talking and doing activities with people like Dru, Howard, and Mark, I finally figured out that they have the same feelings as anyone else. They get frustrated, angry, and can either help or hurt the people around them, just like people in a “normative” society. I think it is important that we all had the opportunity to work with people in this setting because it really was helpful to my preset ideas about people with mental disabilities. I think the other important theme from our reading that came out to me was how “norms” that aren’t exposed to people with disabilities are so uncomfortable and have no idea how to act around them. This was important in Extraordinary Bodies and Motherless Brooklyn. In Garland-Thompson‘s reading, she writes that “a non disabled person often does not know how to act toward a disabled person: how or whether to offer assistance; whether to acknowledge the disability; what words, gestures, or expectations to use or avoid” (Garland-Thompson 12). In other cases, the “norm” does not take the person seriously because of their disability. We see this a lot in Motherless Brooklyn; Lionel is constantly treated like he is unworthy and incompetent. People are either scared of him and think he is dangerous, or don’t want to even listen to him. I noticed this at UCP when people would come to deliver packages. For example, the mailman came everyday and was obviously very familiar with the clients. He knew all their names and was very comfortable talking to them. He was even able to communicate with Mark, who has little motor skills and cannot talk except making noises. He told Mark how good his art project was and that he liked his new haircut. Mark was obviously so excited that the mailman was making a fuss over him and was really happy. However, a few times someone would come to drop something off, and since they were not familiar with the people or the environment, they were clearly uncomfortable and steered away from the clients as much as they could. None of these clients really have any behavioral problems, so there is no reason to be scared or nervous around them, but these people definitely were ignoring the clients when they came up to them and tried to get to Stephanie’s office as fast as they could. I think we see this happening to Lionel a lot during Motherless Brooklyn and I believe Garland-Thompson really accurately writes about how “norms” act around those with disabilities.