Melissa P

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.

Today was my last day at UCP. I arrived after lunch, so the clients were on their own and were free to do whatever activities they pleased. After saying hi to everyone, I started playing on the computer with Dru. First she did a coloring program and we made different pictures. After she got tired of coloring, we did other CD’s. We did a few learning programs. Dru knew how to play all of the games and showed me how each game worked. We did alphabet, number, shape, and matching games. Dru showed me all the CD’s that they have there, and explained what the programs were. She knew what she was doing on the computer, and really liked the matching games. Some clients kept coming up to me and hugging me while we were on the computer, but they wouldn’t talk to me when I tried to communicate with them. Dru asked me what I had done for Easter, how I had gotten to UCP that afternoon, and other questions. Around this time, Becky took two of the older clients outside to smoke. The past few times I have noticed Becky takes these two men out to smoke every afternoon, but she is the only one who takes them out. Dru left a bit earlier than everyone else, so after she left I watched a concert with the clients. First they were watching a country music DVD, which they love, but then they put in a John Lennon DVD. Jess danced through the whole DVD, and Junior was singing to the Lennon songs he knew. After watching a little bit of the DVD, Junior and I decided to do a puzzle. He picked out the puzzle, and was much more focused than he usually is. He kept telling me he loved me and that we were best friends, but he also kept asking me if I was okay, and if I felt okay. He seemed interested in the puzzle and was actively involved in putting it together with me, which was different since he usually isn’t very focused on the activities. When one client kept coming up to me and putting his arm around me, Junior would say “Don’t touch her, go away” until they left. We didn’t get the puzzle finished, but he helped me clean everything up and put our mess away. I said goodbye to Stephanie, who told me that she would be leaving UCP in a couple days, so we would be getting in touch with other people if we needed anything else. I left around 2:30, the same time most of the clients were leaving.
I really enjoyed my last visit to UCP, I really got to be involved and do fun activities with the clients. Everyone greeted me with such enthusiasm as always. Dru had fun working on the computer, she explained to me how to do everything, and seemed interested in me and what was going on with me, asking about what I had done that weekend and whatnot. She is such a nice person and really seems to genuinely care about everyone she is with at UCP. Doing a puzzle with Junior was different than when we had done puzzles before, because he was focused and interested in what we were doing. Of course he told me over and over again that he loved me, but he was also really trying to get the puzzle together. I found it very interesting that Junior asked me if I was okay. For some reason I thought back to last week, when Junior kept saying he didn’t feel good and that he thought he was going to vomit. Maybe someone had kept saying “Are you okay?” to him then so he was repeating it. Maybe that is also why he tells everyone he loves them and that they are friends. He also repeats “I won’t hurt you, and I’ll take good care of you”. This is just a thought that entered my head, since he hadn’t ever asked me that before. Junior also has remembered my name since the first time I told him it a while back. I didn’t think he would, since I am only there a couple hours a week, but he knew it, and also told me “You go to Dickinson College”. Junior always gets angry when other clients come up to me and touch my hand, arms, or shoulders. He gets so annoyed, and it seems as if he is kind of possessive. He also gets upset when someone screams. There are a few clients there who scream randomly, or scream when something goes wrong. He tells them to stop and that they are giving him a headache. The clients love to watch concerts, it is the only thing they have ever watched while I have been there. Jess dances, Junior sings, and the rest like to watch the TV. I don’t know why they love concerts, (especially country music concerts) but they watch them every afternoon. When I left, everyone gave me such a nice, friendly goodbye.
After my last visit, I thought about how these people are only disabled when they leave UCP. They have games, food, activities, and an environment that accomodates them and allows them to led “normal” lives while they are there. Garland-Thompson writes that our society needs to stop assuming that bodies need to conform to what is considered normal, but that we need to change our cultural/social environment to accomodate every type of physical difference. Our society in general does not accomodate, although awareness of disability and disability studies is helping. However, a place like UCP really does accomodate for people with physical and mental differences, and they can not only enjoy themselves, but also led productive lives while they are there. Hopefully everyone else will catch on and be made aware of the changes that we need to make as a society to embrace all differences.

Today was my third visit to UCP. I arrived around 10 o’clock. The group was just getting ready to dye Easter eggs. Some of the clients seemed excited about it, while others didn’t really even take notice to the fact they were doing a craft. I have never been to UCP in the morning, so this was my first time actually doing a structured activity with the group. This was also my first time working with Becky, and she was in charge of this activity. I helped dye eggs with Dru, Junior, Jess, Frances, Mark, and a few others. Some didn’t want to participate and did other things like puzzles and coloring. Becky kept having to pull people over to get them involved! This activity took up over an hour. While we were doing the eggs, Jess put on a CD. Dru and Jess started dancing and got very excited about the songs, while Junior decided to sing to the songs. We then cleaned up and got ready for lunch. Stephanie says they really need help with opening their lunches, so I walked around and helped everyone get their lunch set up. We had a little scare, when someone choked on their lunch, but Becky calmly helped him and he was okay. Junior kept telling us that he didn’t feel good, and he didn’t seem to be too interested in eating his food. Mary also kept getting up and walking around when everyone was supposed to be sitting down, and it took a while to get her settled in. I left around noon, when the clients were cleaning up from lunch.
It seems like I didn’t get to interact with as many people as I had previously, and I think that was because we were doing an activity. I was glad I got to help out with what was going on though, and I was glad to finally get to go in the morning and see what happens during activities. Dru, once again, was very motherly towards the other clients, asking them questions about their families and asking them if they needed anything. She likes to help out a lot. Junior didn’t seem himself today; I think he was sick and didn’t feel like doing much. However, he did keep telling me that I was his friend and that he loved me, which he says everytime I see him. Most of the workers there seem to ignore him now when he says that, I think because they hear it so much from him! For some reason, I felt a little uncomfortable at a couple points because a few of the clients, when they come up to you, they grab your shoulders and arms and whatnot. A few times, I had about 3 of them coming up to me grabbing my hands, arms, and shoulders. I then feel bad, because when some of the clients speak to me, I can’t quite understand what they’re saying, but I want to try to communicate with them. I am getting used to the actions and behaviors of everyone there, though.
Something that I’ve noticed in my time at UCP is the fact that some of the workers don’t really listen, even sometimes ignore, the clients they are helping. There is one in particular, but in a lot of cases, the workers don’t seem to take the clients too seriously. The situations are definately different, but it reminded me of Motherless Brooklyn because in this novel, no one ever really listens to Lionel, takes him seriously, or values his thoughts and opinions. I can understand why the workers would choose to ignore a lot of what the clients say because a lot of them repeat things over and over, without meaning. However, it’s something that I’ve definately noticed, it’s as if they don’t really even assume the clients are trying to communicate or have meaning to what they are saying. This was seen in the novel, people assumed Lionel was incompetent and didn’t have anything valuable to say.

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