Mon 18 Apr 2005
My understanding of the types of impairments I was exposed to at CPARC is limited. I know that all the people I met have mental retardation. However, there are varying degrees of mental retardation. I learned that the different levels of retardation are based on the person’s IQ level. For example, the people with higher IQ’s are considered less retarded than the people with lower IQ’s. This seems rather obvious, but I hadn’t realized that there were varying degrees of mental retardation until I volunteered at CPARC. In fact, each different CPARC program pertains to varying levels of disability. For example, the people with the highest level of mental retardation live in the group home at CPARC, the people who are slightly less disabled live in the cluster appartments, and then the people who have more mild forms of mental retardation live in the North St. Apartments.
CPARC is such a beneficial agency because it gives so many opportunities to people with mental retardation. Each establishment I visited was filled with employees who seem to genuinely love working with people in need. The first place I visited was the cluster apartment complex, where people live in their own apartments, but have staff members right down the hall at all times. This is such a great option for people with milder forms of mental retardation because they can have the independence and agency in their own lives, but don’t have to worry about emergencies arising or becoming lonely because an employee is always close by. I feel that this is a great place for these people because it offers independence, while still providing the option of care when necessary. The group home is for people with a higher need for assistance than the cluster apartment tenants. I think the group home is incredible for these people because they live in a beautiful house, each person has her own room, and meals are made for them every day by an employee. The employees at the group home really seem to consider all the people part of a family. In the living room, there are portraits of each person who lives in the house. The home gives the people the sense of having a family, and they all seem to get along well and genuinely care about each other. The final CPARC establishment that I visited also seems full of positive opportunities for the people with disability. The North St. Apartments are for people who can pretty much function on their own, but need assistance from time to time. These apartments are very nice and spacious and the people seem to be able to lead very independent lives, handling their own groceries and small errands for the most part. They just need help getting rides places and with information they receive in the mail and things of that nature. The North St. Apartments are beneficial because they allow people to live among people without mental retardation and to do most things themselves instead of relying on other people. The CPARC organizations that I visited seem quite beneficial to the people involved because they provide them with opportunities they wouldn’t ordinarily be able to have.
I am not sure how much I personally impacted the people who utilize CPARC. I like to think that the people I met were happy to have someone to talk to and share their interests with. However, each week I went to a different organization with different people involved. I went to the Group Home twice, and the second time I don’t think that the women I had met two weeks ago still remembered me. I guess it doesn’t matter that they didn’t remember me; what matters is that they enjoyed my company. I do think everyone I met seemed excited to share parts of their lives to a stranger. They seemed thrilled to have someone take an interest in their lives and often showed us photo albums, paintings they had completed, and their favorite movies or stuffed animals. I do not think that I personally had a huge impact on these people, but the people did seem to appreciate having someone to talk to about themselves. In other words, I think the way I impacted these people was simply by being there, listening, and asking questions about their lives.
The problems the people who utilize CPARC face in “normative” society were never really addressed during my CPARC visits. I assume, however, that it is more difficult for them to be understood when they step outside of the CPARC establishments. I’m sure they have faced ridicule and mockery from certain people in “normative” society. For example, many of the people who utilize CPARC work at Walmart or at Dickinson College. I’m sure that in their job settings, there are times when they feel uncomfortable and face ill treatment. None of the people I met ever mentioned anything like this. However, when I was watching Spiderman with the members of the group home during my last visit, a couple of them expressed concern and sadness when Tobey Maguire’s character is being made fun of at the beginning of the movie. I didn’t make this link until now, but it could be that they identified with his character because of past experiences they’ve had with “normative society.”
My experience at CPARC connects to my work in class because my impression of mental retardation was very different from what it actually turned out to be like. I was definitely guilty of thinking that all people with mental retardation have difficulty speaking and can’t carry on conversations. While some of the people who utilize CPARC did exhibit some of these qualities I had imagined, for the most part my assumptions were wrong. Not only did I learn that there are so many varying degrees of mental retardation, but I also learned that it was possible to relate to people with mental retardation. Each person has her own distinct personality independent of the disability. They are not their disability in other words, like we have discussed in class. Rather, mental retardation is one aspect of their personalities, but not their entire beings. It was good for me to meet so many different people because it gave me the opportunity to realize that everyone had different senses of humor, past experiences, likes and dislikes, and so forth. Just as foreigners who come to our country are often grouped together as “French” or “Puerto Rican,” mentally retarded people are also grouped together in an all encompassing group. From my experiences at CPARC, I learned that our construction of disability in society is very skewed and unsettling.