Thu 21 Apr 2005
The United Cerebal Palsy (UCP) website states that the organization’s goal is to “advance the independence, productivity and full citizenship of people with disabilities through an affiliate network”. At the UCP center in Carlisle, PA, there is evidence of this mission statement at work. During the time that I volunteered at UCP I was able to interact with a majority of the clients. As a volunteer I was not given particular details about each client’s disability, but was able to communicate, both verbally and non-verbally, with individuals who had a range of disabilities. Some clients were only affected by their disabilities in one or two ways (i.e. a speech impediment), whereas others may have been unable to speak (non-verbal communictaors), needed wheelchair assistance, and/or needed to be restrained as a result of violent actions.
Despite the range of disabilities that the clients at UCP have, this particular agency provided a safe, encouraging and beneficial space for the clients to interact in. The agency is designed to provide “all persons in the community, regardless of ability or disability [to] have an equitable opportunity to fully participate in all facets of community life, in accord with their personal needs and interests”. Reading books, enjoying music, creating art projects, having discussions, exercising and eating meals are some of the everyday activities included in UCP’s agenda that allow clients to be part of “community life”. The volunteers and staff members at the agency also work hard to teach and help clients be independent and their expectations and assistance coincide with each client’s particualr disability(ies).
A majority of the clients who use UCP are not partaking in “normative” society on a daily basis. Some clients come to the agency every day, others only come once or twice a week and there were some clients who I saw for the first time during my last visit with the agency. Some of these clients live with a parent or guardian and I suspect that these individuals have more experiences with “normative” society by having daily interactions with individuals who are not disabled and who do not choose to utilize the agency. On the other hand, some clients come to the agency from homes designed to provide care and assistance to disabled individuals. These clients are not interacting with “normative” society on a daily basis and, in fact, their only interaction with “norms” are with the staff members and volunteers at UCP and in their residences. Since UCP and homes designed for people with disabilities require a staff, it seems as though a dominant/subordinate realtionship exists between those individuals with disabilities and the able-bodied staff members and this becomes problematic for disabled individuals who want to/should/need to partake in “normative” society.
There were a handful of clients at UCP that I was able to form some type of relationship with. It was easiest to bond with and spend a substantial amount of time with those clients that were there during all of my visits and this was the case with both Robyn and Junior. Although I am not qualified to judge the clients’
“progress” or “development” in the weeks that I spent volunteering at UCP, I felt like I made some sort of impression or impact on both of these clients. Junior remembered my name and the college’s name each time I arrived at UCP and we would often write both of these down each time I was at UCP. Junior was also very responsive to requests if I asked him to wait a minute or move his chair if he was sitting too close and I’m not sure if these behaviors were dependant upon the level of his disability or if it meant that he had some sense of respect for me. My interaction with Robyn during my time at UCP was another relationship that I think is worth mentioning. When I first arrived at UCP I tried to talk to Robyn and to do a puzzle with her and she would only stare at me, but would not respond to my words or actions. I later found out that Robyn is a non-verbal commuicator, meaning that she cannot speak. During my next visit, Robyn approached me and took my hand to pull me out of my seat. She brought me over to the kitchenette area and by carefully trying to interpret her request I was able to figure out that she wanted me to get her a cup of tea. Even though this was such a small task, it was a rewarding experience to be able communicate with Robyn in a way that allowed us to interact on the same level, rather than me feeling lost and confused while I was trying to talk to her.
One theme that we have addressed, directly and indirectly, in our class readings and discussion has been the way that disability studies challenges the notion of the American dream. It becomes apparent that American dream ideals such as social and financial mobility, independence, determination and autonomy are taken for granted in “normative” societies. This concept became especially clear to me during my time at UCP where I interacted with individuals who really don’t have much of a say regarding their personal liberties due to their respective disabilities. The fact that much of our society is based upon these values and that any individual with a disability “challenges” those values suggests that maybe we need to both rethink and reshape those ideals so that they work to include rather than exclude individuals in the same society, regardless of difference.