Rachel Y

After completing my service-learning requirement at the Tri-County Association for the Blind, I had many thoughts and sentiments about the association and what it stands for. Because of the lack of one-on-one work with those who are employed at the association, my group’s learning experience was a little different than others. Even though we did not work consistently with those who are disabled, we were still able to grow and learn from the experience. Now knowing why the association exists, we can use our knowledge for future endeavors in volunteering for our community.

At Tri-County, there were many employees with a myriad of impairments. I was exposed to those who were visually and mentally impaired. Some of the employees were perfectly capable of working on their own while others needed assistance in tasks such as making pens and highlighters, cleaning cassette tapes, etc. Before volunteering at Tri-County, I was wary of the capabilities of those who have such impairments. After working with John, who was mentally and visually impaired, I was astonished at how well he put together the highlighters. He was perfectly capable of sitting alone and working by himself which I would not have thought possible. Thus, I learned a great deal and have a better understanding of those who are visually and mentally impaired. Although these employees cannot do the same things one without any impairment can, they are not unintelligible and work extremely hard.

Because we did not get to work one-on-one with many of the employees at the association, I do not feel there were any great benefits that came from volunteering there. I, along with my fellow volunteers, did lots of the association’s “busy” and “dirty” work. Cleaning cassette tapes for the Library of Congress does not constitute as a great learning experience among the disabled. Knowing we were helping in any small way was one of the only rewards of working for Tri-County.

Personally, I do not feel as though we truly impacted the lives of any of those who utilize the agency because there was only one day in which we sat alongside an employee with some form of impairment. That day for me, included working with a young man named John. Suffering from visual and mental impairments, John is an extremely competent young man who was able to carry on a very delightful conversation with me for the three hours that we were there. Although there was no long term impact, I do feel that for that one day, as short as it may have been, John was able to communicate with a new and fresh person who was willing to look past his disabilities and simply get to know him as a human being – not as a disabled person.

People like John with various impairments face many problems in “normative” society. Many individuals believe that those who are disabled are inherently stupid, incompetent, and useless. Obviously, this is a false perception of those who suffer from impairments such as blindness, deafness, and mental retardation. Every day people with impairments have to get up and face a world full of cynical people who are more likely to write them off as hopeless rather than accept them into “normative” society. The Tri-County Association for the Blind gives people with impairments a job and hope for a better and successful life. Employing the disabled, the association opens its doors to those who would normally be shunned from the world of employment that someone without a disability would be accustomed to. Every day life for people who suffer from various impairments is ten times harder than someone who is walking around with a mere cough or cold. Life is a struggle every second, minute, and hour of every day for people who are stricken with impairments. Tri-County does its best to make the workplace more tolerable and welcoming for those with impairments.

In regards to our class, this experience reflects the trials and tribulations of characters such as Lionel in Motherless Brooklyn and the entire Binewski family’s twisted lives in Geek Love. From the first day of class we discussed that those with impairments are often labeled as immediately disabled. The term “disabled” is thrown around rather loosely without any regards to how it makes the labeled person feel. Labeling someone as disabled suggests that they are incapable of living life the same as someone who is not disabled. The characters in the literature we are reading are representative of those who are legitimately impaired in some way in reality. Society as a whole needs to learn to adapt to those who are different than them and accept people as they are. We are all impaired in one way or another whether or not it physically shows. This course has opened my eyes to this realization. Although I hoped to work more closely with those with impairments, my experience at Tri-County has proven beneficial because of the hope I saw on my one day with John.

When we arrived for our last day at Tri-County Association for the Blind, we were told by Danette that there was not much for us to do except help with getting invitations out for their upcoming Volunteer Event. Unfortunately, we did not get to interact too much with the usual employees there, but there was not much we could do or say. Because there was not much work needed to be done in the Production room, there were not many employees working today like John and other guys we usually talked with.
There is not much to say about my actual experience today since Vonna, Charlotte, and I were working with each other getting envelopes labeled and sent out to the appropriate addresses. I guess that there is something to be said for all the grunt work that needs to be done at Tri-County and we were pleased to help in any way that we could. I definitely learned the most from John last week when we really had one-on-one experiences with the employees. It has been a positive experience, but I would recommend a different place t volunteer at for future students interested in this class. In order to get the full experience and to truly learn something from the disabled, one must work hand-in-hand with one while interacting at hte same time.
I really do not know how to relate today’s experience with what we have discussed in class since we did not outwardly work with the disabled. Thus, there is not much to say for the relevance of our work at Tri-County today with what we have been focusing on in the classroom.

The second time around for Vonna, Charlotte, and I was ten times more beneficial than our first visit. Remebering how much we “loved” cleaning the tapes for the Library of Congress, Bob let us choose whatever we wanted to do this time. He told us that a young blind man, John, was making pens, and another guy was working on pens for prisoners. There were a few choices and I decided to sit down with John and get to know him a little bit better while helping him make his highlighters. For the next two hours, I chatted with John and got to know a little bit about himself while he, in turn, got to know me.
Being with John the second time around was a great experience. The second I sat down, I felt extremely comfortable with him and I did not expect to feel that way. Honestly, I was hesitant at first because I wasn’t sure how much I would have in common with him or if I could keep a conversation going for more than thirty minutes. But, I was wrong. After introducing myself, I asked John what he was listening to on his head set and he excitedly responded with, “JANET Jackson! She’s my girl.” From this point on, we talked about what his favorite cds are, favorite music genres, home life, his work experience, family, etc. The topics we discussed were endless and learning John’s story was so interesting. Sadly, he told me that he was not only born blind, but also suffers from mental retardation and Cerebral paulsy. I was shocked to learn this because he did not seem like he was stricken with any other impairment but his blindness. I immediately became thankful for my life, as cliched as this may be. Of course, seeing someone else’s sufferings NOW makes a person realize how much they are blessed with. Regardless of his diseases, he seemed as happy as ever just to be alive. In that moment, I forgot that John was even visually impaired. He worked so diligently on the highlighters and was able to maintain a very friendly conversation with me. After our two hours were up, I assured John that I would be back the following Wednesday and he seemed thrilled to hear the news. I look forward to speaking with John again because he gives hope to so many who suffer from any disability.
In relation to our discussions in class, this experience brought to me a new perspective at how hard Lionel had to work to prove his position as a detective in Motherless Brooklyn. The disabled workers at Tri-County Association for the Blind work extremely hard at what they do in order to prove themselves as competent employees. Like Lionel, every employee has to work extra hard in order to establish rank within the organization. I just thought it was interesting to see the comparison between the real life situation as opposed to the story told on the page.

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