Mon 18 Apr 2005
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.