Tue 10 May 2005
Volunteering at UCP was a very interesting experience because I was exposed to people I would have never had the opportunity to get to know outside of the service learning project. I got to interact with people dealing with cerebral palsy at all different levels. Some of the consumers were dealing with paralysis while others seemed highly functioning. Most of the consumers were dealing with motor skill issues, because cerebral palsy affects the function of your motor skills and the time it takes for signals to get from your brain to the part of your body you want to use. Some of the consumers had problems walking, some of the consumers needed assistance with very few things, but other consumers needed help with walking, going to the bathroom, and taking off or putting on their jackets. Most of the people were social, but some people were very quiet and did not move from a specific chair or would only talk to one specific employee.
The benefits of the agency are that people that are dealing with cerebral palsy are given the opportunity to socialize with other people that are dealing with the same disability. The people that go to UCP are able to receive help from the employees on improving their motor skills by way of learning to tie their shoes, or working with puzzles. The employees all dedicate their lives to helping the consumers better their lives to that they can be more functional then a person dealing with cerebral palsy that did not receive help would be. The consumers were also given the opportunity to go on field trips to different places so that they can remain socialized in “normative” society. UCP also offers many services that the consumers utilize including one on one work, as well as specific curriculums and projects created for certain groups of consumers. UCP also offers the consumers lessons about current events and cooking, so that they can understand participate in what is going on in society.
I would not say that I made a very big impact on many of the consumers at UCP, but Junior, one of the consumers that I talk about in many of my journal entries was always very happy to see me when I came to visit. We would talk and do puzzles together. He seemed to have fun relating with people that were not just other consumers or employees of UCP, and so it was enjoyable to have that opportunity to have an interaction with him that he did not usually have the opportunity to enjoy. There were a few other consumers that always seemed very happy to see Tara and I when we would go to volunteer. Gary and Mark always enjoyed spending time with us. Gary really enjoyed joking around with us and playing pranks on everyone just to see our reaction. I think I also had an impact on the employees because it gave them something different to do then they did every other day. It gave everyone an opportunity to do something new and meet new people.
I think that in “normative” society people dealing with cerebral palsy are faced with many different problems. It is hard for the consumers to look like “normative citizens” because they either have trouble walking or talking or doing everyday things, and so they are automatically labeled as different. Also, they cannot live in “normative” society without the help of someone because it is impossible for them to do absolutely everything alone. Cerebral palsy is also difficult to understand in society because there are many involuntary movements that the person has to deal with. If out in public, much like Lionel in Motherless Brooklyn, the consumers are left to deal with stares and whispering because they are different.
I was completely surprised by how much I enjoyed this experience. The people that I met and the new things that I learned were so interesting and it really seemed like I was getting something out of working with the consumers. I think that in regard to how the experience connects to my work in class is that we are actually seeing the disabilities that we are talking about and analyzing. Instead of just talking about people with disabilities and pretending that we have an understanding of what these disabilities, we are going out and putting names and faces with disabilities. It becomes real to us and we are given the opportunity to not just know the disability but to know the person, which really is rare opportunity. I think that we are very lucky to have had the opportunity to work with people with disabilities because it gave us the opportunity to really understand a disability. I enjoy reading the books and having the discussions, but I think that the most important part of the class is going out and relating to a disability.