Jennifer B

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.

Today it was just Tara and I, and when we arrived we did not have much to do for about ten minutes. The people starting showing up and I helped some people with their jackets. Then more consumers started showing up and of course, Junior! He was having a great time doing puzzles with Tara and I (he seemed to be much more interested in Tara then me). Then there were a few people that we had not met before. Mark was in a wheelchair and was very friendly. He did puzzles at our table also. We then did current events and talked about baking. After that, Tara and a few of the consumers went on an outing. I stayed behind with the other consumers and we had to deal with a couple of incidents that were dealing with possible abuse. One of the consumers had frostbite on her hands and another had a black eye, so the authorities were called and they stopped by to ask a few questions. Then I helped Francis with her knitting. I also tried to sit down with Suzie, another consumer, but she wanted nothing to do with me. I then helped one of the aids, Bonnie, and some of the consumers make Rice Krispie treats. Everyone was very excited and when the consumers that were on the ride came back, Jim, tried to steal the box of cereal. By the time we finished making the treats it was time for Tara and I to go, it was a very fast two hours.
I was really comfortable this time when I got there. I felt like I had more of an idea of what I was doing and I felt like I actually had a relationship with some of the consumers. Junior was very excited when he saw us, and it was nice to see that they were starting to remember us and our names. Mark was another person that I really enjoyed meeting. I believe he had Crone’s disease and he also could not speak very well, but he really wanted to communicate with people. It was really interesting to watch him try to talk with people and constantly want to touch them or just be around them. At first, I could tell that I was starting to feel sorry for him, but then I started noticing how truly intelligent he was and how he just really wanted to be sociable. He did his first puzzle in just a couple seconds, meanwhile it took Junior more than five minutes to complete the same exact puzzle. I just thought that he was amazing and I really enjoyed being around him. I also had a very good experience with Francis who was also in a wheelchair. She was not very easy to understand, but after a while I could understand her much better and realized that she was very funny. She really enjoyed making people laugh, and so she and I had a good time together, just making jokes back and forth. Then I got to help some of the people make the Rice Krispie treats which was actually a very interesting experience because I realized that one of the consumers has an imaginary friend. At first, I could not figure out who she was talking to but after a while I picked up on it. This experience was very similar to things that I experience when I am working with little children at the preschool I work at during the summers, so I got to apply some of the skills I already had to the consumers there.
I think in relating the experiences that I’m having at UCP with my life, I have gained more of an understanding to Douglas’ five strategies then I have had in the past. I understood how people can reduce the ambiguity of a disabled person by assigning the anomalous element to one absolute category because from the second I saw Mark in his wheelchair having such a difficult time talking, I figured that he was going to be unintelligent and unable to function properly. I also noticed that even certain other consumers were avoiding Mark, therefore avoiding the anomalous thing. They didn’t want to be around someone that seemed so much more different from themselves. The other strategies did not really apply, but as soon as I saw how some people were reacting to Mark and my initial thoughts of Mark really got me thinking about Douglas’ strategies and how they really are things that we have been socialized into believing.

Our second day at UCP was much like our first. Tara, Chad and I arrived at 8:30 and helped some of the clients off of the buses and out of their jackets. I met a woman I had not met the last time, Darlene, and she gave me a big hug as soon as she arrived. After the first fifteen minutes of helping people settle in, we did not have much to do for the next fifteen minutes, but then Junior came in and was very excited to see us. We spent the next half hour talking to Junior and doing puzzles with him. I also met another client named Gary who didn’t seem to have much to say but would stare at me or someone else and then when you looked back at him he would get very embarassed. And then around 9:45 we did current events and found out that March 5th was Junior’s birthday. Around 10 some of the clients were going on an outing to the mall. So about half of the clients left, and we were basically left with nothing to do for the last half hour. We talked with Mary a couple of times because she likes to ask about lunch and her stuffed animals at home.
This time we got to meet a few more people than we had the last time and there were also many more people then their had been the previous week. I have to admit that at first I was very nervous and even a little uncomfortable. I would get nervous every time someone walked up behind me, so I feel as though I was quite jumpy. Helping the people take their jackets off and trying to learn some of their names made me feel good because it felt I was actually doing something for them and helping them in some ways. A lot of the time when I am there, I feel like we aren’t doing anything. It’s also hard to talk to them because many of them don’t want people near them, or they just aren’t very easy to understand. Mary will sometimes talk to you, but other times will threaten to kick you if she doesn’t want you around, luckily, I haven’t been in line for a kick from her! Darlene was wonderful because she didn’t have much to say but seemed very interested in just being near you and holding your hand and hugging you. We also met Jill who didn’t really want to spend time with us, but was very anxious to know our names.
But yet again, Junior was the one who really wanted our attention. He’s very interested in being around other people and loves talking to us. He again told us about his television shows and listed Bonanza as another favorite. But one of the most interesting things of the day was to watch the current events because the day after we went was Junior’s birthday and they announced it to everyone. He could not have been more excited and he was telling us about getting to see his niece and getting presents and going to Red Lobster, which he was very excited about. It was really nice to be a part of that, and I could tell that he was happy that we knew. Everyone sang to him and was really happy that they could celebrate with him.
I think that by the end of my time I was more comfortable and I felt like I knew the people better and could understand them better. But at the same time, I didn’t feel like I was contributing very much to their lives. They were teaching me about differences in people and how they still want to do all of the things that we want to do. They were showing me things that I never really understood but I was not really helping them with anything.
I think that after the first two experiences at UCP I have noticed that many times I am relating to Thomson’s discussion of the nature of non-traditional social interactions. It seems to me that quite often I become concerned with the way I am acting in a certain situation and don’t really know what is the right way to act. Thomson says that many times non-disabled people feel that they have socially-unacceptable emotions and many times I catch myself wondering whether or not what I am feeling is acceptable. If I get scared or nervous, I also become guilty for those feelings. I don’t know when is the appropriate time to offer the client assistance or when to leave them alone. I think that I think too much about my actions instead of just going with my first instict, but I think that is was Thomson was talking about when she acknowledged that it is hard to know how to react when you don’t have a lot of experience with disabled people.

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