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Breaking Down Misconceptions at Charles River Center

Posted on 06/27/2014 @ 06:00 PM

When we first got our site assignments, I was upset, terrified, and I wanted to switch. And now, I would have rather done nothing else. At the Charles River Center we worked with people who had developmental disabilities. Notice how I wrote that "people with disabilities." This was the first thing we learned before we even went to Charles River Center; they are people first and the condition comes second. We made lists of words we should and shouldn't say when referring to people with disabilities. Apart from the R-Word, we said that words like psycho, crazy, and handicapped were all to be avoided. Somebody's probably wondering why handicapped isn't okay so I'll give a quick explanation. In the past, people with disabilities weren't given jobs and resorted to begging for money with a cap in their hand. Cap in hand. Handicapped. Yeah, it's messed up.

After we had an orientation meeting with a staff member, we went to where they took care of kids of ages 6-21. Each of these kids have qualities that made them unique. Not just the disabilities they live with but also their personalities. Some were verbal, some communicate using their hands, and one points at a letter chart with a stick taped on to her hat. Despite these challenges, they are all some of the most loving people I've ever met. The staff and the kids have a true connection that you can't always see but you can clearly feel. The staff communicate with some of the kids and interpret what they want or need. There are true friendships between the staff and the kids.

During our three days at the kids section, each of us made connections. Isaac and I became friends with an amazing girl. When we walked into the room the first day I saw E in her wheelchair drooling onto a cloth. I assumed she wasn't very present and couldn't really understand what was going on. I was so wrong. Later on that day, a staff member gave her a hat with a plastic stick taped on the front, then held a card in front of her. E started to point to letters by tilting her head slightly and touching each letter with the stick. This is when we learned E was completely aware and remembered everything. She remembered my name as well as Isaac's. She was funny, sassy and liked us both. This obviously caused a rivalry between Isaac and I over E's affection and each day we went in trying to have a good time and make her day a little bit better.

We also went to the adult work program. This is where my perspective on people with disabilities changed forever. Here I met a girl, T. On our first day in the work program, we got paired up with someone in the program and had to write our abilities and differences. T was incredible. She plays pretty much every sport including skateboarding and is full of energy. She's excited and really fun. We went to Charles River Center with the goal of making a connection with the people there. I feel like I did a little bit more. I made a friend. Whenever I see T she smiles and runs over to say hello. She is always so excited and so happy to see everybody and loves making friends.

When we first found out about our sites, I was scared I would say the wrong thing and offend someone. Now I realize that saying anything is enough. I don't worry about offending T. I talk to her like I do my friends because she is one. No, she isn't normal, she's better. T and everybody else at Charles River Center don't tell lies, they don't hide their emotions, they do what they want to and express their feelings and emotions regardless of the situation. This is humanity at it's best. They are enjoying life without social barriers. They aren't bound by the limitations of society and it's a beautiful thing to see someone be happy and truly appreciate being with people. When I go to Charles River Center I'm not afraid, instead I am awestruck at the joy these amazing people find in simple companionship. A smile means the world to them and so does a wave or a simple "hello." During discussion after the trip today, I think Samantha (Madricha) summed them up nicely: "They're perfect."

Ryan Wiessman, North Texas Oklahoma Region

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