D is for Disability
D is for Disability
When I was 19 my parents thought it was a good idea that I did some volunteer work, both to gain some work expereince, but also to make sure I didn't sleep my life away . . . build a daily routine!
I decided to volunteer a couple of a days week at a school that caters for children (aged 5 to 20) with severe disabilities (both physically and mentally - mostly cerebral palsy). These young people could not walk (required a wheelchair), very few could talk (they used a variety of non verbal methods such as sign language or pictures eg bliss symbolics-link) and all needed 24/7 care. Up to this point, I had never cared for or known a disabled person, so this was very new to me. The school was equipped with teachers, physiotherapist, occupational therapists, physiologists and aids . . . I became a teachers assistant.
My job was to assist any of the professional staff, this might include lifting a child from their wheelchair to the floor, taking a child/teenager to the toilet (this might include changing adult nappies), feeding the young person at lunch, assisting with the teaching of sign language, participate in physiotherapy sessions/sport, being part of day trip out (to the city, sports activities, the beach etc) or just sit and talk with the young person. Some of these tasks were confronting and challenging for a 19 year old whilst others were so full of fun. I can remember many a lunch full of chatter and laughter . . . kids are kids, no matter what and they are fun to be with.
After a few months of volunteering I was offered a full-time job which I accepted eagerly. The next 18 months turned out to be the best ever . . . this was a great job. It didn't take me long to "forget" about the disability and see the person. For 12 months I worked with the 14-18 year olds, teenagers trapped in disabled bodies. We took the girls shopping and out for "coffee", laughed and chatted, we checked out clothes and read magazines - these girls wanted to be treated normally. It really wasn't any different to taking out an able bodied teenager . . . just required more effort. However, so many people only saw the twisted up body of a cerebral palsy child and couldn't see the person.
This was a job full of fun and laughter and I loved it . . . but it was tinged with sadness. Severe cerebral palsy can reduce a life span, children suffer badly with pain, epilepsy and the saddest of all . . . many parents are unable to cope and place their child in homes for the disabled. Most of the young people that I care for did not see their parents during the week, only going home on weekends. I don't condone parents for doing this, as having a severely disable child must be very difficult on the family and on the other children within that family. However, from my expereince, governments never seem to do enough to help these struggling families, especailly as the parents age and worry about who will care for their adult child.
I am often asked "how did you cope in that sort of job" . . . my reply is always the same . . . it was the BEST job I have ever have and wish I had continued to work with the disabled. It was a rewarding job, but most importantly, I was able to make a differences in someone else's life - even for a few hours and that, is what was so important.