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Lessons Learned

             I would like to think I"m not like most people, but in all honesty I am. I have reacted to people with mental and physical disabilities in a judgmental manner. Like most people, I have stereotyped the elderly. I was not always at ease with working around people who thought they were the devil or whose maturity levels were a fraction of their age. Working and volunteering in several different environments with several different behaviors challenged me in many ways. Working very close to a handful of disabled and elderly people allowed me quality insight into their psyche. Only through intensive personal experience have I translated my ignorant judgment into conscious compassion.
             My personal experiences with disabled and elderly people prove my communication skills, patience, and understanding proficient enough to take care of these types of people while volunteering in the Poland study abroad program.
             Holding a conversation with somebody who can't talk, write, and has control over only the movement of his eyes is a difficult task. I was faced with this task while volunteering at a day center for adults with learning disabilities in Glasgow, Scotland. There was a young man, Scott, who had cerebral palsy and a learning disability. His only way of communicating was by moving his eyes upward, which means "yes". I worked around other clients who couldn't talk, write, or who had severe speech impediments, not to mention heavy Scottish accents. I adapted well to these other communication barriers with other people, but I had to employ higher levels of patience with Scott. In order for me to talk with him and cater to his needs, I had to ask him questions that I thought were relevant to what he was trying to say. It was very testing to think of questions sometimes because you had no idea what he wanted to say. He would get frustrated, and then I would also. It was like being in the worst game of charades of my life.

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