One of the many amazing things about Central Michigan University is the Mary Ellen Brandell Volunteer Center. The volunteer center connects students to many different service opportunities across campus, Mt. Pleasant, the state, and even the country (through alternative breaks). One opportunity the Volunteer Center offers is a program called The David Garcia Project.
The David Garcia Project is an event which facilitators lead participants through activities simulating what it would be like to have different disabilities. These events demonstrate many different disabilities such as physical, learning, and cognitive.
“This program does not aim at making students feel bad for people with disabilities; rather it aims to educate people so they have a better understanding about the differences among people.”
Working with and advocating for people with special needs is a passion of mine, so I was very excited when I was given the opportunity to participate in this event. On October 11th, 2016 I attended my first David Garcia Project session.
Schizophrenia: During this simulation, the facilitators read terms and definitions to the participants as a recording played through a speaker. The recording consisted of many different sounds and words. When the instructions were given, the task of trying to just focus on what the facilitators was saying did not seem like it would be too difficult. But once the activity actually began it became difficult to follow. The noises gradually seemed to become louder and more intense. This recording was created to actually show what someone with schizophrenia actually hears in their head. The words that were being said were negative and intimidating and the noises would make one very uncomfortable. This simulation did not just make myself and the other participants better understand the intensity of the disability, but made us think more deeply about what it would be like to have a disability that people can not see from just looking at someone. Many times when someone has an internal disability, society places blame on the individual, as if they have the power to control it or they have brought this upon themselves. There are many negative stigmas, such as the individual is crazy. I feel the purpose of this activity was not only to have participants experience what schizophrenia is like, but to understand that even though you can not always see one’s struggle, it does not make it any less real.
Arthritis, Cerebral Palsy, Muscular Dystrophy: The task for this simulation was to put on and button a shirt in 5 minutes while wearing gloves that had popsicle sticks in the fingers (this made the participants unable to bend or control their fingers easily). Getting dressed is a daily task that does not take much energy or thought for the average person to complete. In this activity, in the 5 minute time frame, I was only able to successfully do three of the buttons. It was frustrating not being able to complete a task that is something I do thoughtlessly everyday. For someone who has a disability that does not allow for the thoughtless, undemanding, use of their hands or arms, simple tasks are large ordeals. These independent activities are something we take for granted. When working with someone with a physical disability, you must take into consideration their limitations, while still allowing for them to have the most independence possible. This population is equally as possible to be successful as the average person, but to get there just requires more strenuous exertion, which in my opinion, is quite admirable.
Wheelchair use: Central Michigan University is said to have a more handicap friendly campus in comparison to other universities. During my experience I attempted using a wheelchair to get around the University Center building. Going up the ramps and moving through the common areas of the building was not too difficult, but when I attempted getting into a handicap bathroom stall I began to struggle. It took me a few attempts to get into the stall, and once I did I really was not in a position that I would have been able to move myself to the toilet if I actually needed to. Following this, when trying to leave the stall, I actually got the chair stuck and was unable to move without getting out of the chair. This occurrence was pretty upsetting since the stall I was in was suppose to be accommodating to wheel chair use. Another participant attempted using a ramp outside the building during this simulation. It was raining out and this caused the participant to slide down the ramp and was unable to get back up. These were just a few of the difficulties endured during this activity. It showed that despite having accomodations, campus, and other public places, it is still not ideal or easy to maneuver. This experience was very beneficial because it allowed for me understand that despite accommodations, getting around and doing everyday things is still not an easy task.
I am so grateful for my first experience at the David Garcia Project. Before going through the activities, the facilitators asked us what is the difference between sympathy and empathy. Sympathy is feelings of sorrow and compassions for others because you see their challenges. Empathy is the feelings of understanding and support for others because you can relate to their emotions and struggles. My experience with The David Garcia Project gave me the ability to better empathize for those who live with disabilities. I am so thankful for the opportunity to attend, and look forward to experiencing different disabilities in future seminars. I believe if we all took a few minutes to walk in the shoes of others, we could live in a more compassionate and supportive world.