Kierra Van Cleaf wasn’t quite sure what to expect when she was assigned to do a five-hour observation as part of her disabilities class at MCC. She and her teacher aide, Michelle Dunbar-Ealey, were about to visit the Arc’s Fairport Day Service program and felt a little uneasy, partly because Michelle didn’t have a chance to grab her usual morning coffee on the way.
All anxieties melted away in a few minutes when the first day program participants they met began lamenting how hard it was to get their day started without coffee.
“It was so funny and so neat to see that we had something in common right off the bat,” said Michelle. “We could see right away that our daily routines were the same. We were all really laughing about that.”
From there, the day only got better.
“It was such a nice place,” said Kierra, who has an intellectual disability. “Everyone was so friendly. I even made a friend. Every time I went to a different room she would follow me. She even gave me a hug. There was another young man who kept blowing me kisses!”
“I was actually just going to give Kierra support,” said Michelle. “But it ended up being so much more. It was truly a learning experience for me. The day definitely didn’t go the way I thought it would. I had a chance to talk to a lot of the staff, including the nurse and therapist.”
“I really admired them all. I could see that they wanted to be there and that they weren’t there because they had to be there. I saw that they had a lot of patience, which I loved. Kierra was just as amazed as I was. She said that she didn’t realize that their day was as normal as ours. We could also see that they had different strategies for different types of disabilities in each room. It was eye-opening.”
Michelle and Kierra observed that the room for those with autism had calming colors in the room and pictures of “pretty clouds” over the lights to dim them. In a cooking class, they saw staff utilize pictures to communicate to those who are non-verbal. They watched as the individuals carried out their own responsibilities, like folding laundry. They commented on the freedom the individuals had to walk around and visit their friends.
For Michelle, the day carried special meaning because she has a daughter with Down syndrome.
“Autumn is 18 and loves to sing and dance. I’m still learning about this field and thinking about her future. I went right home and shared everything with my husband. You hear about these places that you think might be able to serve your daughter, but you don’t really know until you see them in action. I would want something like this for Autumn and could picture her being there. I came away amazed. It really enlightened me.”
For Kierra, it was a revelation as well and an opportunity to learn outside of the classroom setting. A perceptive student, she noticed one thing above all else in her five hours at the program.
“I could tell the staff was really there for the individuals.”