(Above is a picture of some of the mentors for spring serve. Three women are sitting on a sledding tube, while one man is laying across their laps.)
I participated in a spring serve trip through Compassionate Heart Ministries April 5-8 where we traveled to Cran Hill Ranch in Rodney, Michigan. We acted as mentors to people with mild to moderate disabilities, and wanted to have a weekend where we could all gather as friends to hang out, serve, and worship. As mentors we were thrown into the trip with the expectation to navigate on our own. We were given little detail on the disabilities presented which made it difficult to always know how to help someone, but as a group we were able to adapt and learn as the weekend went on. We met the campers Thursday morning and bussed up to Cran-Hill in Rodney, Michigan. We spent the night setting up, and engaging with the campers. Friday and Saturday we spent time doing service projects around the camp (the weather forced us to improvise causing us not to leave the camp for our off camp worksites). Some small groups spent time cleaning in the barn, polishing saddles, sweeping, removing carpeting, and cleaning houses around the camp. The campers were all willing to participate and although some projects were more fun than others, we all were there to serve. It was awesome to see how we all worked together for these projects, disability or not, we were just a group of people working towards the same goal. Saturday afternoon was spent doing more camp-like activities, including horseback riding, slingshots, and sledding. Sledding was one of the best things about this trip. We had all the campers, even those who were reluctant, go down the hill. Some people had never sled before, others hadn’t in years, and we spent the hour laughing and bonding over something so simple.
(Pictured above is a large group of the campers and mentors sledding down a hill in inner tubes at Cran-Hill Ranch.)
Accessibility has been a big part of this class. The camp that we went to wasn’t easily accessible for individuals with a physical impairment, specifically for someone that needs a wheelchair. To make it worse for everyone, the weather was freezing, creating blizzards and lots of icy roads. We had to walk everywhere and we all had difficulty getting from place to place. We had campers who have very low muscle tone from their disability and they had trouble walking, and most people fell at some point. If us mentors and some campers struggled, there was no way someone with a more severe physical disability would be able to fully engage with our activities. The camp also was not set up specifically for individuals with disabilities, so it was noticeable that it wasn’t quite available for a variety of disabilities.
My experience at Compassionate Heart Ministries, and the camp at Cran-Hill Ranch was much different than some of the things we’ve been learning in class. The ministry was created from the beginning to offer more inclusion for individuals with disabilities, therefore it combats many of the disability myths. For example, Laurie Block outlines in “Stereotypes about People with Disabilities,” six common stereotypes that are found when people view disabilities. One that stands out to me is the first one Block describes, “people with disabilities are different from fully human people, they are partial or limited people in an “other” and lesser category. As easily identifiable “others” they become metaphors for the experience of alienation” (Block). This is basically what the camp and the ministry is trying to change. We were encouraging inclusion, and intentionally avoiding an “us” and “them” outlook. We were all working together, eating together, and sleeping in the same room (guys/girls of course), so that we weren’t separated. We were also fostering an environment that encouraged engagement as if we were all friends, not mentors vs. campers. We were there to engage, and even though we were mentors, we were really there as one large group to become friends. Inclusion is especially important was when it comes to individuals with disabilities. Another thing I noticed was the way disability was viewed on this trip. I would argue that many people without a disability feel it’s a taboo subject, and that we should avoid talking to people about their disabilities. However, on this trip everyone was embracing it and many of them identified with it. Most everyone I talked to over the weekend wanted to share with me their disability, explain what medications they were taking (if any), and wanted me to understand their life. Language is powerful and in “Contemplating the (In)visibility of Disability,” Valle and Connor states that “language reinforces the connection between disability and inability, negativity, undesirability, abnormality, and inferiority” (Valle and Connor, 24). This article looks at how non disabled people talk about others with disabilities, however I would argue that it can also be used to show how people with disabilities talk about themselves. There shouldn’t be language such as “idiot,” “crazy,” or “retarded,” used from anyone. However, I do find it interesting and important that individuals with disabilities want to engage in conversation about disabilities. I had kids sharing with me their struggles, but also their goals, successes, and future plans. I learned about their day to day lives, their own frustrations with their disabilities, but also how they want to open up this conversation, which is exactly what they did with me.
Do you think a trip like this should be mandatory for classes on disability? What would be the positive and negative aspects of having it be mandatory?
What has your experience been like engaging with individuals with different kinds of disabilities?
How can we make inclusion and engagement with individuals with disabilities the norm and not something we may praise ourselves and others for doing? How can we open conversations up with others, specifically individuals with disabilities, about disability?
Block, Laurie. “Education: Essay.” Disability History Museum, http://www.disabilitymuseum.org/dhm/edu/essay.html?id=24.
Connor, David & Jan Valle. “Contemplating the (In)Visibility of Disability .” Rethinking Disability, McGraw-Hill Education, 2010, pp. 16–38.