What I do

What I do: Thara Baucicault, residential program specialist, United Cerebral Palsy of NYC

Thara Baucicault, UFT chapter leader of United Cerebral Palsy of NYC, Residences For 10 years — the last three as UFT chapter leader of United Cerebral Palsy of NYC, Residences Chapter — Baucicault has worked at The Landings in Brooklyn’s Starrett City, where she helps adults with cerebral palsy living either in that residence or in their own homes.

Tell us about the people you work with every day.
We have married couples, single people; there’s one woman who has a baby daughter. All use wheelchairs. We have a lot of computer smarts here! One person knows everything that’s happening in the news at all times. We have artists who can really draw. Most go to school nearby at a program known as Day Hab. Having cerebral palsy, they participate in a program called Supportive IRA — Individualized Residential Alternatives — and are referred to as consumers. I work with 14 consumers ranging in age from 25 up to a youthful 72!

What’s the goal?
We assist them with everyday living and our main focus is to help them be as independent as they can be. For instance, some of them cook, and we oversee them to make sure they do it safely. Their safety in general is a main concern.

Going by your daily observations, in what ways does cerebral palsy affect the people you work with?
It’s a condition in which the brain is not functioning normally, and it affects people both mentally and physically. Yet they want what other people want. The young ones wish they had a boyfriend or girlfriend. In general they think the things we can do, they can do, and so we help them feel that way — we don’t want to take that away from them.

What challenges do you face?
Some consumers can feel you’re violating their rights just by asking them if they want to take a shower now. Sometimes consumers don’t want assistance. They would rather not get help but fight with you. Or they can play mind games with you and you have to see through that.

So how do you handle conflict when it arises?
We give consumers time to calm down and help them get comfortable. At some point they will settle down when you don’t pay them any mind. When it comes to the reality of the situation, soon they will ask the same question you just asked them about and that they fought you on, such as, “Will you help me take a shower now?” They want to be the ones to tell you what they need. It’s understandable.

How does your work touch you personally?
It’s an experience! Working with any people with disabilities is a challenge, and if you truly understand where they’re coming from it makes you more sincere and caring. You don’t take life for granted — we take a lot of things we can do for granted. You see the importance of being independent. You have the things they want to have, and that makes you try to do more for them or for anyone in life. It changes your way of thinking because in life, you never know. Since working for United Cerebral Palsy, I can see somebody on the street from afar and know they need help and I will go assist them. For example, I speak Creole, and once there was an older Creole-speaking lady traveling by herself and I went out of my way to help her get a ticket at the airport.

How do friends and family feel about your doing such intense work with people with disabilities?
It makes me more lovable! Friends and family like that I’m doing this.

What’s your wish list for the people you work with?
More funding from management for consumer recreation and community trips, and for transportation.

Tell us about a powerful moment for you.
I have one consumer who wants help to use the bathroom so often we always think he’s doing it on purpose for attention. He told me it wasn’t on purpose and that one day I’d see what he meant. Well one day I was in the hospital after surgery and needed a bedpan and it took forever for someone to bring it, and I couldn’t get up by myself and tears came to my eyes. It really killed me not to be able to just get up and walk to the bathroom. I thought of that consumer and how we were always thinking he was playing a joke, and very emotionally I remembered what he said, that someday I would know. Back at work I told him how I’d felt at the hospital. From that day forward I thought, whoever you are, I’m going to assist you because I’ve been there.

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