Working with people with a disability makes a difference

Radek Gorski, 29, works as a volunteer with people with autism. In the past, he has also worked with blind people. His primary educational background doesn't have anything to do with the disabled. He used to be a photographer/graphic designer.
 
'When you are creating something commercial, it doesn't make a real difference to the world. There are many similar photographs or graphic illustrations. I believe fashion pics or – commercials have no positive impact on society and are not necessary at all. I started working as a volunteer at an early age. I've worked for instance with adolescents and with the National Trust in Great-Brittan. I still work with adolescents in an orphanage almost every day and sometimes in the weekends as well. Those experiences teached me a lot. I want to work with people. At the moment, my target groups are adolescents and people with autism. If I want to work more with people with a disability professionally, I must gather more knowledge. That’s why I'm studying and attending trainings. 
 
'It's rather coincidentally I came to work with autistic people. It was my girlfriend who told me about autistic people and treatment methods, she was a professional autism therapist. I happen to live nearby an organization in Warsaw that works with autistic people. It has been established by psychologists who do have autistic children themselves. In the case of this organization there was no other foundation working with autistic people and that’s why the parents started it. I asked them whether they were in need of volunteers and they answered positively.
 
'I work as a therapy assistent with young adults. I'm resposible for one person, but most of the time my focus is on the person speaking in general. He's a young guy with a deeper type of autism who likes to draw cartoons. In fact, he's pretty good in that. He already made a movie cartoon of which he's very proud. He is still developing his skills and likes to do it very much. We do have a good contact. He often tells me he likes me. Our communication is not complicated. Autistic people are simple people in the sence they don't have bad intentions which make them good friends.’
 
New elements to improve contact 
 
Besides his attention for the cartoon drawer, Radek is also involved in the gymnastic exercises within the institution. His task is to make sure the clients do what the exercises tell them to do. He has been able to improve them so the people concerned understand them better. 'I've rewritten the text of the exercises. The first text consisted of long sentences and a small font. I've used a bigger font and shorter sentences. This way it will be more simple for them to do the exercises step by step and they will be able to understand the written text better. I also started to play frisbee with them. The institution is near a park, so that's very practical. They reacted very good on this and are getting satisfaction out of it. It's an easy sport to practice in which one has to be concentrated. Concentration and communication are the most important subjects we work on.
 
'In being able to communicate successfully with an autistic person it is important that your questions are as simple as possible and clear. If he/she doesn't understand something, rephrase your question in a more simple way. Don't repeat the same one over and over again. That can make them confused and nervous when they don't understand the question. If they don't understand it in the end, just let it go. The most difficult part of my job is to understand how autistic people think and feel. We've got training in how the autistic experience impulses from their close surrounding. They have another way of perception. People with autism have a sensitive hearing. When sounds are layered it could give a problem. I get my satisfaction out of work when I see progress is being made, that they have learned new skills. I do understand autistic people better now. Also the books I've read and the workshops I've followed were of great value in this.'
 
Different way of looking at people with a disability
 
As said before, Radek also has experience with working with blind people. 'Many Polish don't understand the problems blind people have. They want to help them, but don't know how. At the moment, there's an exhibition in Warsaw at which part of the programme is a walk through dark rooms being guided by a blind person. It also explains to the visitors how one can help a blind best. The blind get a little bit of financial support from the government. I think it's better to give them information about what their possibilities are as far as work is concerned. When they work, they will have more satisfaction and be part of society. Many are living isolated in their homes and feeling sad, because they are no part of the community.’ 
 
In his search for information on how to deal best with disabled people and how to stimulate them best Radek came upon two Canadian projects of which he believes they should be introduced in Poland and the rest of Europe as well. The first one is called 'Tyze’. 
 
'Within Tyze, family members and people who are close to the disabled person share information about him/her through a protected internet interface, which means you can only add people to your network yourself. That information could for instance be about the medicines the person uses. That way, all the people involved to that person can share their knowledge and inform/react to each other should there be a change (for those who would like to read more about this: https://plan.tyze.com, JP)
 
'In another project, a connector is involved. This person isn't related to the disabled person, but tries to find out what the person with a disability is really interested in. The connector is hired to work with one individual for eight hours per month. After the talks, the connector starts to explore whether he can connect the disabled person to people or an organization within the connector's network that do meet the biggest interest of the person concerned.  
 
‘There's the story of a man to illustrate the idea behind this. He was still living with his father. His father was worrying about the future of his son, in case he couldn't take care of him anymore. The connector found out the disabled person is fond of horses. The connector brought him into contact with someone who has a horsestable. First he started working there voluntarily. Both sides were very satisfied about his work, so he got a fixed contract. Not only he had work from now on, but he also made new friends. People who are also interested in horses. That's how you get people out of their isolated situation, letting them work in what they do best.'
 
Radek loves to tell about his work and what he learns from it. Whether he will choose for a professional career in this working field, isn't clear yet. He's following a study pedagogics. The exact direction he will choose, is still a matter of contemplation. During my stay in Warsaw, he was also some kind of personal assistant to me. The day before I left Warsaw, he accompanied me to the Central Station to help me find my way there. The morning of my departure itself, he even helped me with carrying my suitcase. Which was very useful, since getting into and around Warsaw Central Station isn't that easy when one has only got limited mobility.
 
At Radek's request, the accompanying video is a relaxing one. This kind of music is also being used in the therapy sessions he assists.
 
Copyright text: Johan Peters, June 12th 2013 - ...