Name: Erica Bratton
Type of Project: Internship
1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. Write two or three sentences describing the main activities your STEP Signature Project entailed.
My STEP project involved working as a provider for Matthew, a boy with cerebral palsy. As a provider, my duties included meal preparation, transporting Matthew to and from community and volunteer activities, personal care, and implementation of Matthew’s home therapy regimen. I used my STEP funding to finance my living expenses so I would be able to have this experience.
2. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project? Write one or two paragraphs to describe the change or transformation that took place.
My view of the world changed dramatically as a result of my STEP experience because my eyes were opened to what it is like to live with a disability. I was made aware of the challenges, from medical appointments to transportation to simply navigating through a crowded public place. I realized how unaware the general population is of the basic considerations we should take to make these challenges less of a concern for the disabled population.
On the other hand, I was transformed by the realization that I really have the power to use my abilities to make Mathew’s life better. The joy he shows at being able to do the simplest things not only made me grateful for my own abilities, but it made me realize the difference that I was making for him. When I help Matthew exercise, I give him the chance to become stronger and healthier, which makes him feel better overall. When I take Matthew bowling or to the park, I give him the chance to do things he loves which he would not be able to do without the help of his providers. This experience fostered a change within me and I now have a stronger desire to help others and use the abilities I have been given to make a difference in someone else’s life.
I also learned a lot about myself through this experience. The chance to implement Matthew’s exercise plan at home and make decisions regarding what exercises he should be doing based on the goal he wanted to reach gave me practical experience in the field of physical therapy in which I hope to become a professional. This experience gave me affirmation that I am indeed pursuing the right career path because I loved seeing the improvement in Matthew’s overall disposition when I helped him to exercise regularly. He felt better physically, which translated to him feeling better overall, and it gave me the best feeling knowing that I was able to help him feel this way. I am more confident than ever of my choice of career because of this experience.
3. What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you? Write three or four paragraphs describing the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project that led to this change/transformation.
Some of the most influential experiences I had with Matthew in regards to my view of the world and society occurred on several occasions over the summer when I took Matthew to the Columbus Zoo. Matthew is generally wheelchair bound, so navigating the crowds at the zoo, especially during the middle of the summer, was quite a challenge. People would walk right in front of him without saying excuse me or even acknowledging that he was there. We would wait patiently for the chance to make our way to the glass or to the fence so we could observe the animal, and when we finally got to the front of the line, someone would cut right in front of him and make him wait even longer. It was frustrating to me to observe the lack of consideration for Matthew, and it was even more upsetting to think that I may have been one of these people in the past. I had never really taken the time to consider these challenges, and my experience working with Matthew forced me to open my eyes to the struggles he faces every day. I hope to share this experience with others to open their eyes as well, and in doing so I want to advocate for people like Matthew and for those who dedicate their time to caring for the disabled in our community. People should realize the impact, both positive and negative, that their actions have on those who may not have the same physical or mental abilities as we do.
One of the most influential moments of my experience occurred one night while I was helping Matthew to get ready for bed. I had been working with him for a couple months at this point, so we had the time to begin to form a relationship. As I was tucking him in, Matthew said to me “Thank you for coming today Erica, I love you.” It was so sweet and gave me an indescribable feeling. Hearing him say this made me fully realize what an impact I had on his life as a provider. Knowing that he felt comfortable enough to tell me he loved me gave me reassurance that I was doing everything I needed to make him happy and keep his quality of life as high as possible.
Another defining moment of my experience working with Matthew came the day his crutches came in the mail. For the first several weeks of working with Matthew, he walked in short bouts with the help of a walker, but in August he went to a therapy camp and learned to walk with crutches. For a month we exercised more intensely than we had previously in order to get Matthew in shape and keep him agile enough to be ready to use his crutches when they finally arrived. I was lucky enough to be with Matthew the day his crutches finally came and seeing the sheer joy and sense of pride he had when he was able to walk with his very own crutches for the first time was one of the most rewarding moments of my life. Knowing that all the time I had put into exercising with Matthew, and all of the struggles I had gone through encouraging him to do his exercises and do them right, were finally paying off was an experience I won’t soon forget. This was one of the moments in which I felt an overwhelming sense of affirmation in the career path I have chosen. That day, more than ever, I was truly excited about my future as a physical therapist, and I look forward to moments like these with many patients throughout my career.
4. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life? Write one or two paragraphs discussing why this change or development matters and/or relates to your academic, personal, and/or professional goals and future plans.
The changes I experienced as a result of my STEP experience are valuable for my life in many ways. As I have mentioned, working with Matthew has affirmed my desire to work as a physical therapist. Helping Matthew achieve his physical goals and seeing the sense of pride he took in his achievements made me realize what an impact I have on his life and his health just by implementing his home therapy regimen every time I work with him. I am more confident than ever that I want to spend my professional life helping others like Matthew achieve the same sense of pride in their ability to reach any goal they desire.
I also feel that the lessons I learned working with Matthew in the community setting has opened my eyes to the needs of the disabled community. I think these people need someone to advocate for them and stand up for their rights, even when it comes to something as simple as having a turn at the window to see an animal at the zoo. The general public needs to be more aware of the needs of the people who can’t advocate for themselves, and I hope to become a stronger voice for the disabled community.