The Friend Zone
An updated Program Design was submitted to and accepted by GGRC in February 2022 to reflect the following changes:
Until 2021 People with Disabilities Succeeding’s services were entirely community based and narrowly focused on employment. The program operated out of a small office. Rather than having the people we serve congregate in a center or building, PDS staff members transported our clients in private vehicles and provided support to them in natural environments in our community.
There were obstacles to true integration as well as health and safety problems. Individuals served by PDS were not always welcome in integrated settings such as coffee shops, gyms, dance and art classes or movie theaters. We had problems with public restrooms being inappropriate to support people who needed toileting help. We were embarrassed to return to gyms and restaurants where property destruction and/or scenes occurred due to our clients’ behavioral issues or medical problems. We were asked to leave movie theaters when our participants made noises during the movie. We were asked to leave art and dance classes because our participants could not keep up, and their presence was distracting to others.
We concluded that if People with Disabilities Succeeding were the hosts of integrated social events and recreational/leisure activities, rather than the guests, then our clientele would feel more accepted and included and would have more control and autonomy over their social lives. They could make the rules and set the standards of behaviors. For instance they could allow noise making during movies, and they could allow for slower paced dance classes.
In 2021 PDS clients and staff imagined and created a new social club called the Friend Zone. This post-pandemic club house, designed after Monica's apartment in the show "Friends,” is a place where vaccinated people with and without disabilities can hang out and have fun in an inclusive and accepting environment. This large space features a huge TV, leather couches, a modern kitchen, a coffee bar called “Central Perk,” as well as an art room, and 2 bathrooms with fancy bidets.
Separately, PDS is renting space (The Odd Fellows Lodge) for table tennis, dance, and exercise. After being on Zoom for a year and a half, PDS participants now have somewhere safe to socialize, dance, sing, play games, do art, and safely relax with friends in person.
These places that PDS rents that are open to the public so the folks that PDS serves can invite their non-disabled (or disabled) co-workers, family members and friends to come and hang out, play air hockey, table tennis, or watch movies, for instance. PDS holds social events such as parties and dances during PDS hours and opens these events to our clients’ co-workers, friends, and family. PDS staff pre-screens and supervises guests to ensure that our clients are always safe (i.e., guests must be vaccinated for Covid-19 and rapid PCR testing may be required). PDS staff supports our participants to socialize with their guests and make sure that they are not being taken advantage of (monetarily, sexually, or otherwise) by others.
PDS still uses other natural environments for training as well. Some of the natural environments in which training takes place include but are not limited to employment sites, restaurants, banks, gyms, supermarkets, our clients’ homes (cooking), community college classes, integrated dance, art, yoga and language classes, community centers (Bingo), beaches, tennis courts, golfing ranges, the local martial arts center (self-defense), public parks and anywhere else that non-disabled people of the same age typically spend their time weekdays.
PDS clients love their day program now more than ever. Because they had so much input in designing our post-pandemic services, they take ownership over The Friend Zone and maintain control over the schedule of activities, hiring of employees, and every detail of the program design. They enjoy extraordinarily rich social lives, with friends, where being different is OK, and everyone is welcomed in recreational and leisure activities, as long as they are doing their best to be kind.