Look Me In The Eye


One of the first things we do when we talk to people, when we actually “see” someone is when we can look into their eyes yet when it comes to people with disabilities, whether it is because they are in a wheel chair or happen to walk differently than us or can’t speak; what ever the case may be, we have a hard time looking them in the eye.

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Danny Cooper, Lauren Marx & Christina Cooper

We choose to focus on “their problem” which in turn is really our problem.  We have been conditioned to not look, don’t stare because it’s rude so we have become immune to disabilities, and sadly immune to the people.

I met with Gretchen Dubie of Full Access and Margaret Thiesen of Oregon Supported Living Program (OSLP) to talk about the Look Me In The Eye campaign they started together 4 years ago.  There was pride and there was emotion as we talked about the two organizations coming together and why they formed Look Me In The Eye.

Full Access is one of 12 brokerages located in Oregon and was founded in 2001. A result of the Staley settlement that came from a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of 5 individuals with developmental disabilities along with their families against the State of Oregon.  The suit was filed because they were eligible for support services, yet were not recieving them.  They were on a “waiting list” along with approximately 4000 other Oregonians with disabilities who were eligible yet not receiving services that could help them in their daily lives.  One individual had been waiting an astounding 17 years.

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Kerry Kubiak

Once the suit was settled on September 11, 2000; Oregon determined the best way for the money to reach individuals in need was to create brokerages and this is how Full Access came to be. Brokerages are private organization that provide quality services to individuals.  They offer their support in finding the appropriate avenues for people who qualify for benefits to go through in order to get what they need to ensure they receive the best individualized plan.

The Staley settlement awarded 37 million dollars in funds to be available for individuals with need.

“Self-Determination is a fundamental human right.  It means that people have the freedom to decide how they want to live their lives and receive the support they need.  It means having control over their resources and taking responsibility for their decisions and actions.  Very simply, it means getting a life.”  

– Ellen Cummings Operating Principles of Self-Determination

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Oregon Supported Living Program is a non profit agency providing support to adults with developmental disabilities since it opened it’s doors in 1988.  In essence they help people to live their life to it’s fullest, helping them to get an apartment, jobs and medical care as well as meet their basic needs in life and to help them achieve their desires and dreams. 

OSLP has 28 homes and houses 48 individuals in total and has helped many individuals to realize and explore their own equality in life.  Offering a safe environment to those who live in the homes with more homes to come in the future. OSLP offers assistance with money management, self advocacy as well as offering support in their decision making and helping to realize what it is they want to achieve in their life.

They are not told “you must do this” but rather “how can we help you obtain your goal”

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Nick Kaasa

Because they have a disability certainly does not mean they have no hopes or dreams, no passions or goals in life.  They have a voice and should be heard.

These two very important agencies in Eugene came together to help them share their voice, to educate the public and to help us understand that it’s ok to look past the disability and see into the eyes of the people.  Not only to help us be aware of how to treat people with disabilities, but to show us they have feelings, they have lives, they have goals and they are reaching them.

Awareness also must be brought to the fact that too often there is mistreatment of people with disabilities.  This includes rape, abuse and financial theft.  As horrific as that sounds, it happens more often than what people understand.

You may remember Riley Campbell; three teenagers beat him up in 2007.  He was able to testify against his assailants, sometimes this is not the case.  People take advantage of others who are more defenseless and that is a shame.  We need to take a stand and stop this abuse.  We need to become more aware of those around us who may need just a little helping hand.  We need to ask if they are okay if it appears they are not, and we need to look them in the eye when we do so.

“I deserve to be treated nice”

 – Riley Campbell
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David McGuire

One of the worse things you can do is to ignore them.  You may feel uncomfortable but ask them what is wrong, talk to them about their disability, it’s okay.  Talk to them as you would anyone else.  If you want to know their name ask them, not the person who may be pushing them in their wheel chair.  Just because they are sitting doesn’t mean they can’t speak for themselves.

Handicap parking is put there because they need those spaces so please don’t take them.  If you see someone parking in a space and it is clear they should not be using the spot, say something.  Being an advocate can only help us to grow.

OSLP and Full Access are asked to speak at schools about abuse and about people with disabilities.  Bullying has no boundaries.  It does not stop with the person who has the disability, it extends into the families.  Often times during the engagements, someone with a disability from OSLP or Full Access will talk; opening up even more dialog from the children, who can relate to the abuse by others.  It hurts everyone and it has to stop.

I asked Margaret and Gretchen a very important question.  What do I do when I see a disabled person?  How do I act?  I am afraid to stare but I am curious.

“Ask.  That is all you have to do.  They would rather you ask them about their disability as opposed to staring or ignoring them as if they were not even there.  Be like a child and be honest.  If a child was to see something that was not “normal”  they in their innocence would ask”.

When is it that we become so afraid to be honest?  When does that change occur in us and why?

The light in Gretchen and Margaret’s eyes was amazing when they spoke of LMITE and the people they are surrounded by.  Not only are they helping to make a difference in other peoples lives, but it is helping them too.  I asked how this has changed them:

“It has taught me how to be brutally honest”

– Gretchen Dubie

OSLP has recently opened it’s doors to the Lincoln Gallery; an Arts & Culture center located 309 Lincoln where people can go to be creative.

LMITE“All projects in our program are designed to be accessible to people with or without disabilities so everyone can participate equally and learn from each other’s unique perspectives.  We offer workshops with professional instructors in a wide variety of arts and cultural activities like visual art, music, dance, cooking, gardening and more.  We also produce public exhibits and performances to share the work of artists with the community.  Art is available for sale at our quarterly open house exhibits and galleries and businesses throughout the community.”

Tuesday September 10, 2013 Full Access and Oregon Supported Living Program are hosting a proclamation celebration at their offices located at 1250 Charnelton Eugene, Oregon from 3:00 – 4:00 p.m.

Mayor Kitty Piercy is their featured guest and will read the proclamation declaring the month of September Look Me In The Eye month.  Special musical talent will be performed by Barefoot Leroy.

“People with development disabilities are often invisible to others and their basic needs are overlooked.  They have been previously and continue to be subjected to ridicule, neglect and abuse.  OSLP and Full Access are committed to addressing these issues.  Working with people to learn and implement strategies to create a better way of life and to advocate for themselves.”

The need is always there for volunteers or donations; whether it is your time, or financial.  Please feel free to contact either Gretchen Dubie or Margaret Theisen.

For more information please contact Margaret Theisen of Full Access or Gretchen Dubie of Oregon Supported Living Program  or  Look Me In The Eye.

To learn even more you can click here for other programs within the State of Oregon.


Sandy Harris is a writer for Eugene Daily News. Sandy grew up on an island in the Alexander Archipelago in the southeastern region of Alaska. Her life's passions include writing and photography. Follow her on (http://sandralynnsphotography.blogspot.com/).

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