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National Service and Inclusion Project

Inclusion: The active engagement of people with disabilities as service members in all levels of national and community service

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Participants: Jean-Richard James Méhu

Program: Self Advocacy / AmeriCorps, New York
Service: Public education presentations about disability; edits and contributes to newsletter for the Long Island Head Injury Association; mentors people with disabilities.

Click here to read some of Jean's writing

Interview with Jean-Richard James Méhu, January, 2001



1. INTRODUCTION:              real audio clip icon

JEAN: I’m Jean-Richard James Méhu. My first name is spelled like “Gene” but it is pronounced “Zhän,” because my father is French ….I was born in Montreal Canada where I lived until I was 5 years old. And then because my father got a change of jobs—he worked for the United Nations we went from Canada to New York . I went to high school, college, and started graduate school in New York. I went to NYU and the New School for Social Research where I was majoring in Journalism.

EMILY: How old are you?

JEAN: I am 28 years old. I’ll be twenty-nine on February 1st.

EMILY: How long have you been in AmeriCorps?

JEAN: I think 1 year and half

EMILY: What do you do as an AmeriCorps member; what are your responsibilities?

JEAN: I work on the Newsletter {Long Island Head Injury Association} and I also do self-advocacy for other patients and other clients who have various levels of disability. I speak as a mentor and advocate for people who have certain levels of disability and try to find out what they want, and then try to use that information that they give me --- which I still use my journalistic work in--to try to funnel that towards people in charge to see how I, with what they want, can achieve these goals.

2. DISABILITY AWARENESS 1:              real audio clip icon

EMILY: Did you have any knowledge or connection to disability before you got a disability?

JEAN: No. Sadly enough I had no idea. It never really entered my stream of thinking. I didn’t have any prejudices that I’m aware of. It just wasn’t a factor in my life so I didn’t think about it. I just didn’t become involved in it until it happened to me personally.

EMILY: What are your future goals?

JEAN: I want to continue. I was working towards my masters degree in journalism before my injury; and even though it’s been five years, I still have the same desires. I still want to continue with my education but use it in a different way. Maybe I’ll do my work here with AmeriCorps and with Self Advocacy. I can take the financial scholarship and use that towards my education.

3. DISABILITY AWARENESS 2:              

EMILY: How do you describe the disability that you have?

JEAN: Funny thing is, the disability is probably cognitive in the sense that I can do everything that I did before my injury. The only difficulty now, for the time being is, is that things take a little longer. Instead of taking me 10 minutes to do something, it takes me half an hour. So I can still do everything I did before I just need a little more time. What is frustrating is that people, if they see someone taking a lot of time, they wrongly assume that person is unintelligent of they’re just dumb or they can’t do it. And being among that group of people myself, I always try to stress that he or she can do the work that is required. Just be a little more patient. Give that person--including my self—a little bit more time to get the work done that he or she needs and they will have the work done. Don’t assume that they cant do it any longer they just lost a number of IQ points due to an injury that was beyond their control

EMILY: What do you like about the work that you do as an AmeriCorps member?

JEAN: I enjoy meeting other people who have had personal injuries on many different levels. Mine was a head and other people have had speech impediments … so each of the disabilities effects that persons life but in different ways. But I try to have other people, including myself, realize that this problem or this disability is not as far as this person is. Or this person is a lot larger if he or she wants. That problem or disability that they’ve been put under like putting people into boxes. I just don’t like being put into boxes. But I guess for different requirements you have to be put into some type of label. But I am trying to expand that in just my own little area. If I can just make that more aware that these people, including myself, can still do the things that we did before but just be a little aware of the complications that we are having to deal with on a daily basis. Not something that just happened and you are incapacitated for like a week or a month. It’s like, in many instances, a whole totally different lifestyle and change that person has to make. A lot of people don’t understand that or choose not to and don’t try to see a bigger perspective for that person or for themselves. So I try to keep that in mind for myself or for other people who tend to look down or discriminate because of that reason, because of circumstances that’s entirely beyond their control.

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