Several years ago I first used the phrase "Duck Syndrome" to describe a large group of people with developmental disabilities accompanied by one or two staff going to an event or a store together. The thought came to me after I watched a group of six people enter a store with a staff member at the front of the group and a staff member at the back of the group. The group walked through the store, picked up the one item they needed, walked back to the counter, paid for it and walked out in single file. It seemed to me that it looked like a group ducks walking together. The thought and phrase wasn't to belittle anyone, it's just a fact. That fact is they all looked like little ducks following the mother duck through an area. It was a syndrome I hated seeing for two reasons. First, it draws attention to the group. Everyone looks and notices the group walking through the store. It's bad enough they all road the van with the handicapped plates to the store together, but now they had to all walk through the store for one item. Second, it served absolutely no purpose whatsoever. What were the people with disabilities learning? How to walk through a store, pick up an item and let the staff pay for it. That was about it. There was no training from the staff on what they needed, why they needed it, how much it would cost, how to pay for it and count the change....nothing. The entire "parade" through the store only served to pick up a needed item and walk people in and out of a store.
Since that time I have hated the idea of mass groups going somewhere for one event or one need. I've seen it with physician appointments (one person has an appointment, but ten go!). I've seen it with shopping trips, trips to the zoo, trips to the mall, trips to parades and even trips to events like Special Olympics. It's degrading and wrong, but supporters (of the Duck Syndrome if you will) have some valid points of concern. They say that if they don't line everyone up and walk through a store or event, someone will get lost and they (the staff will get in trouble for it). I also hear the excuse of they simply do not have enough funds to have staff for "individualised outings" There is actually merit to both of these arguments. In the ICF setting, the regulations and funding cuts have made it tough to ensure individual outings. But there is ways to try to avoid the problem.
Consider the following solutions if you find yourself working in a facility where the "Duck Syndrome" is used frequently:
1. Asses your staffing ratios - can you increase it so that everyone is not forced to go on a march?
2. Consider bringing in staff for special events - can you bring in an extra staff during a scheduled appointment time, or for a special event? Sometimes that person could be a part-time person or a staff flexing a schedule a little.
3. If you have to go somewhere together consider the staff dropping off one staff and the person(s) who needs to go to the event or appointment and then taking others somewhere else.
4. Consider breaking the group up - if you have six to ten people, can a staff go with four or five and another staff go with the others? If you're in a restaurant, nothing says you have to all sit at the same table, ask for and even have a few tables around the restaurant for two or three individuals only. Have your staff monitor the room. In the movie theater, you don't all have to sit on the same row.
5. Look at the schedules - does everyone go to bed at eight, but yet you have two people or more working until ten or later? If so, flex those schedules to where those people can help out during the special events.
Ultimately, whatever you decide to do as the QIDP, always put yourself in the place of a person with disabilities. It could easily be you walking in that line through the store to pick up one item. How would you feel if you knew other people in the store were looking at your, even staring at you? How would you feel to walk through a store with ten other people just to pick up one item? Would you want to be in the "Duck Syndrome"? I'm betting the answer to most of those questions is "No" or "Not really feeling good about this." If that's what you're thinking, then you need to work to find a way to avoid this syndrome. The people you serve have been singled out and handed a rough hand in life already. It's your job to take that rough hand dealt and make it better. As the QIDP you have a unique opportunity to make a difference and to make that difference in someones life......don't let that opportunity slide by you for the convenience of something like the "Duck Syndrome".