Different abilities JC woman with cerebral palsy active as painter, police operator

Karen Carattini often tells her colleagues at the Jersey City Police Department, with an infectious laugh, “I may be crooked, but I am straight.”

A police operator for 18 years, Carattini, 46, needs a sense of humor to cope with having had cerebral palsy since birth.

Cerebral palsy is a condition marked by muscular impairment, poor coordination, impaired speech, and learning difficulties as the result of brain damage usually occurring at birth.

There is no cure for CP, but constant treatment and therapy can help a child grow into a happy adult.

What also helped the lifelong city resident, the youngest of four children from the city’s west side, was her family’s love and their ability to treat her as if she wasn’t different from other children.

“When I was a child in the 1960s, one doctor told my parents that they should put me in an institution,” Carattini said last week. “Back then, the [federal] government paid families to put their children who were disabled in institutions. I was very lucky my parents didn’t do that, and they have always loved and treated me well, which has made me the person I am now.”

Carattini continued, “I would have been very different.”

But in some ways, she is different. She works in a demanding job where she fields numerous 911 emergency calls.

However, she finds time to pursue her first love: painting. Over the years, she has shown her work, mostly watercolor, at such venues as City Hall. And she teaches art therapy to residents at the Boyd McGuinness Senior Citizen Building at Kennedy Boulevard and Duncan Avenue, where she currently resides. Disabled people live there along with the seniors.

“I’m not your average disabled person,” she said.‘Mainstreaming’ disabled kids

In her early years, most children born with disabilities in Jersey City were sent to the A. Harry Moore School on Kennedy Boulevard, which still exists across the street from New Jersey City University.

But at the time she was growing up, there was a movement in the United States to “mainstream” disabled children, or place them into regular schools. Carattini’s parents took up the cause and enrolled their daughter into St. Aloysius Grammar School on West Side Avenue, and St. Dominic Academy High School on Kennedy Boulevard, right across the street from her current residence.

She said that this helped her grow more independent and encouraged her budding interest in painting.

“The first thing I painted was my dog,” said Carattini with a laugh – revealing that she actually took a brush to her dog’s fur. “I painted my dog black. He was white and black, a cocker spaniel, and I colored the white parts in. It was so cute, he let me paint him.”

Soon, she moved on from the canine canvas and studied at New Jersey City University (then known as Jersey City State College), where she switched from psychology to art studies.

That led to her taking classes in New York up to the present day at the Art Students League, New York University, the Horticulture Society, and most recently, the Salmagundi Art Club.

But after she graduated from college in 1986, she worked odd jobs that paid the bills.

She applied for an opening in the Jersey City Police Department, but she didn’t expect to be hired.

In December 1989, she was hired as a police operator. Responds to 911

At her job, she and her colleagues are the first to pick up a 911 call for anything from a shooting to a domestic dispute. They write down verbatim what they told by a caller and then repeat the information to a dispatcher, who makes a call to police in the field.

“When I first got the job, my boss, Captain Haggerty, fought for me to have this job because there were a lot of higher-ups didn’t think I could handle the job,” Carattini said.

She says her condition more than prepares her for the job. “Because I am disabled, or maybe it is my personality, I have more of a compassion for people who call and I am kinder to them,” Carattini said. “Sometimes I care too much.” Three pounds when born

Carattini was born three months earlier than expected. “I was three pounds and 13 ounces when I was born,” Carattini said. “I think my father said I could fit in the palm of his hand. To my parents, I am a miracle baby.”

The result was damage to the left side of her brain, which disabled the right side of her body, creating a noticeable limp. She walks with the help of a cane.

“Basically, my mother told me that I took a stroke on my left side, and it affected the right side of my body,” Carattini said.

Carattini said her upbringing helped her to stay positive and be productive, but she admits she has her “moments.”

“I can laugh at things now, but when I was kid, I was angry,” Carattini said. “It hurt that kids used to pick on me. But as I got older, I learned to deal better with my situation, because I have to in order to be independent.”

Carattini pointed out she also can’t expend a great deal of energy being angry, as her condition frequently fatigues her.

“I am always in state of alert because of my balance issues, and that makes me more tired,” Carattini said. “I fall asleep at the drop of a hat. A friend of mine calls me ‘Sleeping Beauty.’ “

But Carattini said it’s her zest for life and wanting to prove herself that keeps her from limiting her expectations.

“When people say I can’t handle something, or I am not good enough, I just want it more,” she said. Then, she followed up with her infectious laugh. Comments on this story can be sent to rkaulessar@hudsonreporter.com


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