Human services jargon. An event in which one or more elderly or disabled people leave the house, institution, group home, or special education school under the control of some agency. Also often described as an outing into the community. Popular settings and activities for outings are shopping malls, bowling alleys, movie theaters, parks, and fast food restaurants.
An example from my experiences:
The staff at the recreational program have decided that instead of sitting around doing coloring and other busywork like usual, we're going to take a walk to the mall. We're a group of developmentally disabled teens and young adults that the city has developed this special rec program for.
After a bunch of ordering and jostling, we are all formed into a more or less single file line. This doesn't take as much effort on staff's part as you'd think, because most of us have at least some institutional experience and have learned to fear and obey staff. Many of us don't think twice about being grabbed by the arm and hauled into place. Once the line has formed, we head out the door.
We move relatively slowly: A couple guys use forearm crutches, and a lot of us shuffle along heavily medicated. Most of us, even the ones who can talk, are silently obedient. There's the occasional noise and a lot of unusual movement. We stop many times on the way to the mall. First John's crutch tip falls off, then I get exhausted and lie down on the sidewalk. Fortunately these are relatively good staff, and they don't force us to continue until we're ready.
When we get to the mall, it's some kind of Christmas celebration for children. Staff walk us in a circle around the mall, where we partake in -- or are walked through, hand over hand -- such exciting activities as making paper snowflakes and getting candy canes. Some of us like it more than others. Nobody's asked us either way, of course. People with developmental disabilities are viewed as eternal children and incapable of major decisions.
Everyone, of course, knows we are different. Staff often make a point of hindering interaction between us and those around us. Staff talk down to us as if we are children. The general public follows their example. We are a group of outsiders who will soon disappear, and they can be charitable in the meantime. Which means putting up with a lot of being patted on the head and talked to like two-year-olds. And a lot of people either staring or pretending we don't exist. And insults.
If you live in a city where these outings happen, you've probably seen us: We're the ones who move slowly, or awkwardly, or oddly, or noisily, with a couple of staff leading and bringing up the rear. The staff are easy to spot: They're the ones looking conspicuously normal and saintly.
You may also assume that we're oblivious when some of you call us retards for fun. If you do, you're wrong. We may have learned to silently tolerate or ignore insults like that, but they still sting. Some of us won't leave the house because of it. Others attack our bodies in an attempt to beat or cut out whatever parts of us make us "retards," a word that becomes completely divorced from any technical meaning mental retardation might have for some of us, and attached to anything that makes us different. Others try to force ourselves to (however unsuccessfully) act like non-disabled people, often disowning other disabled people in the process. But on our "outings," few of us challenge it. We're too afraid of staff. All the same, words hurt, or rather the hate behind them hurts. Whatever else we are, we are not blissful ignorants. If you see someone yelling insults at us or worse, feel free to tell them to stop acting like an asshole.
After we've made the rounds of the mall's kiddie Christmas displays, we sit down at the food court and start eating. The disabled people mostly sit silently and scarf our food down, another remnant of institutional living where there's time limits on lunch and people can steal your food. The staff chat to each other, but not to us. Any time any of us tries, through words or gestures, to break into the conversation, we're ignored. Tom and Betty, both adults, start groping and flirting with each other. Staff reprimand them for inappropriate behavior: This may be "the community", and we may be adults, but heaven forbid we start acting like it. They stop, looking fearful.
On the way out, staff do a rapid headcount. All but one of us are here. Bill has gone over to look at something in a store. The staff find him and drag him back into line. And we continue, single file, the way we came. Back to the rec center, to be picked up by our parents, group home staff, or whoever else might come for us.
Whether we've actually engaged in any meaningful interaction with that community the staff hold so dear is debatable. Some of us like these trips more than others, and those who do like them are either comparing them to unspeakably awful levels of confinement or viewing them as ways to spend time with our friends. Many of us are just spending our energy trying to get through it without getting punished -- staff often evaluate our behavior in public to see whether we're allowed to go again.1 For the most part, this is just one more activity in a whole program of activities, and whatever good comes out of it does not come from the location. But you can bet that the logs turned over to the government show an increase in mainstream community integration and participation. It's paperwork that counts, after all, not real life.
Usage Note: Using the term "outing" to describe any activity out of the house can be such a clinical description that many disabled people dislike it. Before using the term to describe an activity, think about what term you'd use when you did something like this.
1This was the case for me during the events described, which is why you don't see much description of my active role in this: There was none, besides getting through the day and getting in as little trouble as possible. Other times, I have gone in order to spend time with people I liked or just to get out more. Regardless, the mass community outing leaves a lot to be desired, and is very different power-wise from simply going out with a bunch of friends who happen to be disabled. The most notable differences are that outings revolve around the needs and desires of staff first and foremost, emphasize form over function, and can involve a high level of condescension.