I turned on the television recently and watched yet another story about a person with a disability being bullied, victimized, and hurt. As I watched the story, I thought about times in middle school where I too was bullied.
Even though over thirty years have passed, I remember having a group of my peers repeatedly kick or knock my walking devices out of my hands. All I was doing was walking to class … As my walking devices fell, I fell. If I was lucky I would land on my knees. Other times my body would land on the floor with a thud.
As I worked to get up, the bullying crew would erupt into laughter… The laughter would echo through the hallway as they retreated. The crew had to beat the late bell and the Hall Monitor. If they were seen with me, someone might figure out what happened.
There were many occasions where I had black and blue marks from those falls. However, it was not just the bruises that hurt. I moved differently. Because of this I was more vulnerable to bullying. I did not want to bullied or to be a victim.
My response to the incidents of bullying was to try to educate and change the minds of my peers. I would approach my parents, middle school teachers, and physical therapists to support me to educate my classmates about my disability.
In practice, it frequently meant having my classmates sitting around me while my physical therapist would sit beside me and we would explain the concepts of Spastic Cerebral Palsy, its prevalence, and overall effects. My physical therapist would assist me to explain how the CP effected my movement and why I could not maintain balance.
The incidents of bullying lessened as I got older. However, the reality was I was treated differently because of inaccurate beliefs, perceptions, and judgements from a visible difference – my walking devices.
What is troubling to me now is bullying and victimization has grown in its prevalence and forms. Research continues to demonstrate that students with disabilities are bullied and victimized at a significantly higher rate than students without disabilities.1
Research shows the following:
a) compared to students without disabilities, students with intellectual disabilities are 2 to 3 times more likely to be bullied and victimized, and
b) students with observable disabilities are 2 to 4 times more likely to be victimized. 2
Thinking back, when I would hold those sessions to educate my classmates, I was attempting to infuse the concepts of inclusion, diversity, and respect for difference in the minds of my peers.
Stories like the one I just watched on television tell me that there is still a lot of work to do to imbue these concepts in our classrooms and other environments. My solace in writing this piece is that there are many bullying prevention and disability awareness initiatives underway such as:
1.Rose, C. A., Stormont, M., Wang, Z., Simpson, C. G., Preast, J. L., & Green, A. L. (2015, December). Bullying and students with disabilities: examination of disability status and educational placement. School Psychology Review, 44(4), 425+.
2.Rose, C. A., Stormont, M., Wang, Z., Simpson, C. G., Preast, J. L., & Green, A. L. (2015, December). Bullying and students with disabilities: examination of disability status and educational placement. School Psychology Review, 44(4), 425+.