I am finding it difficult to articulate the right words for this post because they are clouded by my emotions, but I will do my best to convey the message I want others to learn. Let me back up a bit and bring you all up to speed on what has compelled me to write this post. Today, while browsing through our local news online, I came across a piece about a young teenage boy with Cerebral Palsy who was degraded and bullied by fellow students of his high school. The teenage boy was dared to lie down in a stream of water and if he didn’t they would make him (as told by his mother); while fellow students yelled derogatory comments and one female student (depicted in the video) walking onto the young man’s back and using him like a human bridge. I will give you all a minute to let those images sink into your mind.
If, at any point, none of this infuriated you, we have a lot to discuss and you should definitely keep reading this. If it did, thank God and there is still hope for our future generation.
I am a firm believer that the best, and only successful way to bring change is to use your voice and educate others, so here I go doing my best to educate those who felt this was “teenagers being teenagers”, “he looked like he wanted to do it”, “back in my day, this wouldn’t have been a big deal. Y’all are too sensitive”, or any other ludicrous notion, other than this was completely and utterly UNACCEPTABLE!
Since when, has it ever been okay to take advantage, humiliate or attempt to dehumanise another person? This young man is a person; a person with thoughts, feelings, aspirations, and purpose. But none of that was taken into account through the actions of these young people. I don’t know what their motivations were and how this situation came to life, but I can assume it was motivated by the fact that they perceived this young man to be an easy target; someone they viewed as less. This is where y’all can pull up a seat and get comfortable because you are about to get educated.
People in the disabled and special needs communities have been working tirelessly for decades, to change the perception that because they learn differently, speak differently, walk or move differently, or exhibit unique abilities that are not considered the “norm”, they are somehow broken or deemed less. Because of this, many have been bullied, manipulated or abused. Those that prey on them, take advantage of their trust and vulnerability because they feel they can. These people are cowards.
Ignorance and discrimination are ugly characteristics that have no place existing in our society! Where is the compassion? The acceptance? The love?
Some people may look at my daughter Olivia and see only a child in a wheelchair, who doesn’t speak and whose body sometimes moves in different, sometimes involuntary ways. We have had the pittied stares and the occasional ignorant questions, but they are not welcome in our life. We take every opportunity to educate others about Olivia’s amazing abilities and her incredible perseverance. What I have learned, through raising a child with extraordinary needs is you will never witness a fiercer sense of survival or drive to overcome! There have been many extraordinary examples of people throughout history whose differences inspired and changed our world.
Perhaps some of you are familiar with famous American author, political activist and lecturer, Helen Keller. When Helen was 19 months old she contracted Scarlett Fever and it left her blind and deaf. During this period, Helen’s parents were unsure what the future held for their daughter, but they didn’t give up (and neither did she).
At the age of six, Helen’s parents hired a teacher from the Perkins Institute for the Blind. With a lot of hard work and determination, Helen soon learned to communicate using her hands; spelling words into the palms of others. At the age of 24, Helen became the first deaf-blind person to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Radcliffe College and going on to be one of the most influential people of her time.
Another influential person whose talents and incredible mind shaped the field of theoretical physics, is a gentleman by the name of Stephen Hawking.
Mr. Hawking was a writer, professor and prolific scientist. His book, A Brief History of Time appeared on the British Sunday Times bestseller list for a record breaking 237 weeks (according to Wikipedia). Mr. Hawking developed Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) which left him paralyzed, but this didn’t stop him from continuing to educate influential scientific minds, appear on numerous television interviews, or publishing articles based on his research.
A well-known Irish artist, who was the inspiration behind the movie, “My Left Foot”, was none other than Christy Brown. Christy was born in Ireland in 1932 with Cerebral Palsy. Although he had limited fine motor function, he taught himself to paint and write using only his left foot. He became famous for his self-proclaimed masterpiece, Down All The Days, which was translated into fourteen languages. Christy also went on to publish many poetic works.
All of these famous and extremely prominent individuals had extraordinary needs and without their brilliant minds, incredible talents, or profound voices, we would be sadly robbed of their contributions that molded minds, inspired future scientific discoveries, and evoked emotion and compassion in others. They most certainly were NOT less!
We need to understand that our unique abilities are strengths. When we are accepting of each other’s differences, we grow as a community that is rich in diversity, creativity, and compassion. If our neighbour struggles, we don’t push them down, we offer an arm and lift them up: figuratively and literally. Those who are vulnerable need others with voices who will stand up against the intolerance inflicted upon them. If we quietly stand by while others are treated unfairly, we are condoning the action. So I will not quietly stand by and say nothing. What was done to this young man was unspeakable. If the individuals involved in this incident are to learn anything, I think it needs to be taught through action and education. Perhaps they need to be assigned as volunteers in the school’s learning centre where they can participate in learning and understanding the abilities and needs of their peers; sit and eat lunch daily with them, participate in activities, formulate questions and have a conversation to better understand the thoughts, feelings, and aspirations of each of them.
We grow and become better human beings when we take the time to learn from each other.
“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”~ Audre Lorde