Saturday, yesterday, I was thrilled to be giving a talk to EA's (Educational Assistants) who work in classrooms supporting kids with disabilities. Over the years I have come to appreciate the work these people do and have had the incedible luck to work with some who - for little pay and less respect - made education possible for kids with disabilities. But what had me excited was that I was asked to do a lecture on teasing and bullying. This is the right crowd for that message.
I did a quick search on 'bullying in schools' on the net and found, to no great surprise, that kids with disabilities are the most often targeted and that the bullying with disabled kids tended to be harsher and more violent than with typical kids. This I knew, but I like to double check my facts before heading in to give a lecture.
From the moment I started, I felt them as an audience rise to attention. I could see on their faces that they's all seen it, they all worried about it and they all wanted to know what to do about it. Any speaker can tell you that there are magical moments when the material is precisely what the audience wants to hear. This was one of those moments. I knew I was 'on' because it seemed like the talk was flowing through me - not being given by me.
I told everyone about the 'words hit hard as a fist' cards and we had arranged to have enough to give one to each person in the audience. I was thrilled at the idea that schools all over the province would have this new resource and I desperately hoped that, come Monday, things will begin to change.
The audience was mostly an audience of women, but there were men scattered through and they too looked as if the material was being heard, deeply. After it was all over and I was at the book table. A fellow, probably not much younger than me, came and picked up a copy of the book 'the R word: helping people with disabilities deal with teasing and bullying'. He was a big shy man, who nodded greeting and smiled thanks. Not a lot of words.
He came back about fifteen minutes later and picked up two more books. "I'm giving one of these to the school and one of these to my daughter." It looked like it took a lot for him to say these words. He paused and then said, "I don't say much, never have. Until I had a grandchild with a disability. I still don't say much but I do when I have to. Nobody's hurting that kid, that kid is family.'
I had tears in my eyes when he walked away with my books crushed in his big hands. He had the will and I hope I'd shown him the way.
It was a very good day in Saskatoon.
On Monday morning 125 EA's go back to school across the province of Saskatchewan. To a one they get that disphobia is a serious as racism and sexism. To a one they have strategies to deal with it.
Maybe this Monday will be a day of change. If a quiet man can fight shyness to protect his family, maybe we all can rise against the tide ... to protect ours.