Thursday, January 17, 2008

What Next

Lucy came into my office and after a spell asked me about the black armband. I told her the story but our conversation veered off in an interesting direction. Lucy said that stories like Brent's are one of the reasons that parents can be very unwilling to give their child with a disability opportuntities to grow into community experience. That some parents will respond with horror to what happened to Brent and will use protection as a strategy to keep their children safe.

As we talked I told Lucy that my feeling was that parents get frustrated when we as professionals come with 'happy happy' faces to talk about their child moving into a 'welcoming welcoming' community. It's like we refuse to see the evil side of the community - they refuse to see the good. And we are at impasse. I have to admit, I get the parents frustrations, I've gone to conference after conference on 'community' and the stories are all 'warm fuzzy' ones. I listen with a cynical ear - disbelieving much of what I hear. You see, I'm fat. That difference alone has made the community a very 'unpleasant' experience much of the time. I'm in a wheelchair now, the community has within it, I discover, very bold bigots who don't bother restricting their glare or muting their discomfort at my presence.

While I enjoy the fruits of the community, I am aware of the thorns. I think that the murder of Brent Martin is a wake up call for all of us. I keep picturing him trying to shake his murders hands, offering to buy them a beer, telling them he loved them. Why was he doing this? Two reasons, deep deep fear and lack of strategies, not knowing what to do. Years ago I did a workshop on teasing and bullying for school kids living in the Newmarket area. These were all kids mainstreamed into the local school system.

We did a role play of a kid walking down a hallway while others called out names. You gotta bet that these kids have experienced this a thousand times. So when the role play was over I asked, "What should she do next." 40 teens. Not one answer. They had no idea. None. Clearly no one had sat down with them, kids everyone knows are going to be picked on, and talked to them about the social realities of difference and of meanness. No one had given them a way to understand teasing and bullying and strategies to deal with it. Not one. Well, they did have one, it came a bit later in the class when a little boy shouted, "I remember what you are supposed to do, you are supposed to just ignore it."

Ignore it.

Yeah, that works.

If you've been reading the blog this week and wondering, but what do we do. Now that we are aware, what do we do. Well, if you are a parent or you work with either children or adults with disabilities, here is what I'd suggest.

1) Talk to those in your care. Open the lines of communication. Ask about bullies. Ask about teasing. Remember, children often don't tell their parents and care providers because they don't want to upset you, or they've told you in the past without getting much in the way of help. They've given up.

2) Insist, insist, that your child, the person in your care, take part in an anti-bullying anti-teasing programme. They exist. I teach an anti-bullying progamme and an anti-abuse programme. I know they work. I've heard back from both care providers and those with disabilities. If you don't know where to start with an anti bullying programme -get the book I wrote about it - the aRe word. If you don't know where to start with and anti abuse programe - get the book I wrote about it - Just Say Know. I tossed and turned last night about whether I should mention these books, would people see it as shameless self promotion. But that's not why I'm mentioning the books. And if others know of other resourses list them here in the comment section.

3) Talk to the police. You will find them more approachable then you've ever imagined. Ask if they will come and talk to a group of people with disabilities about street saftey. Let the police meet people with disabilities, let people with disabilities meet the police. Some wonderful community initiatives have happened. People First in Dorset, England, have come up with a brilliant community safety programme. You may want to contact them, or other groups who have looked at community safety head on.

4) Don't let outrage die. My black armband will come off on Saturday. But my outrage lives on. I'm going to try to notice and try to be aware of this kind of brutality and will try to say something each time. Even it is just to my team at Vita. It doesn't matter how big or how small, but we should be moved. I don't know if in Canada we have hate crime legislation that covers disability, if not, I'd like to work towards that.

Well, there are a few ideas. I welcome others. Someone wrote an idea that I liked. They suggested building a webpage memorial where those with disabilities who are beaten, brutalized or murdered could be mentioned. Where we could gather to leave messages to family and at the same time document the enormity of the programme. I don't know how to do that. I don't know how to create a web page. But if someone else does, I'll volunteer to help in any way I can.

You see, it's just that when this campaign is over, I want to know what I can do next. I've got some ideas, hopefully, now - so do you.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this, Dave. I certainly agree that it begins with education. My son is bright, small and a little antisocial...already at preschool age a target for bullies. I will look up your books. If you have any recommendations for kid's books on this subject (preschool-kindergarten age), please pass them along as well.

Anonymous said...

Barbara Coloroso has a good book out called "the bully, the bullied and the bystander". It talks about bullying from all three points of view and how we can encourage our children to not be a bystander even if they are not the target of a bully.

My son, deaf with cp, was a target at school and the school instituted a district wide program to try to reduce incidents. Not sure what program they used but the fact that they were talking about it every week for a whole year was a great start.

Sue said...

I'm glad you are bringing attention this, Dave (and everyone else).

I like the idea of the website - I'd love to see it also used as a place to collect resources in one central place.

I'd be happy to build and host a site for you if you'd like - just let me know. Blogger isn't showing my profile for some reason - you can find me at

Anonymous said...

as a teacher and a gay person, i have been both bullied and asked to prevent bullying. thanks for mentioning your books. i would really like to check them out because i have been reading your blog for some time and trust that your advice will be helpful.

Anonymous said...

This is my post for Brent; it's hard to find the words.
For children now gone

Anonymous said...

Hello there. I have read your blog for a while now, lurking but no posting (too scared!). Just wanted to suggest maybe setting up a facebook page/group. MIght reach out to a new demographic, and catch them with the right message while they're young. Unfortunately I do not have the technical know how myself.

All 4 My Gals said...

Funny Dave, I was going to email you because T has been experiencing some "bullying" from a little girl she sits by. Of course she had her Mommy to say to the little girl, "Please DO NOT touch her again!" and I have talked to her about telling immediately. She is such a sassy kid, w/a strong personality and I'm scared that makes her even MORE of a target because she shuns a lot of people. I'm going to look up your books. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your post and for your empathy. My daughter is intellectually challenged and is 28 years old now. She lives at home with me but several years ago she decided she wanted to try living in a group home so she could be independant and have more contact with her peer group. We live in a small town in Texas and there are very few activities for anyone let alone someone like my daughter. With much anxiety and fear I did as she asked and found her a group home in a nearby city. She lived there for 1 1/2 years. One day while visiting at home she started telling me about abuse toward her and other clients in the home. She was told by her caregivers that she had better not tell on them and get them in trouble. Thank God she finally told me. I was so horrified and angry and so sad that this had happened to my daughter. I felt like a failure as a mother for this happening to her. I reported what she told me to supervisors and the authorities. Nothing ever came of my efforts. It seems that abusers do not commit their abuse in front of witnesses,of course, and without witnesses no one would believe her "story." Just the mention of a group home can now send my daughter into a fear induced anxiety attack. It has been 7 years. My greatest fear is what will happen to her when I die. Certainly family members will be there for her but I am afraid they will get tired of taking care of her and send her away to another group home. I know her life is so much less than it could be if she had a chance to live it out in the community. I just can't force her to try the group home route again. I took her to a therapist to deal with the trauma with only marginal results. If anyone has any advice I would welcome it. My e-mail address is My heart is broken that people like my daughter are seen as easy targets for abuse and I am terrified of what will happen to her once I am not here to protect her.

Anonymous said...

Dear Dave
I have been thinking of many ways we can let people know these stories of hate crime! We have just launched our new web site with some stories, on the news page, if you want to add anything let me know?
On the project page it tells you about our stop-bullying work!
Amanda P

Anonymous said...

Dave, a website would be a great idea. I have a few rough ideas and would be happy to do something about this. Send me an e-mail and we can discuss it.

rickismom said...

Yes, it is very easy for parents to not let their kids do anything, since almost all things are a bit riskey.
I decided a few years ago, that despite the risks, we would aim for independence. This is partly because we live in a very low crime area. However, it is also because I decided that keeping her locked up the whole day is also a crime... a living death.
But stories like Brents are VERY scarey!