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."
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.