Admit it! You've used the "r" word once in your lifetime; it's become a part of our everyday dialogue. Fortunately, organizations like Special Olympics and Best Buddies have begun to "Spread the Word to End the Word!" But using the word is not the only thing that needs to end; brutal beatings and forceful manipulation of kids with disabilities must also stop. Research shows that students with disabilities are more likely to be bullied than students without. Some reports estimate that nearly 85% of children and youth with disabilities experience bullying. Yet, this population is absent from legislation and most anti-bullying programs.
Walk a Mile in Their Shoes, a report authored by AbilityPath.org, is aimed at bringing facts and real stories of youth with disabilities and their families to the forefront of national discussions. Bullying has gone on long enough and has reached dangerous and deadly levels. Violence against anyone is not okay and we must take action to 'Disable Bullying'.
Too many students with disabilities are being bullied. In the last 5 months alone, cases of children with disabilities being force fed dog food while other children laughed; watching a boy with autism have an outburst as he ate a cookie with filling made of soap and knocking a young child off of her crutches in the hallway of a school have quietly been making headlines. This is criminal, cruel and cowardly but unfortunately occurs every day. We shake our heads in disbelief and are confident kids we know wouldn't do something like this and they probably aren't but what are they doing? Sitting around watching or not reporting it is just as bad. What is being done to instill compassion and caring into the future generations?
Teaching tolerance of differences, especially for those whose differences limits their ability to respond, needs to take center stage in homes, schools and even places of worship. Misconceptions exist but will only be put to rest when more of us provide youth with disabilities opportunities to continue to take big bold steps forward.
It's moments when the winning shots to a high school title basketball game are taken by a student with autism or a college baseball pitcher with cerebral palsy proves everyone wrong and with strike outs and curve balls or when a young man shows bravery by sharing with everyone his powerful voice as well as his disabilities on American Idol that remind us of the potential that lies within everyone. While we celebrate these accomplishments, we must also applaud those coaches, fans and producers who see beyond the label and treat each of these young people as people first.
We have seen the power behind what happens when individuals, schools and communities ban together. It's time to take back our neighborhoods and put bullies on alert that all eyes are on them and any act of violence or manipulation will result in severe consequences. This may seem strong but we cannot stand around waiting for the next student to be hospitalized or worse, die.
Walk a Mile in Their Shoes is the spark to start conversation and action. Continuing to raise the level of awareness for children and youth with disabilities is up to all of us. Will we change our behaviors or language and lead by example? No act is too small, too simple or can happen too soon. The power of one must not be denied but the power of many can be even greater!
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