Bullying is never ok! Whether a person has a disability or not, bullying should not be tollerated. We live in a world now where bullying doesn’t just stop on the playground, or at school. With the implimentation of social media, people who are being bullied can sometimes never escape their bullies, and for impressionable kids this can sometimes lead to catastrophic results. According to the Center For Disease Control (CDC), “We know that bullying behavior and suicide-related behavior are closely related. This means youth who report any involvement with bullying behavior are more likely to report high levels of suicide-related behavior than youth who do not report any involvement with bullying behavior.” We need to help teach our children and adults of the effects of bullying, but we also need to be cognizant of the special forms of bullying that people with disabilities encounter.
According to the CDC, “A study of 93 children with special needs and 93 children in mainstream education settings (Whitney et al., 1994) found that 66% of the special needs children reported being bullied compared with 25% of the mainstream children.” The CDC also reports, “A study of children with special needs in mainstream settings found that 67% were bullied compared with 25% of typically developing peers (Beaty & Alexeyev, 2008).” The PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center quotes Roes, et al. stating, “When assessing specific types of disabilities, prevalence rates differ: 35.3% of students with behavioral and emotional disorders, 33.9% of students with autism, 24.3% of students with intellectual disabilities, 20.8% of students with health impairments, and 19% of students with specific learning disabilities face high levels of bullying victimization (Rose et al., 2012).” The PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center also referenced the British Journal of Learning Support which stated, “One study shows that 60 percent of students with disabilities report being bullied regularly compared with 25 percent of all students. (Source: British Journal of Learning Support, 2008)” It is clear that students with disabilities are more often the subject to bullying than their non-disabled peers.
This type of discriminatory treatment is not special to the United States. Countries across the world face the same type of treatment with their disabled children. A story published in Distractify by Mark Pygas, shows the impact of bullying on a child with Achondroplasia Dwarfism in Australia, and the pleads by his mother for help. This has become a viral video being spread through Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. A mother pleads for help while her son with Dwarfism cries about wanting to kill himself due to the bullying he receives on a daily basis at school. This is a systemic issue that needs to be addressed.
Bullying can come in many forms. It is not limited to physical fights. Bullying can come in the form of taunting, making fun, laughing at, excluding, spreading rumors, or treating a disabled individual as if they are a child, or “less than” others. People with disabilities of all ages experience this type of treatment, but it can be increasingly difficult for children with disabilities to cope with the harassment. Children with disabilities can be bullied by being actively excluded from activities by their peers or their teachers. They can be bullied by being called inappropriate names, laughed at because their appearance may be different than others, poked fun at because of their level of intellectual ability, and many other forms. To make matters worse, the bullying does not always stop at those who just don’t like or understand the child. Sometimes the bullying comes from friends.
One mother described her son’s bullying as subtle acts that are sometimes committed by her son’s friends who claim to know and understand his disability. He is completely blind in both eyes due to cancer he had as a young child. Because of the cancer, his eyes had to be removed, so he now wears prosthetic eyes. She talks about how sometimes children who claim to be her son’s friend will tell him his eyes look gross or tap him on the shoulder but not reveal who or where they are to him. This can be intimidating and scary for someone who cannot see and relies on others to describe his surroundings. While his friends may think they are only ‘joking’, this is a form of bullying. Treating someone in a way that makes them feel inferior, less than, or singled out in a negative way because of their disability is a form of bullying.
Bullying can cross over into social media, and the bullied individual can never break free from the harassment. When a bullied individual never feels like they have a safe space to be themselves without harassment, it can lead to negative self-thoughts, isolation, depression, and sometimes suicide. According to bullyingstatistics.org, “Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people, resulting in about 4,400 deaths per year, according to the CDC.” They also report, “Bully victims are between 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims, according to studies by Yale University.” This needs to change, and the only way it will change is if we educate our young people to understand other’s differences and learn to be more accepting.
Educators need to educate themselves about disabilities. Educators need to do a better job at including students with disabilities in school activities and projects. Teachers need to think about the accessibility needs of students with disabilities in their classes when arranging the classroom furniture and preparing class activities to ensure that all the students can participate. I have heard countless stories about teachers who prepare activities for students that involve sitting on the floor to create artwork or do other activities together, and telling the student in the wheelchair that they can “just sit this one out”. This is exclusion and a form of bullying. Physical education teachers need to learn how to adapt activities for people with disabilities. There are countless sports programs for people with disabilities at all levels to including the Paralympics and Special Olympics. There is no reason that an activity in gym class cannot be adapted to include a child with a disability.
School administrators need to be more cognizant of the treatment that students with disabilities are receiving in their schools, and when it is recognized it needs to be addressed immediately. Too often, excuses are made on behalf of the bully or the incidents are downplayed as if they are not severe enough to warrant action. This type of thinking in the schools needs to change. In the United States, there are specific laws that protect certain groups of people, disabled being one of them. According to StopBullying.gov, “When bullying is directed at a child because of his or her established disability and it creates a hostile environment at school, bullying behavior may cross the line and become “disability harassment.” Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the school must address the harassment.” However, in many cases, schools do not appropriately address the harassment, and the bullying continues. School Districts also need to get on board with allowing organizations to come into their schools to educate their students about disabilities. There are organizations out there that will conduct Disability Awareness education to students and staff. You must be willing to let them in your doors to open your mind and the minds of the students at your schools.
This responsibility is not just in the hands of the schools. Parents need to do a better job of educating their children about other’s differences. They need to prepare their children on how to interact with children with disabilities, and how to treat them with the respect and dignity that they deserve. Many times, this will require the parent to actually educate themselves, because far too often in our society, adults are just as unaware as children are when it comes to how to treat a person with a disability. We all need to do a better job of educating ourselves, our children, and each other on how to treat people who are different from ourselves. Talk to people with disabilities about their experiences and ask them how to properly educate their child on how to be a better person to people of all abilities. Attend seminars or classes on disabilities to educate yourself about how to interact with disabled individuals in a dignified way. However, in reality, it is fairly simple. People with disabilities want to be treated just like everyone else. If you wouldn’t do or say something to a person without a disability, then don’t do or say it to someone with a disability. Treat us as humans, because that is what we are. We are all humans trying to co-exist in a world that is full of people who are not just like us.