Let me start off by commenting on the title of this article. I have used the term “gimp” for the past sixty years and I am not going to change now just so I can be politically correct. I am known to be political but no one has ever accused me of being “politically correct”. In fact, truth be known, political correctness has done more to move the independent living concept backwards than furthering the fundamentals. So with that out of the way let me get on my little soapbox here (I build a small ramp for it so I can get my wheelchair up there).
The year I was the March of Dimes Timmy I met many individuals including a number of wrestlers, Whipper Billy Watson being one and the tag team in the attached picture. It did a couple of things to me. First it taught me never to back down and second laid the foundation for a life long WWE fan. The not backing down part was an important lesson since growing up using crutches you discovered early just how cruel kids can be.
Unlike a lot of WWE fans I recognize it for what it is, entertainment. Unfortunately there is a segment of the viewing population who believe the WWE is real. And too many of these viewers tend to emulate their TV hero’s which can result in younger socially alienated WWE fans with a strong bullying mentality. Now I am not trying to single out WWE, in fact if you watch many of the TV programs aimed at that teen demographic you will discover a lot of betrayal and bullying as their themes.
However I don’t believe for a minute that kids are born cruel. I tend to believe that kids are taught about cruelty and bullying by watching their environment. That environment combined with parents who re-enforce bullying behaviour through their own actions or non-action is a bad mix. And if you need any proof of parents contributing to this behaviour go to your local hockey rink and watch the parents of kids in PeeWee hockey. Bullying is a learnt behaviour!
In my teens and walking on crutches, when I wasn’t in the Children’s Hospital I would be attending school in the community. There was no such things as the acknowledgement of accessibility which meant no school were really accessible and bullying was just recognized as juvenile delinquent behaviour. Kids with disabilities in those days just adapted. And I wasn’t the only one in my community that had to adapt.
Along side my polio acquaintances I had two friends with Duchennes Muscular Dystrophy and another two with Cerebral Palsy. Unfortunately victims of Duchennes have short life expectations (Don had passed away by 16 and Billy hung in there until 31, a longevity record at the time). People left them alone as well or they dealt with me. Many of my friends from my younger days joke with me about how my life was like West Side Story minus the music.
I got hassle occasionally by other kids but it never lasted long since I was as good at giving it out as I was at receiving it. Having learnt early not to back down I developed a bit of a reputation as a scrapper. By fifteen years I had the type of build that many people today spend hours a day in the gym while shooting themselves up with steroids to attain. But then when you walk on crutches you are weight lifting all day. So long and short of it, if anyone attempted to bully me they dealt with me at a little park across the street from my high school as soon as the end of day bell went off. And with my strength, once I had them in my arms they were pretty well finished!
Over the years I took that “never back down” attitude into my advocacy. Activists are needed more than ever these days since providing service for those in the community with a disability has become big money. Many people with disabilities these days have become a commodity which has resulted in many kids with disabilities being taught from a very young age to be dependent. Speaking out becomes threatening to them which results in them accepting almost everything they are told. They are conditioned not to question and when they do it often backfires.
Almost two years ago the suicide of a young fellow caught my attention. His name was Mitchell Wilson and the story disgusted me. Here was an eleven year old whose mother had passed away due to cancer when he was eight years old. This child knew tragedy but any picture you see him in he has a beaming smile. As it turns out he was being bullied at school due to his disability and the powers that be were ignoring it. What disgusted me the most was the outcry following the incident. You know what they say about hindsight being 20/20 but this was deliberate blindness before the event.
The political outrage resulted in many good photo ops for a number of politicians. All you have to do is watch Question Period in Parliament every now and then to see what type of bullying poster children we have pretending to be politicians. And when all of the dust had settled and the case had made its way through the court system the accused bully was found not guilty. This does not encourage kids to come forward. It makes it even more difficult when you are doing it with a disability. And the bullying rate for kids with disabilities is double the national average for kids without!
However I say to all of you. DON’T BACK DOWN! Just because somebody says something does not make it fact. We live in a time where information is in abundance so use the tools available, like the Internet. You are not alone. Forget about the disability, that is not who you are. It’s a definition that comes out of some diagnostic manual due to our incessant need to categorize. It doesn’t define you. My simple philosophy, I define my disability, my disability doesn’t define me. Speak out, scream if you have to and take control your life and your rights.
Just one man’s opinion!