Remembering Wilson

“A lot of you cared, just not enough” – Jay Asher, 13 Reasons Why

CONFESSIONS – It is that time of year again when the idyllic days of summer begin to fade and we re-immerse ourselves into  the early trappings of fall.  This particular year we went from a record breaking heat wave in Calgary to a sudden temperature dip resulting in an unexpected snow fall.  Not nearly as bad as the tragedy of the flooding and hurricanes on the east coast but I can only deal with my own region.  None the less my thoughts and hopes go out for the Carolina’s and other affected areas.

Kids are returning to school and for those children with special needs it is a particularly stressful time of the year, for both parents and child.  It is also a time where I relive a tragedy from seven years ago, a tragedy that should have never happened.  Mitchell Wilson was eleven years old on the last day of his life and I cannot generate the words to express my dismay over the situation.  Had everything gone to plan he would have graduated this past spring and making plans for the next part of his life.  He never had that opportunity due to the ineptitude of a crumbling system.

He was let down with false platitudes.  I didn’t personally know Mitchell but for some reason that one really hit me and I am overcome with the need to remind people of the worthlessness of this death.  Here was an eleven year old kid who should have been having eleven year old thoughts of the life ahead of him.  Instead he was quietly planning his own demise.  You don’t tight s plastic bag around your head at bedtime never to wake up again without some serious planning and thought.

He had been bullied for months at school and his bullies had been “reprimanded”.  A of of good that did Mitchell.  He had been bullied just a few days before his planned return to school over his dads iPhone.  The same phone he carried should he fall while on his walker and need assistance.  It was the known bullies greed over Mitchell’s lifeline that, I believe, finally convinced him that “things don’t get better”. Continue reading “Remembering Wilson”

Does Political Correctness Change Racism?

I was as saddened this past week as millions were when Dylann Roof boldly (I’m suppose to use “allegedly” here but he has admitted to his actions) and viciously killed nine people in a historical church in Charleston, South Carolina.  Unfortunately I wasn’t shocked which is even more saddening.  Apparently Sandy Hook taught us nothing.  Whether we want to admit it or not racism is alive and well not only in the States but in Canada as well.

Today President Barrack Obama used the “n….” word in a public interview causing an outrage.  To me there is not a more disgusting word than the “n” one (I can’t even write it) but it is all to real.  Just because we have made it politically incorrect to use this word publicly doesn’t mean racist attitudes are not still out there.  The erosion of that word has been based more on political correctness than changes in societal beliefs.

Yes there have been positive steps in the past but it seems for every two steps forward we have politicians who like to take some steps backwards as well.  The most recent I have noticed in Canada is the whole approach to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  In Canada there have been over 1100 murdered or missing aboriginal women over the past thirty years but we have a government that doesn’t see that as a “societal issue”.  Convince me that’s not racism…(buzzer sounds) too late!Continue reading “Does Political Correctness Change Racism?”

Bullying the Gimp

Wrestlers and poster children
Meeting a wrestling tag team of the day.

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!

Bullying and Role Modelling

This country is yet again deeply disturbed over another teen suicide.  Rehtaeh Parsons, the most recent high profile teen suicide, has pushed Canadians into an emotional high gear and it should.  Prime Minister Stephen Harper has weighted in on this stating as a father he is “sickened” by what he refers to as the alleged behaviour that led up to this needless death.

Well Mr. Harper what are you going to do about it?  Every time I watch Question Period in the Parliament all I see is bullying and intimidation.  If this is the role model our politicians want to demonstrate why shouldn’t kids think they can emulate this behaviour?  Mr. Harper if you are really serious about tackling bullying head-on maybe you should focus on your own cabinet first.  Have you ever watched the likes of Shelly Glover or other Conservative MP’s on Power and Politics?  All they do is bully and denigrate anyone who stands up to them, just ask our former Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page or, for that matter, any of numerous Commissioner or Ombudsman who never had their appointments renewed basically because they wouldn’t tow the line.

Now how many of you remember Jamie Kehoe, Mitchell Wilson or Jamie Hubley to name a few?  These were all high profile Canadian teen suicides that have taken place is the last two years and every time there has been a huge public outcry, a lot of political rhetoric from our elected officials and after a limited time period it is off the public/political radar.  It a lot like the States with mass shootings, high profile for a limited time and then it falls off the radar.  I heard the same rhetoric from the same group of politicians following all three of the above deaths and yet here we are again.

IMHO this is due in part because the reaction is strictly from an emotional point of view.  In my many years as an advocate the emotional approach doesn’t seem to hold water for very long.  I have become use to telling the clients I deal with to be as emotional as they want, they need to do that but to be effective as their advocate I need to use an intellectual approach.  I need to understand the policies and procedures that are being used so we can come to a successful resolution.

My experience has been that the emotional approach will get you some sympathy from a service provider but has a very slim chance of having a decision overturned.  But when you can quote their policy and demonstrate how this policy could be interpreted differently, an interpretation that will provide a better outcome for the individual you will be more successful as an advocate.

So when it comes to the subject of bullying, not a new concept in our community, we need thinking and solutions that come from a position of intellect.  When you are basing your argument on intellect you are challenging an ideology but when your argument is build on emotion the outrage ends when the grief is over.  Any bureaucrat or people in positions of power know they just have to wait this out then it will disappear again.

Raising money for a cause
Raising money for a cause

Understanding this will contribute to success.  An approach based on intellect may be much more challenging but will result in a more committed outcome.  The emotional approach will produce an outcome but one that tends to have a far less impactful outcome.  Intellect demands buy-in, emotions demand a response and there is a lot of difference between those two outcomes.

The “buy-in” using the emotional argument is far more tenuous.  We see this type of approach with major fund raising events regularly.  We get bombarded with cute poster children and continual reminders to get your lucky ticket today for that fabulous 4000 square foot house located where ever.  I have yet to see one of these houses that is actually wheelchair accessible so I do have to ask myself how much buy-in this organization has to the well being of the child versus the funds to buy a piece of equipment.

This same thought process is keeping us as a society from making any forward movement on the subject of bullying.  I believe the most effective approach to dealing with bullying is intellectual, should be directed by a parent figure with positive behaviour exhibited by high profile role models.  We don’t need politicians and other public figures exhibiting bullying behaviour’s every time we see them in a press conference or the news.  If Prime Minister Harper is truly interested in combatting bullying then he better clean his own political house because kids continue to die!

Just one man’s opinion.