No more going around the block: Our right to be out in our communities

Every day the neighborhood bully sat on his bicycle around the corner waiting for the new kid in the neighborhood. He knew it and the kid knew it. The bully was 10 years old and half again as tall as the new kid who was just six years old. When the new kid rode his bike around that corner, the bully would dart in front of him, trying to knock him off his bike. Sometimes he succeeded but after awhile, the new kid came up with his own plan.

The new kid went around the neighborhood to see how many other kids this bully picked on. He found out there were at least five other kids this was happening to. So they decided one day to ride around that corner – together. They formed two lines of bikes – one to get the bully out into the open and the second to surround him and give him back a taste of his own medicine.

It worked. When the first two bike riders went around the corner, the bully attacked the first one he saw. He knocked the kid down and was just about to ride off gloating when he found himself surrounded by a group of familiar faces. He realized all too late that the roles had been reversed and he was on the cement of the road, his world turned upside down.

People who have been bullied sometimes have fantasies of revenge. They want to humiliate the bully, treat him or her the same way and let them “see how it feels”. Other people who are bullied become more convinced that the bullying behavior is inappropriate by anyone toward anyone . Still others just learn to avoid the bully – they just go around the block.

When I advocate for a person with a disability who has been “bullied” (i.e. discriminated against) – by the system, an institution, a corporation or an individual – I lay out their options for them after we’ve negotiated. I get a range of reactions. Some people just want to be made whole and have their damages paid while a few want to stick it to the other party and really make them hurt. There are many others who just want to make it easier for the next person with a disability to assert their right to be out in the open and not have to “go around the block” to avoid discrimination.

These reactions always make me think of the thousands of people with disabilities who never seek redress when they are “bullied” by the system or others – those who ride around the block, just trying to avoid the confrontation. I can understand that. Many of them struggle day to day with financial and health issues and may not have the energy to handle it any other way. Or they may lack resources, such as access to an advocate or the transportation or information necessary to get one. Or, sadly, they may not realize that no one should be bullying them in the first place.

Then there are the groups who advocate on behalf of people with disabilities. Right now ADAPT is fighting on our behalf to have Congress hold hearings on the Community Choice Act. They are being arrested to let our legislators know that those of us with disabilities do not want to die in nursing homes before our time but want to live out in the community. Unlike the kids who bully up on the bully to attack him back, they are simply asking for us to be recognized as people of equal worth and value in our communities.

As we all work toward better living conditions for people with disabilities, it’s important to remember that going around the block needs to become a thing of the past. Those who are most vulnerable in our population may need our help to realize they have every right to go where they want to.

Copyright 2007 Ruth Harrigan

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