It was five degrees below zero and I was getting on the school bus as a wheelchair-user for the very first time. My neck brace was freshly off and I was in my squeaky new E&J chair, being sent back to high school.
I had missed the first three months of ninth grade because of a spinal cord injury. As a gawky 14-year-old stuck in a power wheelchair, feeling like an alien, worried my peers would reject me, yeah, I was deathly afraid of going back. And after getting on the bus that morning is when I experienced my first taste of hate because I was disabled. It was the bad kid with bad parents and he always had something to say.
It happened after everyone had to wait for what seemed like an eternity while I got strapped in. After the bus driver left, the kid turned around, looked right at me and said, “You’re a retard and you should ride the retard bus.” I broke down into tears. He just looked away and no one near us said a word (even though everyone heard had what he said). I knew right then life was going to be different.
What happened to me that morning is just a smidge of what happens in cities all over the world and on a much more serious level. Hate crimes toward the disabled especially are on the rise in the U.K. That’s right, one of the most developed countries in the world is seeing a resurgence of hate crimes against people with disabilities and experts aren’t sure why. Perhaps it’s been happening all along they speculate and people are just now becoming braver to report them. No one is quite sure.
And one of the most heartbreaking stories to happen since this so-called resurgence is the murder-suicide of Fiona Pilkington and her daughter, Francecca Hardwick, who was developmentally disabled. For years, Fiona and her daughter were verbally abused and relentlessly taunted by youths, who’d throw stones at their home and yell from the street.
Fiona reported the abuse to police 33 times over a seven year period, but they never responded in a serious matter.
In 2007, Fiona hit a tipping point and killed herself and her daughter by burning their vehicle with them inside. Sadly, authorities only now seem to care after the fact. And since that time, hate crimes towards the disabled in the U.K. have seemingly gotten worse. According to DisabilityHateCrime.org.uk, 90 percent of people with learning disabilities reported being harassed last year. And out of that, 47 percent were either assaulted, robbed or spat on. Spat on, really? Who does that?
Overall, between 2011 – 2012, 1,744 disability hate crimes were reported in England and Wales, and authorities believe thousands of other hate crimes never get reported. In a poll conducted by TUC’s Action for Rail campaign released in April 2013, they also found that one in four people with disabilities experience some kind of hate crime or abuse whenever they ride the train. That’s just unacceptable.
And another trend that’s incredibly stressing is “mate hate,” where a very evil kid, or typically several kids, pretend to be friends with someone with a disability only to abuse them in some heinous manner once they gain their trust. The case of Steven Simpson is one you’ll never forget. He had Asperger’s Syndrome and on his 18th birthday his so-called “friends” doused him in tanning oil, set him on fire, killing him. His friends were prosecuted.
All of this really boggles my mind. How can so much cruelty fueled by ignorance exist? Psychologists may peg parents or even basic human nature, but all I know is this needs to stop once and for all. And not just in the U.K. We’re far from perfect here in the U.S. There needs to be a collective wave everywhere in the world of a flat-out refusal of allowing ourselves to be so base…so evil…when it comes to disability.
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