The pathetic harassment of Greta Thunberg by a grown man is a glimpse of the reality for disabled kids

“I have been a disabled person from birth and have experienced first-hand the special education system. In the 1960s it was all about segregation and a system that worked against disabled young people being able to achieve anything.”

So says Sue Bott, who is the deputy chief executive of Disability Rights UK. Bott was fortunate in that she had parents who fought so she could attend the only special school for visually impaired kids where pupils could take exams and aim at university.

Even then, she says, it was assumed they would take longer to achieve than able-bodied children and they had little interaction with the able-bodied world or with disabled adults.

When she made it to university, she met a student who had gone to the able-bodied school next door. He confessed that he and his mates “used to move as far away as they could if they saw us going into town on the bus”.

It’s a horrible story, but probably not an unusual one from a time when people openly talked of “cripples”, called people “spaz” without admonishment and were able to victimise disabled kids without any real consequences.

But things are better today right? Today we have special educational need & disability co-ordinators (SENDCOs) and schools love to bandy about the word “inclusion”. Even a regressive, backward-looking government occasionally uses it.

Trouble is, it’s just a word.

Disability Rights UK and LKMco, an education and youth think tank, conducted a series of focus groups with young people, both with and without special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) with the aim of shining a light on young people’s attitudes.

What it found was that despite the regular use of that word (and other cuddly sounding terms), and policies touting schools’ commitment to diversity, negative attitudes towards disability and special needs still predominate.

Most pupils viewed themselves as different from disabled people, and defined disability with reference to the use of aids, particularly wheelchairs. SEND pupils generally spoke of experiencing bullying and isolation from social groups.
Should this come as any surprise given the way adults behave? I write amid a mounting furore over comments made by Australian columnist Andrew Bolt, who writes for Rupert Murdoch’s Herald Sun and appears on Sky News Australia.

In his latest missive, he took aim at climate activist Greta Thurnberg, who like my son, is autistic. Not only did he seek to deny the scientific reality of climate change, he also indulged in a disgusting and deeply personal attack on her.

Thurnberg was described as “deeply disturbed”, “freakishly influential” and “strange” by an adult indulging in schoolyard insults. To me it looked rather like a case of projection. Bolt’s words suggest that it is in fact him who is “deeply disturbed” and “strange”. Courtesy of the platform given to him by Murdoch, he’s also “freakishly influential”. More’s the pity.

Bolt might be a right-wing troll, but such trolling has an impact. It is seen and it is heard and in the process it informs attitudes and reinforces prejudices. There is a connection between the casual ableism they deploy in their hatchet jobs, the suggestion that disabled people are “freakish” or “strange”, and the attitudes of the pupils spoken to in the process of compiling the report. 

We need to do better.

A good first step would be for schools to treat inclusion as more than a word, to display a willingness to jump on bullying where it occurs, and to make efforts to ensure SEND kids aren’t isolated.

Involving disabled people in PHSE lessons would be a start. I’ve been into my children’s primary school armed with my sports wheelchair. The results were positive. The children were much more open to giving it a spin than their teachers were. But it also requires action by government. Its continuing obsession with league tables and data-led inspections serves only to set inclusion back.

Consider the well-known phenomenon of “off rolling”, where schools “persuade” parents to remove SEND children by suggesting that if they were to, say, home school them then the school wouldn’t need to mar their permanent records with exclusions.

The practice is inimical to children’s interests, but it is very much in schools interests because it improves their results, which is what Ofsted inspectors look at when they call. The report calls for urgent action and it deserves a wider readership.

It is possible to do better. My wife and I were dreading our son’s transition to high school, which loomed at the beginning of the current school year, his last at his current school.

It gave us sleepless nights. The attitude at one local school that my wife encountered during a tour of open days frankly horrified us. Yet the SENCO at the school he will be attending has eased our minds. She seems genuinely committed to the cause. A notably forthright individual, she’s someone you’d feel confident having on your side if you were facing a battle. Battles are what you all to often face with a SEND child. We could do with a few more like her, though.


2 thoughts on “The pathetic harassment of Greta Thunberg by a grown man is a glimpse of the reality for disabled kids

  1. Reblogged this on 61chrissterry and commented:
    The lives of some persons with disabilities have improved, but have they improved enough and for many there has been no improvement.

    Is it not sad, that in this, now 21st centuary we are in some respects still in the sixteenth and seventeens centuary in our views and actiosns around disabilities.

    In the UK we had the Equality act 2010 and before that the Disabilities Discrimination Act 1995 and still there are problems with access, in many buildings and certainly transport.

    There are wheelchair spaces on public transport, at least 1 and maybe 2, but access to them may not be possible due to them being occupied by pushchairs. Even tough there have been some court cases around this there are still some bus drivers who will not defend the right of access for persons in wheelchairs and allow the people with pushchairs to remain where they are.

    In trains a disabled person, at times may be be able to alight at a station of their choice because they have not given prior notice or the station is not manned, or there is no disability access.
    Access to planes is even worse.

    Employment is still a major problem.

    Schools the avenue for education, is still not educating pupils on disability issues and bullying, well, it is still around in abundance.

    Bullying is still active within schools and the schools themselves are not tackling the problem with sufficient force, if they are , in fact , attending to the problem.
    Many are solely relying on their Anti-bullying Policy, which in many instances it not worth the paper it is written on, but is used as a means to defend the school that they are dealing with it.

    In fact many mainstream schools are totalyly unable to accommodate persons with disabilities, but do so with disasterous results.

    People with disabilities are not going away, as they were in the 40s when they were incarcerated in institutions, in fact, even today, there are some persons who feel that was and should still be the right approach.

    The number of Persons with Disabilities is increasing and they are living to an older age than before, with more persons with complex needs, mainly due to the advancement of medical science.

    Modern Society, needs to get their act together and vastly improve the outlook for persons with disabilities.

    In fact, there needs to be ‘zero tolerence’ with the acts of abuse occurring in every facet of Modern Society in the, so called, ‘civilised’ world.

    Then we can they try to educate certain areas, in what is called the 3rd World.

    Why is it called the 3rd World for who is in the 1st and then the 2nd Worlds?

    Liked by 1 person

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