Heartwarming to deplorable accurately describes the emotional range created by news articles about teens with disabilities. Take yesterday for example. Going through the daily Google Alert emails for “cerebral palsy” still in my inbox, I came across a NBC Local 15 (AL/FL news station) report which appalled me. 14-year-old Austin Stokes ended up going to the hospital after getting seriously assaulted on school grounds. He explains the incident.
“I was walking out in the breezeway and I threw the coke can at the boy because he called me a retard. Then, the next thing out of the blue he punched me and lift me off the ground and I became airborne.”
While possessing the ability to throw a soda can, Stokes doesn’t maintain a good chance at victory in a fight. According to the news report, his cerebral palsy leaves him partially blind and paralyzed. Also note Stokes’ assailant, a high school senior, holds a size and age advantage. A 17-year-old should display the maturity to walk away after a can gets hurled his way. I assume the student to be 17 or 18 years old given his class rank.
Yet again I want to think a 17-year-old knows better than to call somebody with a physical disability “retarded.” Such behavior stems from ignorance. Overall the news story further motivates me to engage able-bodied individuals and get them to read my book Off Balanced. I believe Off Balanced can open eyes, getting ordinary students to see their peers with disabilities as kids sharing similar wants and needs.
Thankfully some individuals out there already own this perspective. Let me demonstrate by returning to the emotional range I previously mentioned. I went from disgust reading the Austin Stokes story to delight when I checked out a Fox 8 (N.C.) report about high school freshman Brionna Miller. Impressed by her positive attitude Miller’s peers voted her onto the Homecoming Court. Her classmates allowed themselves to see Miller’s personality first rather than her wheelchair. Ultimately this stands as any disability advocate’s goal.
*Author’s Note: I know personally my goal writing and publishing Off Balanced involves helping to cultivate more stories where teenagers celebrate their peers with disabilities as people first.Currently I’m seeking advice on how to reach more able-bodied teenagers. Please leave any suggestions via commenting below or through emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.