Disability Awareness Amongst Teenagers

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 contact@zacharyfenell.com.   

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Personality Profile: Tony Bartoli

Considering students across the country will go back to school this month, now seems an ideal time to spotlight anti-bullying speaker Tony Bartoli. Two-plus years ago while conducting research for a Yahoo! Voices article, “Bullying & Cerebral Palsy,” I stumbled upon the name Tony Bartoli. Rather than summing up Bartoli’s story with my words, let me direct your attention to the Youtube video below.

Twice over the past couple years I enjoyed the opportunity to interview Tony Bartoli, once during the summer of 2010 when I wrote for Disaboom and then just recently for The Mobility Resource. In the Disaboom interview, “Bullying Students with Disabilities: How to Fight Back,” we focused on Bartoli’s personal story and his advice to help prevent and/or stop bullying from occurring. I know I’m bias because I wrote the piece but I do highly recommend the read for the back to school season. Bartoli really shares some useful insight.

During our chat for The Mobility Resource we expanded on the bullying subject matter to also address adults bullying each other and the influence the Internet possesses on  bullying. I found Tony Bartoli’s thoughts on whether the Internet proves a more positive or more negative influence especially interesting. Checkout the article for yourself, “Addressing Bullying in the Disability Community

Overall, I’m a big Tony Bartoli supporter. Therefore I’m grateful the sentiment remains mutual. Last year before Off Balanced hit electronic bookshelves I sent out advance copies to a few individuals within the cerebral palsy community, Bartoli being one of them. To end today’s post I wish to share his concluding thoughts on Off Balanced.

“I believe this book is a ***need*** to get into the hands of kids, teenagers and adults. I don’t say this because I have cerebral palsy too, but rather it captures the human spirit to keep going. Off Balanced will be on my desk as a reminder to never quit….and DREAM BIG!”

*To learn even more about Tony Bartoli visit his website, www.tonyb4hope.com, or follow him on Twitter (@stopbullyingtb).