Bullying is an important subject. It is something that crops up in nearly everyone’s life, but is sometimes hard to pinpoint and often difficult to deal with. Many people who experience bullying face dramatic, lifelong effects. Sometimes a person who was bullied at a young age remembers that negative experience well into adulthood. This memory can impact day-to-day life and how they interact with the world around them. Even though the effects of being bullied can be quite severe, bullying often falls under the radar, is rarely reported, and bullies often face little or no consequences.
Recently, a group of at Lifeworks has come forward to help educate their peers about bullying. The group consist of : Elaine Howe, Heather Schullo, Ann Haumschild, and Jamie Orndorff. This group of self-advocates recognized that people with disabilities are often the targets of bullying and are often underprepared to protect themselves and others against bullies. The group’s many goals include: helping people prevent bullying, supporting the bullied, and in the end, to stop bullying altogether. Their mission is to help people become Rock Stars of Respect!
This group knows firsthand the effects of bullying. Growing up with a disability can cause a person to be targeted. Sometimes a disability can make it more difficult to defend against bullying. For example, two of the members use wheelchairs, making it harder to leave a negative environment, and one uses an augmentative communication device, limiting her choice of words. Ann Haumschild said,
“At some point you need to say stop, that is enough! People need to know how to tell people about bullying, to get help.”
With their experience in self-advocacy and by attending special summits on the subject of bullying, the group decided to help others. With the support of Lifeworks Program Managers Lori Schluttenhofer and Betty Dewitt, and Client Services Coordinator Annie Smith, the plans were laid to create a presentation to share their knowledge with others who live with a disability.
The group decided that it was not enough to merely inform people about bullying. They decided they would enroll people to become rock stars of respect. They would get a pledge from each audience member, promising he or she would use the skills learned to tell others about bullying and how to protect against it. The presentation was planned to have many components to match the various learning styles of the audience as well as address the many facets of bullying. It included both vocal and visual instruction, role-play, participation, and much from the audience. The idea would be to get people really involved with the presentation to help them reach an “ah-ha” moment so they can take something away to use in everyday life.
After the planning stage, the group practiced and presented to their peers at many Lifeworks locations. These sessions were very popular, and led to many people taking the Rock Star of Respect pledge. These presentations led to the group’s grand finale, a session at the 2011 Minnesota Self-Advocacy Conference. The presentation at the self-advocacy conference happened May 17, 2011 to a standing-room-only audience. The majority of the people in the audience were, like the presenters, people with disabilities. Dewitt, who was at the presentation taking visual notes for the audience to use during the discussion, had this to say about the presentation:
“What really struck me was what an emotional issue this is—it doesn’t matter how old the memories, being bullied lasts forever and the wounds run very deep. This was evident in the discussions—everyone had stories to share and it became very emotional. No longer is it a sense of embarrassment to be bullied—but a time to say “stop—that is not nice.” What also came across was that it is everyone’s responsibility to stand up and make it stop.”
These comments were echoed by many others who witnessed the presentation. Many of the people in the audience had knowledge about what to do if they were being bullied and shared it with others. Maybe more importantly, It seemed that everyone learned a thing or two about what to do if they witnessed others being bullied. Also, the conversation touched on what to do if the people in the audience were bullies themselves.
In the end it was a positive experience for both the audience and presenters. Ann Haumschild had this to say about her experience:
“Bullying is a problem in our society. People tend to take this stuff on themselves. People keep it inside. That’s not good. People need to talk about it. People can do it. Now they have the tools. They can do it!”
The important work continues. There are still people out there who suffer from bullying and its effects. The word still needs to spread and the mission remains: To help people become rock stars of respect.