This is the story of how I first became a disability rights activist, before I knew what those words meant. I can remember the story clearly, and even now thinking about it fills me with inconsolable rage.
As some of you know, my younger brother has Asperger's Syndrome, an Autistic Spectrum Disorder.
When Adam was in year three, he was dealing with some pretty intense bullying. He often came home upset, had no friends, and did all he could at lunch to escape the tormenting. At this point, my father was in intense pain from his car accident and also in the midst of deep depression, so he was rarely seen out of his room where he slept all day. My mother was working nights to make ends meet, and so also spent a lot of the time asleep. They tried their hardest, but did not have the energy to do more than have a few phone calls to the principle, who was "aware of the matter, and looking into it".
I was 13, and has taken over the role of parent to the younger children (because my older brother is irresponsible). I made sure the younger children did their homework, ate enough food (Mum did grocery shopping while I was at school, but I often cooked). I made sure the clothes were washed, the animals fed, the eggs collected, the children got to school on time. So it's not really all that surprising when Adam came to me for help with the bullying.
Despite my mother's phone calls, the situation had continued to escalate. A situation occurred when some tormentors had followed him into the bathrooms after he ignored them, and continued to torment him there. He got upset, and yelled and cried at them, and they pushed him into his own urine.
I decided at that point that enough was enough, and I was going to visit his teacher after school and discuss it. I gave Adam a not to give her, so she would be expecting me, and told him to wait for me to pick him up after class. The next afternoon, dressed in my private school uniform, I made my way to the school to talk with my little brother's year three teacher.
I sat in front of her, my heart pounding in my chest, describing the series of events and how they had escalated. I told her about my mother's calls to the principle and how they had been ignored. I asked her what she was going to do to make this school a safe place for my brother.
Her answer? Nothing. She gave me all the usual excuses; "boys will be boys", "you weren't there, how do you know he didn't cause it?", "It would be showing favouritism to take his side". I was shocked. I was angry. My heart pounded rapidly, my cheeks became red.
"Three boys, against my brother. They ganged up on him. They pushed him into his own urine. How can you say that it's his fault?"
She told me, with not hint of irony, that it was his fault because of his Asperger's. He provoked them, she said. And if he could just be more normal this wouldn't be happening.
She said this to me. She told me that my brother deserved the bullying because he wasn't normal, that it was his fault.
I can't remember if I replied. I remember my eyes were clouded with angry tears. I remember feeling betrayed. I remember taking my brother by the hand and leading him out of the room. I remember not saying a single thing on the walk home, waiting until I arrived to rant loudly and angrily at anyone who would listen.
I don't know if anything official came from my meeting. I know that my mother was just as pissed as me, but I don't know if she continued to pursue the matter. I know that my other younger brother, who was nine years old and in year four, took it upon himself to become Adam's protector. Because the teachers did nothing, Josh stayed with Adam at lunch and recess, and beat up anyone who dared to say anything against him. After he beat up a group of four year 7s, people got the message and left Adam alone.
This incident has stuck with me. My little brother could not speak for himself because of the power dynamic inherent in teacher-student relationships. He was completely at her mercy, and they both knew it. I came in because I knew it. I was an outside party, not part of that school, not bound by that dynamic. But this was not enough, because she knew she could disregard him and get away with it. She knew she could disregard the safety of one of her students with no ill effects because of his disability.
And she is STILL A TEACHER.
This is why disability activism is so important to me. Because people like her are out there, in positions of power, treating people like shit because of their disabilities. And they're doing so with impunity. This cannot continue, and I will do everything in my power to try and stop it.