Policy Consultant to Senator Darrell Steinberg
Office of the President Pro Tempore
The State Capitol, Rm. 415
Sacramento, CA 95814
San Francisco, Calif. – Children with special needs are victims of a nationwide silent epidemic of bullying, according to the “Walk a Mile in Their Shoes” report and guide released today by AbilityPath.org, an online hub and special needs community for parents and professionals of children with disabilities.
“Bullying is every parent’s fear,” said Sheryl Young, CEO of Community Gatepath, the nonprofit organization which created AbilityPath.org. “For parents of children with special needs that fear is exacerbated. This report and guide were developed to include children with special needs in the national dialogue and to raise the level of awareness about bullying, cyberbullying and the devastating developmental effects it can have upon children with special needs.”
In collaboration with Special Olympics and Best Buddies International, the country’s premier organizations representing those with intellectual disabilities, Young announced that AbilityPath.org is launching a nationwide “Disable Bullying” campaign that will engage a broad coalition of parents, educators, activists and policymakers to prevent and combat behavior that is widespread but has until now not been clearly documented in the United States. "Glee" actress Lauren Potter, a 20-year-old woman with Down syndrome, will represent the campaign as a celebrity spokesperson and be featured in its online public service announcement available at www.youtube.com/abilitypathchannel.
“This important report confirms the presence of a silent epidemic in our schools and communities,” said Timothy Shriver, Chairman of the Special Olympics “Hundreds of thousands of children with differences are being subjected to humiliation and isolation week in and week out around the country and it is time to bring this problem to light and to marshal a call to action to our young people to put an end to it.” Shriver called on young people to join and help lead Special Olympics and Best Buddies “Spread the Word to End the Word Campaign,” on March 2, 2011, a nationwide drive to end use of the “R” word in reference to those with intellectual disabilities.
In response to the abuses detailed in the report, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), announced plans to brief members of Congress. “Lawmakers, parents and educators need to be made aware of the resources contained in this valuable report ” said Speier. “We have to explore every option to protect children with special needs, indeed all children from bullying.” According to the report’s authors, the U.S. is nearly a decade behind other nations in tracking, researching, implementing, and legislating policies regarding bullying and children with special needs.
The report has also prompted action at the state level. California Superintendent of Schools Tom Torlakson announced that the Department of Education would call on all California schools raise the level of awareness about the bullying of children with special needs. “I applaud the efforts AbilityPath.org has taken to bring attention to this very important issue, because no child should have to endure the cruelty of bullying,” said Torlakson. “All students have a right to attend a school that provides a safe, secure, and peaceful learning environment.” Torlakson said he was committed to working with lawmakers on ways to incorporate children with special needs into existing anti-bullying legislation and to working with district administrators, the community, and families to improve students’ understanding of children with special needs.
Anthony K. Shriver, founder and chairman of Best Buddies International, an organization that provides opportunities for friendship, employment and leadership training for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities also endorsed the “Disable Bullying” campaign. “If we can teach young people to respect their peers with special needs, to see them as classmates, as teammates, as friends –and most importantly—as equals, then we stand a good chance of putting an end to this epidemic,” said Anthony K. Shriver.
In addition to creating a national dialogue and voice for families with special needs, “Walk A Mile in Their Shoes” and its online components on www.abilitypath.org provide parents and teachers with toolkits and resources including: links to current laws and legislation, tips on how to best utilize a child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP), information on Social and Emotional Learning, social skills for making friends, and information on how to protect a child from cyberbullying. A special video message from Lauren Potter and her mother Robin Sinkhorn is also available on the site for users to share and repost.