Recently the CBC aired a video about Andre Arruda that showed he was being harassed for the mere fact that he is disabled. Arruda, a Toronto comedian suffers from a rare genetic disorder which left him with a height of a little over 3 feet. He uses a scooter as a mobility aid to get around.
The following is the video of Arruda. One will note the many insulting and ignorant comments and stares that he was continually forced to endure. It was a normal day for him.
As a person with a physical disability, this struck a chord with me. I recall the countless times that rude and demeaning comments were made against me by purely ignorant people. One day as I was exiting a building in downtown Toronto, an elderly lady came up to me and as she was sizing me up, said: “Dear what happened to you”? My response to her was that as God made you ugly and ignorant, this is the way he made me.
I have had to develop a “thick skin” over the years about my disability as a coping mechanism. On one occasion, in the early 1980’s, when I asked a girl out she turned me down, “flat out” because of my disability. Sometimes, these types of incidents cause my thick skin to be transformed into a defiant attitude against what I refer to as the ignorant masses of society.
Over the years, I have been harassed and humiliated based on my disability, but moreso, my disability has been used as a weapon of harassment and in the denial of services to me. I recall that a former employer and prominent Toronto politician used my disability as a weapon to harass me, humiliate and bully me.
There is only so much repeated harassment and intimidation that one should be expected to tolerate. That is why, I decided long ago to fight or at least challenge these types of incidents, as well as the verbal and behavioural assaults against me that are based purely on my looks.
Last year after I was denied the rental of a car by Thrifty Rent-A-Car if I did not purchase additional insurance coverage from them, because of my disability, even though I already had sufficient insurance, I made a complaint against the company with the Washington State Human Rights Commission.
Since the Arruda video was shown, I have been doing a great deal of research on the subject of the disabled being harassed purely on the basis of their disabilities. There really hasn’t been much written about the subject.
There have been numerous cases of verbal harassment and verbal assaults on the disabled that have occurred in public places. One case involved a wheelchair-bound woman in England who continually had to endure verbal abuse, hostility and swearing as she rode public transit.
Companies are also known to deny people services because of their disabilities, or perceived disabilities. A case in point occurred when Air Transat in the 1990’s denied me a specific seat on one of their flights from Vancouver because of my disability. This was successfully challenged at the Canadian Human Rights Commission and the federal Ministry of Transport.
Unfortunately, this “open season” attitude on disabled persons is entrenched within society. Maybe it begins in childhood when children are bullied because one may look different. I recall being ostracized while growing up, such as not being allowed to play soccer with everyone else, and being picked last in team sports. I am sure that many can identify with this example, especially those with physical disabilities.
Some feel that this type of harassment, behaviour and bullying is akin to being a hate crime. Logically speaking, there is little if no difference when people are harassed because of their race and ethnicity or if they are harassed because they are disabled. The only country which I have found to classify this type of behaviour as a hate crime is England. In that country, the Criminal Justice Act 2003 establishes that when a disability hate incident becomes a criminal offence, it’s known as a disability hate crime.
My belief is that complacency of this type of attitude that harassing people with disabilities is not questionned, begins at an early age.
One of the hardest discussions that I ever had with my daughter took place at a young age because one of her classmates made fun of the fact that I was disabled. The only thing that I could do was try to explain to her that some people are ignorant, and that I couldn’t do anything about the way that I am, but accept it.
On another occasion, when my daughter was in Grade 1, she was harassed by the class bully because of her own learning disability. Unfortunately, the bully’s father also harassed me many years ago when I was in school. So, I guess, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Last year, an incident took place in Newscastle, Ontario where the parents of Max Begley, an autistic boy received a hate letter from a neighbourhood mother calling for the euthanasia of their son. Just because he was autistic, the neighbour complained the boy scared her “normal children” due to the noises he made while outside, and said that his family should “do the right thing and move or euthanize him.”
According to the Durham Regional Police, her letter did not constitute a hate crime. I am wondering if the child was black, or of another ethnic or racial group, and the parents received this type of letter, would it be dealt with in the same manner. I can see the Canadian Race Relations Foundation and Urban Alliance on Race Relations taking up the cause of this child and his family.
Unfortunately, on most occasions parents do little to stop this type of behaviour in their children. They leave it up to schools and teachers to solve the problem and educate children, and they, in turn fail. A case in point, recently occurred in Kansas City, Missouri where the local school board took away a blind child’s cane, and humiliated him by replacing it with a “pool noodle”.
Society also leaves it up to the law enforcement and government agencies to enact and enforce legislation rather than solve the problem through education and enacting legislation that would make this a hate crime. They deal with the symptoms, rather than the causes in which the problem is rooted. They fail to adequately deal with the issue and do little to educate children and the public to take an attitude of understanding and change their behaviour toward those with disabilities. As in dealing with the infestation of weeds, they cut the flower but do not destroy the plant at its root source.
So there is my argument that harassment of the disabled is entrenched within society and should be considered as a hate crime, much like one based on religion, ethnicity or race.