According to the California Department of Education, children with disabilities are two to three times more likely to be bullied than their peers without disabilities.
Clare and Tarin are some of the young people looking to change that.
The girls are currently seniors at Davis Senior High School and recently joined other students throughout Northern California and Nevada to host awareness campaigns at their respective schools during R-word Week in March. The initiatives were part of the annual Spread the Word to End the Word movement around the country, educating the public about the negative effects of using the word “retard(ed)” and encouraging people to pledge to stop saying the word as a starting point toward creating more accepting communities for everyone.
Tarin and Clare, who started a Best Buddies club at Davis on their own at the beginning of the school year, organized a week full of activities around the R-word campaign to promote inclusion between students in special education and general education. Monday was a “Pledge Day’ that encouraged students to sign the Spread the Word to End the Word banner; on Tuesday, the girls developed an obstacle course to challenge general education students to maneuver around blindfolded, to simulate vision impairment, and to navigate in a wheelchair; Wednesday featured speakers from Best Buddies and Special Olympics; and the week culminated in a Unified Basketball game on Friday during the lunch period.
“We want students to understand that people with disabilities are no different than anyone else,” explained Clare. “They enjoy doing the same things – playing basketball, watching sports, going to movies with their friends. It’s important to get that message out there by having these social events where students can come to watch, interact and learn.”
The Statewide Taskforce on Education recently reported that less than 30 percent of students indicate that they would be comfortable even speaking to a classmate with an intellectual disability. Tarin believes that the issue can be remedied through education and simply getting students with special needs to be a visible and comfortable part of the campus.
“Depending on the way you grow up, a lot of people aren’t really educated about [special needs] and don’t know what’s different and how to react,” she said. “With the R-word, people may not really realize what they’re saying and the impact it can have when they use it. That’s a major part of this campaign.”
Along with the group at Davis, R-word awareness campaigns, activities and Unified Basketball games were held at Rocklin High School (in conjunction with Whitney High School), Reed High School, Desert Oasis High School, Crocker Middle School, Givens Elementary School, Dondero Elementary School, Harmon Elementary School and others during the week.
Clare explained that, while there are some obstacles to getting the interest of all students, the overall response has been positive.
“We’ve had a lot of support from our school and a good number of students came out to the Unified Basketball game,” she said. “A lot of people signed the banner, which was nice to see. We saw that some students have never really thought about the R-word being hurtful until this week.”
Inclusion and respect start at an early age. And while Clare and Tarin will soon graduate and move on to the next chapters in their lives, they hope that the momentum that they and Special Olympics put into place will continue for future students at the school.
Davis will host a Unified Track event on Wednesday, March 15, taking advantage of the school’s roughly 230 track athletes to build more relationships and awareness for students with intellectual disabilities on campus.
Stay up-to-date on the latest events and achievements in local schools by following us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. More information on Unified Sports, the Schools Partnership Program and the R-word campaign is available at www.schoolspartnershipprogram.org and www.schoolspartnershipprogramnevada.org.