Bullying, taunting, intimidation and physical abuse of disabled teenagers and young people living in the West Midlands will be put under the spotlight from today, as a group of young disabled campaigners launch a nation-wide investigation into disability hate crime.
The Muscular Dystrophy Campaign’s Trailblazers, an award-winning campaign group of over 300 disabled people aged 16-30, have launched the study following reports of an increase in threatening and unlawful behaviour towards disabled Britons. Together they will examine how, when and where young people are experiencing hate crime, how offences are currently being dealt with and how to help ensure that serious incidents do not go unreported. The group plans to work with regional disability organisations, community groups, colleges and through social media to uncover the extent at which young disabled people are being affected and to find ways to tackle it.
Mindi Virdee (22), a member of the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign Trailblazers says that the group is concerned that young disabled people are often unclear on what types of negative behaviour should be reported or are worried that their concerns will not be taken seriously:
“Many young disabled people become accustomed to negative reactions to their disabilities. While extremely aggressive behaviour like physical abuse on grounds of somebody’s disability is often reported, bullying and verbal intimidation may not be. Threatening behaviour should not go unreported, and that includes casual insults, subtle bullying and bravado at a disabled person’s expense.
“The Trailblazers believe that these more covert types of victimisation are being commonly experienced by young disabled people, and that there is clear need to look at ways to address them – and to help young disabled people feel empowered to do so. Young disabled people need to work together to get under the skin of the problem, in order to tackle it.”
Walsall Trailblazer Zoe Hallam (21), who is disabled due to a muscle-wasting condition, will be taking part in the investigation. She says:
“The first step towards tackling hate crime against disabled young people is understanding how, when, where – and why – it happens. I plan to work with community groups and to speak with other young disabled people one to one about their experiences.”
The Trailblazers, have campaigned on issues facing young disabled people including higher education, employment, access to leisure facilities and public transport, and set up the first Parliamentary Group for Young Disabled people at Westminster earlier this year. The group vote to choose the focus of each new campaign, with their hate crime investigation sparked by the bullying, intimidation and verbal abuse of a disabled female student by university security staff last year, and the poor handling of her case by senior staff. It follows figures released by disability charity Scope which show a marked increase in perceived discrimination against disabled people in the past year.
The Muscular Dystrophy Campaign’s Trailblazers project manager Bobby Ancil said:
“Disabled people have received a very raw deal in the media over the past year and the affects of this are becoming clear. The Trailblazers will be focusing on the impact on young disabled people specifically, talking to them about what they consider to be hate crime and what experiences they have – or are having – of it.
“We hope that this will be the first step towards changing the attitudes of the perpetrators and of young disabled people who do not feel able to report it.”