Steve Ferreira is a well know public speaker and advocate for the disability community. Steve has his own organization Beyond Disabilities and sits on the Board of Directors for The Arc of King County. We are lucky to have Steve share his story with The Arc about the challenges of dealing with bullying. This is the first part, of a three part series on bullying and disabilities. While each of our stories highlights the challenges, there are not always easy solutions. As our children are going back to school, we are encouraging our community to openly talk about this problem to not only create awareness, but to also provide a safe space for sharing ideas and strategies.
I was born in Taipei, Taiwan in 1988. I was the second born of twins and due to birth trauma was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy shortly after birth. When I was 15 years old, I decided that I wanted to make a difference in the world. I started speaking about what it’s like to live with a disability. I’ve spoken to many regional high schools, colleges, Kiwanis, Rotary Clubs and graduations. I’ve even had the pleasure to speak internationally in Taiwan at a Charity Dinner for the organization that sponsored my adoption, as well as, two Taiwanese high schools and Dong Hwa University in Hualien, Taiwan.
My presentation focuses on my early childhood and my experiences with bullying. In third grade, one of my classmates called me “retarded.” It was the first time that I experienced bullying. Luckily, most of the other students in the class had known me since Kindergarten and stood up for me. When I went to Middle School, however, there were three elementary schools that came together. There were students who did not know me and had never gone to school with someone who uses a wheelchair. They called me names and were very mean to me. I went straight to the Vice Principal who had a “zero tolerance” for bullying at the school.
By the time I went to high school, most of the students knew me and accepted my differences. There was one time, however, when I was in the boy’s bathroom and a student turned out the light. He thought it was funny and started to throw toilet paper at me. I fell and it was humiliating.
Occasionally, as an adult, I still experience bullying. Typically, it’s just someone staring or talking very slow or very loud, as if I don’t understand what they are saying or I have trouble hearing. There have been occasions, however, when I’ve been called a cripple or worse. As a motivational speaker, my goal is to raise disability awareness within each community I address. When people get to know me, they see a positive, productive and valuable person in the professional world.
Last year, I was asked to talk about bullying at a conference. So, I created a bullying workshop called “Eradicating Bullying.” Bullying comes in all shapes and sizes and my workshop explores ways to stop bullying. It is a worldwide problem and one that I am very passionate about. Wouldn’t it be great to live in a world where people where people are cherished for their differences?