Advocacy, Disability

School program targets bullying of children with disability

Written byChristine Tondorf
Published on25 Oct, 2022
Tv Screen

A free program for NSW Central Coast schools is helping children understand the impacts of bullying on people living with disability.

Maree Jenner is a person of short stature, commonly referred to as dwarfism, and works for Social Futures, an NDIS Partner in the community.

Maree delivers the ‘Different on the Outside, Same on the Inside’ program to Central Coast primary and high schools. The program aims to remove social barriers and encourage inclusion for people with disability.

A video about the Different on the Outside, Same on the Inside’ program can be viewed here

The video has been launched ahead of Dwarfism Awareness Day, on October 25 – a day for raising awareness and challenging barriers for people who have dwarfism.

Research shows that children with disability are at increased risk of being bullied. Bullying can include making fun of kids because of their differences, and sadly the child doing the bullying is usually not fully aware of the hurt they are causing,” Maree said.

“The ‘Different on the Outside, Same on the Inside’ program helps educate children and teachers about the steps they can take to be more inclusive of everyone.”

Maree said one reason children with disabilities might be at higher risk of bullying and feeling excluded from everyday activities is a lack of peer support.

“Having friends who are caring and supportive and willing to speak out against bullying helps keep all children safe,” Maree said.

“Our program encourages everyone in the school community to think about actions they can take to ensure every student feels safe, included and valued.

“School supports, like a buddy-system, help students with disabilities participate and succeed at school – and that includes making meaningful friendships.”

Maree said engaging students in activities in which everyone has a role helps to build an inclusive supportive environment.

“Social Futures also has programs visiting schools teaching inclusion through disability sports like blind cricket and wheelchair basketball, helping to break down barriers and unhelpful attitudes,” Maree said.

The ‘Different on the Outside, Same on the Inside’ program is supported by Sam Millard, National President of Short Statured People of Australia.

“The relationship people have with physical difference is shaped in those formative first years, so having someone come in and help educate school-aged kids has a huge flow-on effect,” Mr Millard said.

“It is wonderful that students have the chance to meet someone like Maree, so they are able to say, ‘I’ve met Maree, she’s short statured, and in some ways different to me, but then we have this in common.’ Things as simple as that can shape someone’s perception of difference.”

Maree said she also explains to school students how spaces and approaches to everyday activities can be adapted so they are accessible to everyone.

“I describe from my own lived experience what it is like physically navigating a world that is built for people of average height,” she said.

“Adaptive strategies and equipment are enormously helpful in providing universal access to buildings and opportunities for work, study and social participation. For example, at my workplace I have a specialised chair that enables me to use a standard desk.”

Maree tells the students she meets that people with disabilities have incredible potential, but that it is often the attitudes and behaviors of other people that present the real barriers to inclusion.

“Young people are open to new ways of thinking and have questions about disability and are curious about difference,” she said. “Having contact with me and becoming familiar with disability helps to remove awkwardness and makes them feel more comfortable around people with disability.”

Maree said the program has been delivered to more than 1000 children on the Central Coast and the positive response of the students has been overwhelming.

“Children with disability approach me after the program to thank me for coming and teachers are raising access and inclusion improvements in school leadership meetings,” she said.

If your Central Coast school is interested in participating in the ‘Different on the Outside, Same on the Inside’ Program, contact Social Futures on 1800 522 679.

This program is delivered by National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) Partner in the Community, Social Futures. Social Futures delivers Local Area Coordination services for the NDIS on the Central Coast of NSW and also Northern NSW, Western and Far West NSW.

To talk to a Local Area Coordinator email [email protected] or call our LAC Hotline on 1800 522 679 (Mon-Fri 8:30am – 4:30pm).

PHOTO: Maree Jenner in the ABC Central Coast studio with Scott Levi.