“You’re a freak!”
“What’s wrong with you?”
“You’re not normal.”
These are all things kids with disabilities might hear at school and on the playground. According to research, children with disabilities were two to three times more likely to be bullied than their nondisabled peers.
When I was in elementary school, I was bullied on a daily basis because of my physical and learning disabilities. I had difficulty walking up and down the stairs, gripping utensils or pencils, and severe problems with balance and coordination.
The bullying was so bad that in second grade, I faked my scoliosis results
I didn’t want to wear a back brace and get treated even worse by my classmates, so I stood up straighter than my natural posture and never told my parents that the physician recommended we keep an eye on it.
Like me, Seven Bridges, a 10-year-old boy from Kentucky, was one of the many kids who was treated badly because of his disability. Seven had a chronic bowel condition and a colostomy. He was repeatedly bullied. His mother says he was teased on the bus because of the smell from his bowel condition.
On Jan. 19, Seven died by suicide.
According to what limited research there is on the topic, the suicide rate among people with certain types of disabilities is significantly higher than it is for nondisabled people. Disabled people who die by suicide are more likely to do so because of the social messages we receive from society about having a disability.
Shortly after Seven’s death, an Instagram user named Stephanie (who goes by @lapetitechronie) started the hashtag #bagsoutforSeven. Stephanie has Crohn’s disease and a permanent ileostomy, which she shared a picture of on Instagram.
An ostomy is an opening in the abdomen, which can be permanent or temporary (and in Seven’s case, it was temporary). The ostomy is attached to a stoma, the end of the intestine that’s sewn to the ostomy to allow waste to leave the body, with a pouch that attaches to collect waste.
Stephanie shared hers because she could remember the shame and fear she lived with, having gotten her colostomy at 14 years old. At that time, she didn’t know anyone else with Crohn’s or an ostomy. She was terrified that other people would find out and bully or ostracize her for being different.
This is the reality many kids and teens with disabilities live with
We’re seen as outsiders and then mocked relentlessly and isolated by our peers. Like Stephanie, I didn’t know anyone outside of my family with a disability until I was in third grade, when I was placed in a special education class.
At the time, I didn’t even use a mobility aid, and I can only imagine I’d feel more isolated if I used a cane when I was younger, like I do now. There was no one who used a mobility aid for a permanent condition in my elementary, middle, or high schools.
Since Stephanie began the hashtag, other people with ostomies have been sharing photos of their own. And as a disabled person, seeing advocates opening up and leading the way for youth gives me hope that more disabled youth can feel supported — and that kids like Seven don’t have to struggle in isolation.
Being part of a community that understands what you’re going through can be an incredibly powerful shift
For people with disabilities and chronic illnesses, it’s a shift away from shame and toward disability pride.
For me, it was Keah Brown’s #DisabledAndCute that helped reframe my thinking. I used to hide my cane in pictures; now, I’m proud to make sure it’s seen.
I was a part of the disability community before the hashtag, but the more I’ve learned about disability community, culture, and pride — and witnessed a variety of disabled people from all walks of life share their experiences with joy — the more I’ve been able to see my disabled identity as worthy of celebrating, just like my queer identity.
A hashtag like #bagsoutforSeven has the power to reach other kids like Seven Bridges and show them that they aren’t alone, that their lives are worth living, and that a disability isn’t something to be ashamed of.
In fact, it can be a source of joy, pride, and connection.
Alaina Leary is an editor, social media manager, and writer from Boston, Massachusetts. She’s currently the assistant editor of Equally Wed Magazine and a social media editor for the nonprofit We Need Diverse Books.