A month ago as I was driving across state borders with my children, I felt butterflies in my stomach as thoughts of lunch boxes, school clothing and shoes were flashing through my mind. All the anxiety of a new school year, school supplies and to do lists were creeping in. I then thought about the children who learn differently or have a different ability than the rest of the school children and the worry those children and their parents must be feeling as they begin to prepare for yet another year.

We all know how it feels to be standing in our local shopping mall or surfing our favorite boutique online while asking ourselves what product, sweater, coat or pair of shoes will help our child fit in just a little better this year. This is a concern for all of us. We all want our children to stand out in a positive way. We want them to be recognized for their strengths. We definitely do not want our child to be “that child.” You are following me, right?

My stomach is turning just typing this out. It is tough to talk about even the possibility of our child or any child being “that child.” The one who is not noticed in the hallway, the one that has no one to sit by at lunch. The one that children are scared of. “That child.”

Although there are many great stories of children with different abilities  having successful school careers there are that many more of children who fall into the category of “that child.” As I thought about this of course my mind went directly to our advertising world. What are we communicating to our new students and parents each year? What are we looking at as we scroll through websites searching for the perfect first day of school outfit?

Well, I ran a search in my email. Just a “Back to School” search and because I am a professional online shopper, I knew I would pull up at least 20 “Back to School” ads that were directly emailed to me. So I scrolled through the beautiful imagery and you know what? I didn’t see anyone that resembled my daughter. Not one model in close to 50 ads included one child with a disability. Not one.

backtoschool backtoschool2 backtoschool3

Am I mad? No. Were conscious decisions made while casting the models to represent these back to school brands? YES! We need a blonde, brown and red haired child. We need a boy and girl. We need a minority. But you know what? They need a child with a disability too. It doesn’t matter what disability, but they need to represent the largest minority in the world. We need to see a child with Down syndrome or a child who needs help walking or uses a wheelchair. We need children that represent differences. I firmly believe that the thought of using a child with a disability never even made it to the table. Never even entered the planning conversation. They were forgotten.

Our media and advertising defines what is important in our world. They dictate who looks good, hair styles and the most fashionable shoes.  They are the ones who give us the heads up when skinny jeans are the way to go. They tell our youth who matters.

So where am I going with this piece?  I did just that! I casted my own models, and I too made conscious decisions when deciding who would be a good fit for my own back to school images. When given the opportunity children blend together perfectly. The exciting part was reaching out to children’s clothing lines. I am extremely thankful to RUUMSEAM CollectionCHOOZEThe Good Ones and Tea Collection for believing in my idea. They partnered with me and clothed these gorgeous kids to show the world how amazing all kids of all abilities look when captured together!

Go ahead and judge for yourself!








Here is a little behind the scenes action. This video shows you that there really isn’t anything extra needed to include children of all abilities. They just need the opportunity.

So as we enter the 2014-15 school year think about all the children returning to school. Choose brands as you are shopping that believe in the same things you do. You have a choice and the only way advertising changes is if you show them what is important to you. Talk about differences and encourage your child to go the extra mile. Ask them to be the one who encourages a child who is feeling defeated, to lend a hand when a classmate is struggling and to make a friend with a peer who doesn’t have any. Let’s make this year about working together, building each other up and sharing in the celebration of learning! Isn’t this what advertising should be about?

Encourage our children to #BeUrAmazingSelf and to #choosekind.

OX Katie

This post originally appeared on 5 Boys + 1 Girl = 6.

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Beth often shares stories with me of her odd encounters with well-meaning but socially awkward strangers. One of the questions she gets most often is: “So is your fiancé in a wheelchair, too?”

It’s tempting to try to laugh that question off, but the more I think about its implications, the less I like it. Nobody asks me if my fiancé needs glasses too or if she is also Caucasian or is also going grey at the temples. Everyone seems to recognize that a woman wouldn’t have to share my bad eyesight (or any other arbitrary, superficial characteristic) to be interested in marrying me, but for some reason it’s very common to assume that only a man who also has a disability would be interested in a woman with one. It’s as if people believe “typical” cannot love “different.” And this is an assertion that is not only false but painful.

So, how does a relationship work when one of the participants has a disability? Truth to tell, I don’t know how a relationship works when neither does (I was in a relationship once before with someone without a disability, but I can’t say the relationship actually worked). Ours is like any other relationship: we talk to one another, we listen, we try to help.

As far as I can tell, everybody needs help with something in life. Some people are bad at doing their taxes, some are late everywhere they go, many have insecurities and some have legs that don’t work properly. So just as Beth doesn’t think anything of helping me with my insecurities and the challenges I face as a student in a foreign country, I think absolutely nothing of helping her get up and down stairs, preparing a meal for us to share or helping her around the house.

In fact, it is this act of helping that brings us closer together. In order to allow her to help me, I have to make myself vulnerable to her emotionally, which is never easy (well, by now it’s easier because we’ve been doing it for so long), and in order to allow me to help her, she has to be very vulnerable to me physically. It all requires a lot of trust, but our trust in one another is always rewarded.

Honestly though, it is the distance between us (not her disability) that has always been the biggest problem to overcome. We have never lived in the same city and never less than 800 miles apart. Now it’s more like 4,600. But we talk every day on Skype, often for hours, sometimes more than once. (Since starting our relationship in September 2012, we have only gone 2 days without Skyping!) We’ve been told that we talk more to one another than do some couples who live together. This is no surprise, since we can’t do much more than exchange words, so we exchange lots and lots of them, and we weigh them carefully.

So, distance has become our teacher, helping us learn to communicate honestly and lovingly with one another. And because being apart forces us to find a silver lining, each of us strives to discern the best and most loving interpretation of the other’s words. When we can’t find that right away, we push through any negative feelings and ask for clarification. We do our best to understand each other’s needs and to help fulfill those needs.  And it turns out not to matter so much what (or even whose) those specific needs are; the remedy is still the same. We speak, we listen, we understand, we give and take, we help each other. We love each other. That’s really all there is to it.

This post originally appeared as a guest post on In Case of Fire, Use Stairs.

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British artist Sue Austin began using her wheelchair more than 16 years ago due to an extended illness. When she got her “new toy,” she found freedom — finally, she could go outside on the streets again, “whiz around,” and feel the wind in her face. Despite this freedom, she noticed people’s perception of her had changed. She heard words like “limitation,” “fear,” “pity” and “restriction.” Austin had a choice: accept these assumptions or change the way people saw her.

In her TEDxWomen talk below, Austin talks about how she remade her identity and transformed others’ perceptions — by scuba diving… in an underwater wheelchair. Today, Austin devotes herself to helping people see excitement and joy in her life instead of limitation and fear.

“They’re seeing the value of difference,” Austin says in her talk, “the joy it brings when instead of focusing on loss or limitation we see and discover the power and joy of seeing the world from exciting new perspectives.”

Watch Austin’s full TED Talk below:

Filmmaker Susan Hess Logeais expected to notice what was missing the first time she went to see 19-year-old Kiera Brinkley dance a duet with her 17-year-old sister, Uriah Boyd.

She thought her eyes would be drawn to Brinkley, who lost her limbs to pneumococcal sepsis when she was 2 years old. She thought she would only see missing legs and missing lower arms, missing hands and missing feet as she watched the teen dance alongside her younger sister. Logeais stood in Jefferson High School in Portland, Ore., two years ago, ready for her preconceived notions to come true, as the two began to dance.

“The thing that blew my mind,” she recalls now, “is that you didn’t see what was missing.”

Logeais saw far more than a teen with a disability dancing. She saw a story of redefining the word “possible,” she saw a coming-of-age tale. She saw a unique relationship between sisters. Though teacher and choreographer Melissa St. Clair had brought Logeais in to film one performance, the director knew there was more to be told. She saw a documentary.

girl holding her sister above her in dance move with the text 'soar: your concept of what's possible is about to change'

For the next year, Logeais followed the sisters as they grew as students, dancers and young women. “SOAR,” (trailer below) which is co-produced by both Brinkley and Boyd, explores disability but delves more into the sisters’ relationship and their individual aspirations. Brinkley, who’s earned a medical assisting degree, is now looking to work in a hospital, while Boyd is enrolled in the Constructing Hope pre-apprenticeship program to learn about construction opportunities.

“It’s their story,” Logeais says, “I’m just observing and guiding it, in a way. They tell me what it is they want to say with the documentary.”

two sisters dancing together

two sisters dancing together

Each sister uses dance for her own reasons — to express, to communicate, to defy odds, to escape. But both know that even as they grow apart, dance will always them back together.

“Dance is the one way that we’re always connecting,” Brinkley says in the trailer below. “We have each other’s backs.”

“SOAR” is now in post-production. If you’d like to help them finish the film, you can make a donation here.

Photographer Kerri Lane was out to dinner with her husband in Leesburg, Va., when MacKenzie Clare’s beautiful red hair caught her eye. The 19-year-old, who was out to eat on her prom night, would make a perfect Ariel the Mermaid, Lane thought.

She eventually walked over to Clare, ready to ask if she would star in a Disney-inspired photo shoot. When Lane approached the table, she realized Clare was in a wheelchair.

woman with red hair photographed as a mermaid

“I will admit I was completely shocked,” Lane writes on her blog. “But in that same split second it went from shock to how amazing it would be to make her a mermaid.”

When Clare was 10 years old, she was paralyzed from the chest down after a car accident, The Washington Post reported.

“[MacKenzie] would say nobody’s ever going to want me to be a model,” Clare’s mother, Lisa,told Fox 5. “‘I’m in a wheelchair and I can’t do all the things models need to do.’”

Lane didn’t see things that way. A few days later, she visited the Clares’ home and, with the help of volunteers, transformed the redhead she’d seen out to eat into the world’s most famous mermaid.

woman with red hair photographed as a mermaid

Lane hopes seeing Clare’s transformation will inspire others to keep believing in the impossible.

“I would like for everyone to know and believe if they have a dream it can come true. Believe in yourself, love yourself and it will happen,” Lane told The Mighty. “It may not be today or tomorrow but one day when you least expect it, then it will happen.”

woman with red hair photographed as a mermaid

h/t Reddit Uplifting News

Stella Young says we’ve all been lied to about disability.

“We’ve been sold a lie that disability is a bad thing… and to live with disability makes you exceptional,” the comedian and disability advocate says in her TEDxSydney Talk below. “It’s not a bad thing and it doesn’t make you exceptional.”

Young goes on to discuss the problem with labeling people with disabilities as “extraordinary,” “inspiring,” or “exceptional” — this can objectify a group of people, she says, for another group of people’s sake. Her talk is funny, charming — and extremely important. It’s certainly made us rethink about how we write about people with disabilities.

“Disability doesn’t make you exceptional,” Young says at the end of her speech. “Questioning what you know about it does.”

Watch her nine-minute TEDx talk below. The whole thing is worth your time.

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