Allen Zderad, 68, is completely blind, but with the help of a bionic eye, he just laid eyes on his wife for the first time in a decade.
Zderad, who lives in Minnesota, began losing his sight 20 years ago due to retinitis pigmentosa, an eye disease in which the retina is damaged, New York Daily News reported. For the last 10 years, he’s only been able to make out extremely bright light. Now, with an implant installed by the Mayo Clinic and a set of prosthetic glasses, Zderad will be able to see his wife, Carmen, and the rest of his family.
“Obviously, I’m not able to see the details and facial features and so on,” Zderad told Yahoo News. “But just being able to acknowledge [my family’s] presence, not only by sound but also the image I get, is pretty exciting.”
Zderad has no trouble finding his wife amongst a group of people. “It’s easy,” he said, according to Yahoo News. “She’s the most beautiful one in the room.”
Watch the heartwarming moment Zderad first sees his wife through the glasses in the video below.
Richard O’Brien always worried his son’s appearance would deter other children from wanting to get to know him. Connor, 11, has cerebral palsy; he uses a wheelchair and speaks through a communication device. So to help teach his son’s peers about disability, O’Brien created “CJ and the Angel Kids,” a children’s book series where kids with and without disabilities play together uninhibitedly.
O’Brien, a chemistry professor who lives in Semmes, Alabama, says he can trace the moment the book series was born to one specific day in 2006. He was sitting in church with his family when he felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned around, but there was no one there behind him.
“I knew I was being called to do something, though I didn’t know what it was at the time,” he told The Mighty. He later came up with the idea to develop a mystery series, drawing inspiration from from his and his family’s lives.
“CJ and the Angel Kids” is a collection centering on five kids who each live with a disability. The main character, CJ, has cerebral palsy, like Connor. Dee Dee has Down syndrome, Andy has autism, Stu has dyslexia and Rosie has a stutter. Each book finds the kids at a different summer camp.
“The camps bring together all kinds of kids. Some have disabilities and some don’t,” O’Brien told The Mighty. “The kids who have disabilities have a mystery to solve in each book, and they work with the typically-developing kids to solve it. The bottom line is acceptance and inclusion. They’re all just kids. They all want to be included and they all want to do the same things.”
The first installment, “The Case of the Missing Cookies,” was published February 2014 and is all about how differently-abled children interact with other kids. “The Tale of the Talker,” which deals with bullying and jealousy, was released in November 2014. A third book, “Mystery of the Medals,” centers on body shaming and is slated to be published this spring. O’Brien says there are three additional books in the works for later this year and next.
“The purpose of the books is to increase awareness, but also, I think, to make sure differently-abled kids are approachable by other kids. I see when we go out that they’re afraid, they’re nervous, and we don’t want them to be nervous,” O’Brien says in the video below. “They’re all kids, we just want them to be able to interact.”
Hear more about O’Brien’s inspired project in the video below.
For more information about the “CJ and the Angel Kids” book series, visit the project’s Facebook page.
At 15, my son, Alex, and his twin brother, Jamie, began to run in mainstream races and marathons with the help of dedicated guides from Achilles International and the Rolling Thunder Club. Passionate about running in their own separate ways, Alex, the fast one, races with the elites. Jamie, the slower one, runs at a leisurely pace listening to his iPod, with his dad or me. So when we plan a family vacation, our choice has two prerequisites: a place to run and a bike.
Alex has a coach and several elite runners who run races with him. But on vacations, I blissfully ride my bike next to him, where I can watch him glow in the rhythm of his most comfortable “forever pace” of a 7-minute mile.
Vacationing in Virginia Beach offers a three-mile boardwalk, with a separate bike path for rollerblading, biking or surrey rentals. Jamie and Dad start out first. I hop on my bike as Alex watches every move I make; he’s ready to go. As he starts his run, I watch in amazement as the transformation occurs. My profoundly autistic son with severe anxiety changes into someone with such inner peace. He’s in a total state of focus, transcending the limits of his abilities as he flies by rollerbladers, bikers, runners and walkers, with little concern about these obstacles in his path. I peddle with every ounce of strength to keep up, barely able to politely yell out to those in our way, “Runner coming through! Passing on your left!” He will slow down when instructed, but we keep this fast pace because I know it’s what makes him the happiest. The sparkle in his eyes and his beautiful smile —this is my high for the day.
When we reached the end of the boardwalk we stop to drink and sit down on a bench. Sitting close together, I rub his back and wipe his face. As I take out my phone to take some pictures of him, he stands up, eagerly poses and smiles. Minutes later he begins to wave his arms and vocalize unintelligibly, unable to communicate what he wants. A wave of panic settles over me. I know he’s ready to run again.
As I offer him another drink, I notice a woman staring at Alex. I stare back, waiting for her to look at me. I’m ready to defend him, defend autism — as I have for years — and wait for any disparaging remark she may utter. Instead she comes over to me and asks if I would like her to take our picture together. She’d been riding behind us the entire stretch of the boardwalk and was watching Alex run. She says she was in awe of his running ability, and after observing us together, felt compelled to let me know how inspired she was. Minutes later, Jamie and his dad run over to us, having just completed the first lap of the boardwalk run. The woman then offers to take a family photo; one for us, and one for her, to remember our family and this day.
Thankful for this moment in time, I realized how powerful these chance encounters are. They help create an awareness of the many facets of autism and how people view individuals and their families living with autism. Neither Alex nor Jamie has any idea how they impacted the life of this stranger. But the imprint they left was one small way of saying, “Thank you for appreciating me”.
TEDTalks often challenge us. To think differently. To learn. To be better people. To recognize a problem that needs solving. We’ve seen a handful of talks that do all of the above. But we’ve deemed the five TEDTalks below as particularly Mighty. So if you have some time today, challenge yourself.
1. Stella Young, I’m Not Your Inspiration, Thank You Very Much
“I am not here to inspire you,” she bluntly says. “I am here to tell you that we have been lied toabout disability.Yeah, we’ve been sold the liethat disability is a Bad Thing, capital B, capital T.It’s a bad thing, and to live with a disabilitymakes you exceptional.It’s not a bad thing, and it doesn’tmake you exceptional.”
Casey has ocular albinism and spent most of her life fighting against her visual impairment. But through a personal journey, she learned how to reshape her worldview. Her self-acceptance led her to found the nonprofit, Kanchi, which raises awareness about disabilities in the workplace.
“Disability is like the elephant in the room,” Casey explains below. “And I wanted to make you see it in a positive way —no charity, no pity.”
3. Rosie King, How Autism Freed Me to be Myself
“All in all, I wouldn’t trade my autism and my imagination for the world,” King says in the TEDTalk below.
This incredible woman goes on to say how autism shapes her life. She invites others to embrace their differences. King is an activist for inclusion and enthusiastically shares her goal of creating a more tolerant world for people with disabilities.
“I had never once in my lifelooked up the word ‘disabled’ to see what I’d find,” Mullins says in her talk below. This Para-Olympic athlete goes on to explain why she refuses to be defined by her disability. Not only does she make the best of her situation, Mullins uses her disability as motivation to surpass her goals.
5. Sue Austin, Deep sea diving…in a wheelchair
Austin discusses her adventures in deep sea wheelchair diving and explains how these experiences prompted her to see the world — above and below sea level — through new eyes. Austin refuses to be defined by others’ opinions.
“I was seeing myself not from my perspectivebut vividly and continuously from the perspectiveof other people’s responses to me,” she says in her talk below. “As a result, I knew I needed to make my own storiesabout this experience,new narratives to reclaim my identity.”
Late last year The Mighty sent a call out for submissions on things about our life we’re thankful for. For me, one of those things had always been Autism Speaks. The people there gave me my first full-time job out of college and have been a complete delight to work with since I started volunteering with them in 2007. In honor of Autism Speaks turning 10 years old today, I wanted to share why I will forever be grateful for this amazing group of individuals.
The first time I ever heard of Autism Speaks was during its Walk Now for Autism Speaks event. I needed 10 hours of community service, and I’d just become an autism advocate and wanted to get involved. This was one of the first times I learned about how wide our autism community actually is.
When I was growing up, I always wished I had a role model to look up to who was on the autism spectrum. Because of my advocacy work and blogs I’ve written at Autism Speaks, I’ve had so many families reach out to me asking for me to help their loved ones on the spectrum. For example, from 2010 to 2012, I had more than 1,000 families reach out to me when I was a bi-weekly blog contributor. Helping so many of these families have been wonderful beyond words.
As an advocate, I often get asked many questions that I don’t necessarily know the answer to. Thanks to Autism Speaks’ Autism Response Team, I always have a place to send individuals to when there’s a question that may be out of my reach. The Response Team helped more than 4,700 people alone last year. They can be contacted at [email protected]
I love technology and know how it can help an individual with autism today progress. In 2014, Autism Speaks gave out more than 1,200 iPads, and it means the world to me to see people in my local communities receiving these grants.
This Christmas season I had one of the best days of my life when I got to be an autism-friendly Santa at Santa’s Elf Factory in New Jersey for more than 70 families of individuals impacted by autism. Thanks to Autism Speaks’ partnership with Simon Mall, we made this a possibility.
When I was in college, one of the first keynote speeches I ever gave was in the Jersey City municipal council chambers to spread awareness of World Autism Awareness Day and Light It Up Blue (LIUB). I shared my story of living with autism. It was recorded by a local TV station that aired it for all my friends and families and later let me post the clip on YouTube. My parents would later send that video to the National Speakers Association which, after watching it, decided to give me a partial scholarship for graduate school to become a national motivational speaker.
Without the LIUB imitative that started through Autism Speaks six years ago, this video may never have existed, and my life may be completely different because of it.
When I was growing up, my parents paid out-of-pocket for my services. With Autism Speaks Autism Votes initiative, we’re making sure our families are kept in the conversation from a global and political level. Hopefully this leads to insurance reform in their individual states.
Over my past eight years as a volunteer and an Autism Speaks employee, I’ve met some of the most amazing people I’ve ever had the chance to be associated with. From my NJ Walk family to my co-workers, each one of them, much like any individual with autism you meet, has had his or her own unique story. Listening to those stories has made me a better advocate.
1. Helping me find my voice.
Finally, I’m grateful to Autism Speaks because they helped me find my voice in our autism community. When I first came out about having autism, I was scared because I didn’t know how my peers were going to react. I’ve come a long way since that nervous public speaking speech eight years ago, and it’s because of the work and knowledge I’ve been able to gain from this incredible organization. They’ve given me the best from both worlds: working in a field that I went to school for and allowing me to help thousands of families of those who have autism.
I’ll always be grateful for them, and I’m excited to see what’s in store for Autism Speaks while they continue to cause a change for the individuals around the world who have autism.
It’s amazing. Those days, weeks or months where you just feel like you are in a terrible slump… and then something beautiful happens to open your eyes to life’s idiosyncrasies. It makes you remember why it is you do what you do and what (or who) you do it for.
That happened today to me. I was rushing my son, Timothy, out the door to his marathon IBI session after school, and his hat’s brim poked me in the eye. It didn’t hurt, but reflex made me remark “ouch.” He stopped, and his eyes opened wide with concern. “Oh no, Mommy OK?” he asked as he brushed his fingers across my forehead over and over, searching my eyes for reassurance.
He felt remorse. Concern. Worry for someone else. My Timothy. This was the first time I’ve seen him show real, valid concern for me. Despite the hundreds, perhaps thousands of times he’s struck, kicked, scratched or head-butted me without batting an eye; he felt remorse this time. I wasn’t sure if he could feel. This moment meant more to me than words can say. It’s everything. It proves his mind is as beautiful as I always thought it was. It proves that even though the days are hard and sometimes I feel like giving up, I was meant for this, to be his mother.
The details aren’t important. What’s important is that he reached out through the invisible force field of autism and touched me. You see, sometimes I forget he’s a person and see him more as autism. It’s not right, and I don’t want you to think I condone it. But if I’m going to be honest here, as I swore I would be from the beginning, then there it is. Sometimes I allow my mind to drift to the what ifs, whys and maybes… but really those don’t help anyone, least of all Timothy.
Who cares why he is the way he is? Is it my fault? Maybe. Doesn’t matter.
What matters is now. And who I’m doing it for is Timothy.