I don’t remember the exact moment my life was changed by someone with a developmental disability. The memories seem far away, blurry, as if they don’t belong to me. But this is what happens after you’ve been working with adults with developmental disabilities for eight years. You change.

They don’t tell you that when you’re filling out your application. Instead, they tell you about the hours, the health benefits, the 401(k) plan, the programs and the strategies. But they don’t tell you about the fact if you do it right, you’ll never be the same.

They don’t tell you it will be the most amazing job you’ve ever had. On other days, it can be the worst. They can’t describe on paper the emotional toll it will take on you. They can’t tell you there may come a time where you find you’re more comfortable surrounded by people with developmental disabilities than you are with the general population. They don’t tell you you’ll come to love them, and there will be days when you feel more at home when you’re at work than when you’re at home, sitting on your couch. But it happens.

They don’t tell you about the negative reactions you may face when you’re out in the community with someone with a developmental disability. That there are people on this earth who still think it’s OK to say the R-word. That people stare. Adults will stare. You will want to say something, anything, to these people to make them see. But at the end of the day, your hands will be tied because some things, as you learn quickly, can’t be explained with something as simple as words. They can only be felt. And most of the time, until someone has had their own experience with someone with a developmental disability, they just won’t understand.

They train you in CPR and first aid, but they can’t tell you what it feels like to have to use it. They don’t tell you what it is like to learn someone is sick and nothing can be done. They can’t explain the way it feels when you work with someone for years and then one day they die.

They can’t explain the bond direct service personnel develop with the people they are supporting. I know what it’s like to have a conversation with someone who has been labeled non-verbal or low-functioning. After working with someone for awhile, you develop a bond so strong they can just give you a look and you know exactly what it means, what they want and what they’re feeling. And most of the time, all it boils down to is they want to be heard, listened to and included. Loved.

When you apply for this job, they do tell you you’ll be working to teach life skills. But what they don’t tell you is while you’re teaching someone, they’ll also be teaching you. They have taught me it’s OK to forgive myself when I have a bad day. There’s always tomorrow and a mess-up here and there doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world. They have taught me to slow down, to ponder, to take the time to just look around and take in this beautiful world and all of the simple joys we are blessed to encounter every day.

So when did I change? I realize now there wasn’t one pivotal moment. Instead, it was a million little moments, each important in their own way, that when added together changed me. And I’m grateful for each one.

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell a story about a time someone helped you and/or your child when you needed it most. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our “Share Your Story” page for more about our submission guidelines.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images


Every two years, Special Olympics athletes from across the globe gather to compete at the Special Olympic World Games. This summer, from July 25 through August 2, more than 6,500 athletes from 165 countries will be in Los Angeles for the games, along with 350 staff, 30,000 volunteers and 4,000 team leaders. Despite these numbers, a lot of stereotypes and misconceptions exist around Special Olympics.

To clear this up, The Mighty and Special Olympics asked our Facebook communities: What’s one thing you wish others understood about Special Olympics? We heard from more than 500 people, including athletes, volunteers, fans and family members.

Here are 25 things everyone needs to understand about Special Olympics.

1. “Special Olympics athletes are real athletes who train with real coaches.” – Amanda Michelle

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2. “We are more than our disabilities. We can [do] anything anyone else can. Special Olympics gives us the opportunity to be ourselves and make friends [who] we will have the rest of our lives. Special Olympics is one big family.” – Melissa Ann Schopp, Special Olympics athlete

3. “Special Olympics is truly a legitimate sports league that combines heart, spirit, friendship and competition into [its] tournaments.” – Daniel Montero, former Special Olympics athlete

4. “It’s so much more than the athletics; it’s an event that brings everyone together to celebrate the spirit and determination that drives every athlete.” – Kate Hoffman

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5. “Special Olympics is the true, genuine love of participating in a sport.” – Mary Williams

6. “It’s not about medals and league tables; it’s about opportunity, self esteem and inclusion.” – Caroline Playle

7. “Spirit is defined by perseverance, and Special Olympics is the embodiment of that.” – Kevin M. McDermott

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8. “Special Olympics provides not only an environment where athletes can learn sports and compete but also fosters a community for the athletes and their families. The relationships we’ve made through Special Olympics are profound.” – Julie A. Kennedy Concepcion

9. “The coaches, volunteers, parents, siblings, etc., get as much out of the experience as the athletes do.” – Heather Jones

10. “It’s just as important as the Olympics.” – Crissi Blower

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11. “Special Olympics training, competitions and events happen every day of the year, here in the USA and around the world.” – Connie Grandmason

12. “We may face more obstacles and challenges than the average people out there, but we are just as capable as everyone else.” – Melanie Heroux, Athlete Ambassador for Special Olympics Ottawa

13. “Special Olympians are people too. They have desires and feelings, as do people without disabilities.” – Rusty Medrano

14. “Special Olympics is about love.” – Robin Miller Smith, Special Olympics volunteer

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15. “Our athletes are just that – athletes. They train, practice, sweat, even bleed.” – Kimberli Holm, Special Olympics coach

16. “Special Olympics isn’t about ‘special people’ getting to play ‘special sports.’ It’s about people being able to compete on a level playing field and compete their hearts out like all athletes feel the need to do.” – Lin Rubright

17. “Those [who] participate in Special Olympics are athletes – true athletes who are dedicated to their sport as much as any other athlete.” – Marci A. Ruderman

18. “We play by the same rules as everyone else.” – Gayle Young Browning

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19. “Special Olympics can put a smile on anyone’s face.” – Amanda Williams

20. “Everyone is cheered for, whether they win or lose.” – Melany Van Every

21. “[Special Olympic athletes] may have a disability, but that doesn’t make them less of a person.” – Aimee Lopez

22. “When others encourage, support and accept you, anything is possible!” – Mary Cancel

Photo submitted by Mary Cancel

23. “Many of the participants have abilities that rival some of the best athletes out there, and Special Olympics is a way for them to be able to demonstrate those abilities.” – Kris Koehler

24. “These athletes are as serious about their sport as any pro.” – Chyrl Willis

25. “Special Olympics gives those [who] may feel that they live in a world where they don’t fit in the opportunity to be in an environment where they are just like everybody else.” – Vanessa Aguirre

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Related: 36 People Perfectly Explain Why Special Olympics Is So Important

The Mighty has featured so many touching stories about typically-developing children being there for their siblings with special needs. But we know children with special needs are often there to help their typically-developing, too. It goes both ways — that’s why siblings are the best.

We asked our Facebook readers to share a moment where they’ve witnessed their loved one with special needs helping out his or her sibling. The wonderful responses shared ranged from kids teaching their siblings everyday skills — like how to tie their shoes or ride a bike — to leaving a sibling love notes and telling them they’re beautiful when they’re having a rough day.

Here are some of the beautiful moments you shared.

1. “My sweet daughter has learned unconditional love, compassion and acceptance from her brother, who has autism. To her, [he’s] is au-tastic! She’s 23 and is now an autism specialist showing others just how au-tastic they are!” — Jamie Stephanie Richards


2. “My son with developmental delays taught his sister to ride a bike! He was the only one with enough patience to handle her.” — Joy W Gutos

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3. “We witnessed our 9-year-old with autism help his brother up after he fell in the yard. Although a small feat, empathy is something kiddos on the autism spectrum sometimes lack.” — Shelly Dennison

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4. “When my older daughter, who has dyspraxia, global developmental delays and intellectual disabilities, was in kindergarten, she started learning to read. This was amazing because she’s so delayed in most [areas]. One day, I heard her 3-year old typically developing sister asking her if she would help her read a book. There may have been a little dust in my eyes just then.” — Stephanie Bruttig Brander

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5. “My son gets impatient about many things, especially when he gets overwhelmed, things don’t go his way or when too much information is coming at him at once. Yet when it comes to teaching or showing someone what or how to do something, he’s always patient, calm, and determined they can learn it. He taught his little sister how to ride a bike and tie her shoes when no one else could. Go figure.” — Kathryn Jacobs Wessell

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6. “A few months ago, my 9-year-old daughter was upset over an incident with her teacher and began obsessing over her looks and how she smelled. My 6-year-old son, who has sensory processing disorder, post traumatic stress disorder and is a cancer survivor, started putting notes in her backpack. Our favorite one said, ‘Melanie, I lik you a lot. You are the best sistir. I lik the way your har smels. I lik your smyl. I love you more than Legos.’ She still has several of his notes and reads them when she’s struggling with her self image.” — Traci Born

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7. “My 6-year-old who has Down syndrome tells his big sister, who’s 15 and not very confident, that she’s beautiful.” — Kerry-Ann Fender

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8. “My daughter with Down syndrome taught her younger sister everything she learned, including how to read. Her love of books carried over to her sister, and the time she spent reading to her as a baby helped create the special bond they have today.” — Carol Teitelbaum Croll

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9. “My youngest daughter, who has a disability, is my wild child. My oldest is typically developing and very reserved. It wasn’t until our youngest entered the picture with of all of her mischievous ideas and bold personality that our oldest started to be more confident and started taking risks. [She’s] taught [her big sister] to be a little more assertive and that it’s OK to make mistakes as long as we learn from them.” — Ali Schmeder-Cummins

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10. “My 8-year-old son with moderate autism usually ignores his 1-year-old brother, which is a good thing. But if [my youngest son] cries, [my oldest] runs to him and sings ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.'” — Tracy Boyarsky Smith

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11. “My oldest son, who’s 6 years old, is on the autism spectrum. His little brother is 4 and always seems to reach milestones before his big brother. But when it comes to Legos, he’s always helping his little brother build and fix things.” — Erin Post Bowman

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12. “My 8-year-old son, who has a disability, has taught my 12-year-old typical son to approach and interact with all people who have disabilities.” — Holly Werenko

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13. “My son, 3, has autism. He always holds his 1-year-old baby sister’s hand, helps her walk and makes sure she doesn’t get too far from me when my hands are full.” — Leidy Jesse Garcia

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14. “[My daughter] is 6 and has Down syndrome. She helps her little brother, who is 3, take his shoes off. She even puts the socks inside the shoes and puts them on our shoe shelf.” — Danielle R Copello

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15. “I’ve had my twin boys, who both have autism, help me change their siblings’ diapers, feed them, dress them and make them snacks. When I had hand surgery, they helped wash their siblings’ hair. They did all of this without asking.” — Amanda M. Marshall 

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16. “One day, my 7-year-old granddaughter was upset because her friend didn’t want to play with her and was calling her names. Her sister, 21 months, who has mild cerebral palsy, walked up to her and gave her a hug and kiss. Then, she got two coloring books and crayons and gave her one. She then took her hand and walked her over to their table, and they began to color together.” – Lisa Boulden

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17“[My son with autism] tried to help his little brother put on his shoe. ‘I understand how hard that is, I can help you.’ It melted my heart.” — Sra Jennifer

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18. “My 13-year-old son has Angelman syndrome and is nonverbal, but he’s great at helping his three younger siblings open cabinets or get something down from up high, especially when they know they’re not supposed to have it! I’ve heard them say, ‘Can you get [insert object] for me please?'” — Jamie Stewart

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 Related: These 30 Photos Prove There’s No Love Quite Like Sibling Love

*Some quotes have been shortened and edited.

Toy Like Me, the social media campaign calling on toy companies to create more toys with disabilities and health conditions, is still working tirelessly to create better diversity in the toy box.

The initiative was co-founded in April 2015 by Rebecca Atkinson, a mom and journalist in the U.K. who’s partially deaf and vision impaired herself. She and several other parents began encouraging other parents of children with disabilities to modify their toys to help create better disability representation. The campaign quickly went viral, and the parents behind Toy Like Me began turning to toy companies to try to get them to manufacture toys with disabilities and health conditions.

So far, the British doll manufacturer Makies, Playmobil and Lottie dolls have responded positively to the campaign, Atkinson told The Mighty in an email. But now, the group has its sights set on the leaders in the toy industry — namely Lego and Hasbro.

In an attempt to urge Hasbro to consider manufacturing a Mr. Potato Head doll with a disability, Atkinson recently posted her latest project on the campaign’s Facebook page. Mr. Potato Head now has a cochlear implant.

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From the Toy Like Me Facebook page
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From the Toy Like Me Facebook page

Atkinson is urging Hasbro to create a real version of her updated toy.

“Every day, four deaf babies are born in the U.K. alone. These kids are growing up with a toy box that never includes positive representations of deafness or disability,” the Facebook post reads. “What does that say to these children about who they are? What does it say to their peers? Mr. Potato Head has glasses. Why can’t he have a hearing aid or cochlear implant, too?”

The Toy Like Me team is also working hard to convince Lego to join the toy box revolution. Atkinson created a Change.org petition urging the toy industry giant to include toys with disabilities.

“Oh Lego, where are your basket-balling wheelsters? Baseball-playing duplo folk with hearing aids? White cane-using Lego Friends off to the gym? In fact, where is your positive disability representation at all?” the petition reads.

Atkinson says Lego has yet to respond despite the fact that the petition has garnered more than 17,600 signatures so far.

“We can’t change disability. It’s part of the spectrum of human life. But we can change the world these kids are born into,” the Toy Like Me team wrote on Facebook. “Make them feel more welcome by normalizing, including and celebrating disability in the toy box.”

Take a look at some of the parent-modified toys submitted to Toy Like Me below.

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From the Toy Like Me Facebook page
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From the Toy Like Me Facebook page
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From the Toy Like Me Facebook page
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From the Toy Like Me Facebook page

To learn more about Toy Like Me, visit the campaign’s Twitter and Facebook pages or search social media for the hashtag #ToyLikeMe. Sign the Toy Like Me petition to get Lego to start manufacturing toys with disabilities here.

Related: A Toy Company Is Finally Making Dolls With Disabilities and Health Conditions

Six years ago, six stories changed my life. I read them over and over again and by the time I got up from my computer, my perspective was forever altered.

We had just gotten my daughter’s diagnosis. What I found through Google – medical information, research studies and more – did not answer my underlying question: what was she going to be like when she grew up?

Then I found these six stories by parents, each with a photo of their child. They were in Dup15q Alliance’s newsletter. At first, I focused on phrases like “he doesn’t talk or sign” and “autism was becoming more obvious” and “seizures all day” and so many more that frankly scared me. But then I read the stories again and picked up on the voices of these parents. They were proud and strong, light and funny, honest and real.

If they could handle this, why couldn’t my wife and I? The underlying question was no longer what would my daughter be like, but rather what kind of parent could I be?

This is the power of storytelling and why we created The Mighty – to help people facing disabilities, diseases and chronic health conditions.

In just 15 months, our editorial team and growing network of more than a thousand writers have produced stories that have been read more than 50 million times. Nearly 8 million people visited our site just last month. But it’s important to remember that those numbers are real people and those people are feeling real impacts from these stories.

I want to show you just a few of them.

Jean Abbott, one of our contributors, recently posted a message in a private Facebook group we host for contributors that prompted a discussion about what happens as a result of sharing stories on The Mighty. I limited myself to including just 10 of these, but there are so many more. Each person gave me permission to share their response.

Facebook post by Jean Abbott

The link Jean shared is here. The story she brought to us was remarkable. For 30 years, she lived believing she had a form of cerebral palsy. Her doctor then discovered she instead had dopa-responsive dystonia. Nearly all her symptoms disappeared by taking a pill. She later told us that 10 people have since contacted her saying they now have a new diagnosis of DRD, too.

More of our contributors chimed in:

Ali Cummins: I don’t normally venture into writing pieces of a political nature, but I did write two pieces about Early Intervention services in Illinois and Governor Rauner wanting to deny services to certain children to save money. The Mighty was willing to share my story, and as a result, I got a trip to the state capitol to speak in front of the House Human Services Appropriations Committee about the tremendous impact EI has on families and our children. Talk about an awesome and slightly intimidating experience. If it weren’t for The Mighty, I would probably never have been allotted this opportunity. I appreciate that The Mighty took the time to care and give a voice to an important cause.

Lauren Jordan: The biggest impact, I think, is on my boys. TJ, my son with autism, feels empowered by these stories. He says, “We are helping people know what autism is all about, mom. They will know all about kids like me.” My son Peter thinks it opens the readers’ minds and educates others, and hopefully that will make people more understanding towards his brother, and other Mighty kids. To hear them talk about disability and education in such a positive way is like a dream. Thank you for that.

Lauren Casper: Last December The Mighty shared a post I wrote about a Trader Joe’s employee who was so kind and gave me flowers after a trip to the store that was less than pleasant for our family. The post went a bit nuts and actually made its way back to the employee! JoAnn and I are friends now and text back and forth a lot. And The Rachael Ray Show had us on in January to “reunite” since our family had moved away so that’s not our store anymore. Here’s the link to that episode (2 videos).

Cate Luther: When I publish on The Mighty, more people see my writing. That means I am helping to educate more people. That in turn means that more people will help end the stigma of mental illness. The Mighty has also given me the courage to share more of our story.

Melissa Cote: When you publish one of my blog stories on The Mighty, I have people saying to me…
“You make me want to start my own blog!”
“You just told our life story!”
“Thank you for sharing, I’m not alone!”
“Nice job Mama that was brave!”
“You are an amazing advocate!”
“::Tears:: I’ve been there before…That was us…This is us!”
What you have done for me by publishing my stories is you’ve helped me set out to do exactly what I wanted to do, spread awareness, acceptance, love, and to reach other parents like me. We are not alone! Thank you to The Mighty for helping me do that!

Lisa Smith: The Mighty is what had People magazine knock on my door (well, call me on the phone, anyway.) We are a very lucky group to have The Mighty give us a voice…You did a challenge back in November, 2014, asking for us to thank someone who had made a difference in our special needs child’s life. I wrote a thank you note to my son’s classmates telling them how much I appreciate them eating lunch with my son Tate as part of his lunch buddy program and making him feel a part of the class. They have offered him friendship, with no bullying. A representative of People magazine read it and called me for an interview. They then interviewed some of Tate’s classmates. That interview was seen by a group called Newtown Kindness. They invited the boys interviewed and Tate to Connecticut to be recognized in Kindness awards for kids. That ceremony got a lot of coverage. Because of the People article and the Kindness ceremony, people from all over the nation and even some other countries then contacted me and asked me for a description of Tate’s lunch buddy program. They are asking that their schools start programs for the children there with special needs. It has been an amazing story to follow as more and more children are becoming a part of lunch buddy programs.

Kerri Goff: It has given me the courage to write and share our journey. Not only are people interested, they are actually moved by the stories we share. We are spreading awareness about rare conditions…but more importantly, we are putting a face with said condition. We are promoting empathy. People will say, “wow, I get it now”…I have connected with authors and editors who do not work for The Mighty and they are inspired. The Mighty is like one big inspiration domino chain reaction…and it is all good energy… Not always happy, but it is real.

Alyson Herzig: We were honored to be featured last year on The Mighty about the Notre Dame Football players going above and beyond (for our son). Amazing things happened as a result: USA Today picked up the article, interviewed my son, and then he was featured in the ND Football Program! He was so excited to see his name in print and felt like he won the lotto. So thank you for making the difference in one child’s life, you can never understand what it meant to him and me to see his smile and acceptance of his Autism after having recently been diagnosed. You guys are rock stars.”

Sharon Randall: The coolest — albeit small-scale — thing that happened is that the Boston Celtics got in touch after my post to Gerald Wallace, and arranged for Gerald to sign a copy of the photo we had, and send it back to us. It is now framed and in a cherished spot in our home. On a larger scale, the amount of dialogue generated around my post of what divides the Down syndrome community was incredible, and to see the post translated into other languages was very moving. My suspicion is that although we can give examples of what impact we think things have had, we will always underestimate the power and impact of connecting with other human beings, the majority of whom we will never have the privilege to meet.

I think Sharon is right. The experiences of these 10 contributors are just the tip of the iceberg.

As I was finishing this post, an email came in that I could not help but include here as well. The question I bounced off so many of my colleagues before we started The Mighty was, “Could we build a media company that actually helps people?” Here’s one answer, courtesy of Kathy Hooven:

Last week I wrote a blog about how although my 13 year old son with autism is completely verbal, he doesn’t say much. As his mom, even when he doesn’t say a word, I can hear what he doesn’t say. I will share the blog below, but, first I want to share with The Mighty staff evidence of the good you are doing.

Tonight, my 13-year-old son, Ryan,  scooched next to me on the couch and saw me looking at The Mighty’s Facebook page. I showed him his handsome face from some of my posts you shared previously as well as posts by others. He was captivated. Hearing stories of other kids like him. Other kids and adults with autism who may struggle, but, continue to make such progress evoked emotions in him and suddenly, he had a lot to say! “I get that” “That’s me” and “I feel like that too”. I kept waiting for him to get bored, to jump up and return to Minecraft, but, he didn’t. So caught up in his attentiveness, his interest, we both lost track of time. Like Cinderella, I literally heard the clock strike 12 and even though I was afraid the spell would be broken, I said, “Ryan, it’s midnight, we need to go to bed!” and he replied, “No keep telling me stuff, keep reading, it’s so interesting.”

Tonight, he didn’t feel so different. Tonight through your stories he didn’t feel so alone. Tonight, he had a lot (relatively speaking) to say. Thank you for that. It truly was a magical moment!

Vancouver Police recently launched an undercover operation in response to two robberies at knife-point of victims who were in wheelchairs, according to the Vancouver Police Department’s Youtube video below. The goal was to catch thieves in the city’s Downtown Eastside area.

For five days, Staff Sgt. Mark Horsley posed as a man with both physical and cognitive disabilities. Horsley used a motorized wheelchair and told people he had a brain injury and could not count, even leaving money hanging out of a pouch around his waist.

Not only was Horsley not robbed during his five-day assignment, but at the end of the operation he had $24.75 more than he set out with. People repeatedly looked out for him and helped him rather than take advantage of him.

The generosity, the caring, was inspiring,” Horsley says in the video below. “This community has soul and victimizing the vulnerable is far beneath the people of the Downtown Eastside.”

Get the full story from the video below: 

h/t Reddit Uplifting

Real People. Real Stories.

150 Million

We face disability, disease and mental illness together.