Kmart Australia is making strides to promote disability inclusion.

The company’s latest catalog features children with disabilities, including 11-year-old Cooper (below), who has dystonic quadriplegia cerebral palsy. After replying to a casting callout in Melbourne, Cooper earned an audition and eventually a modeling job. “It is something he has always wanted to try,” his mother, Bron Leeks, told The Mighty in an email.

cooper holding easter egg in kmart ad
Photo via Kmart catalog
cooper smiling on set
Photo courtesy of Bron Leeks
cooper being photographed for kmart
Photo courtesy of Bron Leeks

Cooper said the best part of the experience was going to the studio and getting to dress up in cool clothes. “I got to choose some music to listen to, and the photographer and all the people made me laugh a lot,” he told The Mighty.

His mom hopes when people see the ad, they just see a typical kid. She told The Mighty:

Right now it’s a big deal that mainstream media are finally including children with varying abilities. One day it won’t be a big deal it will be the norm. For now I want them to see a child looking forward to Easter who happens to use a walker because he happens to have a disability. His disability is part of him. He is proud of who he is, he lives an amazing full life. Disability is not something to be pitied. [The ad] “normalizes” things a bit, and it gets conversations started about inclusion and disability, which is always a good thing.

(Bonus: You can read more about this family on their blog about accessibility and travel.)

cooper looking at himself in a kmart ad
Photo courtesy of Bron Leeks
cooper holding up the catalog featuring him
Photo courtesy of Bron Leeks

Katie Driscoll, President of “Changing the Face of Beauty” — an organization that promotes disability inclusion in the media — is thrilled to see Kmart Australia send a message like this.

“People with disabilities shop and buy products every day. It is good that retailers around the world are representing them and taking notice of their buying power,” Driscoll told The Mighty in an email. “If we want a more inclusive world, the disability community must be represented as a value to our society… [This ad] says we see you, you matter and we appreciate you buying our products. It is that simple.”

You can view Kmart Australia’s catalog here. The book also features a model with Down syndrome. Kmart has not yet responded to The Mighty’s request for his name.

little boy with down syndrome playing with star wars toys in kmart catalog
Photo via Kmart catalog


selfie of miriam and her son The first diagnosis my son ever had was global developmental delay, and like so many, I understood this to mean he was a little bit behind his peers but would probably, in time and with support, catch up. He was only a year old when we were told he was struggling and not meeting key milestones like sitting up unaided, making attempts at speech and playing with toys.

I was in denial. I was sad.

I stopped taking him places (probably one of the worst things I could have done in hindsight), and I plowed through each day willing him to learn skills others mastered with ease. I blamed myself. I cried myself to sleep at night. I sang to him, read to him and played with him for hours, but very little changed. As years went on, we collected diagnoses like a stamp collector collects stamps. The term “developmental delay” is now slowly being replaced by his doctors to “learning difficulties,” and I have come to accept he may not catch up to his peers.

Over the last seven years, I’ve found so few people have any understanding of what “developmental delay” actually means. It’s such a huge, all encompassing, spectrum ranging from children with mild delays in some areas to children of school-age unable to weight bear or support their own heads. It covers children who are behind in reading and writing, as well as children who use wheelchairs or are nonverbal. It can be a stand-alone diagnosis or the effect of other more complex issues.

Though every child and situation is different, here are a few things about “developmental delay,” as it applies to my son:

1. Some children do catch up, other’s don’t.

My beautiful son will forever be developing at his own unique pace and may always need support in areas.

2. As a child gets older, the term “developmental delay” may disappear and instead be replaced by some form of” learning difficulty.”

This does not mean the child no longer has delays, just that the way of describing those delays has changed.

3. Although my son’s development is behind, there is so much about him that will always be “age appropriate.”

For example, he started eating solid food at the exact same time as other babies at around 6 month old. He lost his first tooth at age 5, and he wears clothes for his chronological age, not his developmental age. His body continues to grow and develop. He will still go through puberty as he grows, and he eats just as much as any other child his age.

4. Developmental delay is often unseen and therefore can often be classed as an invisible disability.

This does not make it any less difficult for the child or adult. If you see a much older child still being supervised in a toilet or not talking when you speak to them, please remember you don’t know their whole story.

5. Milestones are worth celebrating at whatever age they happen.

Child development has stages almost every child goes through, regardless of when it happens. A child with developmental delay may go through the same stages, just at a different time. For example, they learn to sit, then crawl, then stand, then walk. Or they learn to make noise, then babble, then the first word. If your 5-year-old is babbling for the first time, this is wonderful because at some point they may change that babble to a word. If your 4-year-old can stand unaided, that’s worth celebrating.

6. Developmental delay does not define anyone.

Society may put pressure on people to compete, but that does not mean we have to. Life is not about the destination. It’s about the journey. Some are just enjoying the journey at a different pace, and that is every bit as wonderful as those who choose to run or sprint. As Martin Luther King Jr says:
“If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” 

I can assure you, that is what my son is doing. If he can move forward, then I can too. However long this journey takes, we are enjoying it together.

miriam and her son smiling

Follow this journey on Faithmummy.

There’s an African proverb you may have heard: “It takes a village to raise a child.” Hillary Clinton wrote a book in the 1990’s using that concept, and in 2014, Pope Francis had Italian students and teachers chanting the mantra.

I’m sure many of you can probably agree this is true with any child. Many parents with children who have special needs may live this reality. It can take a village, several specialists, therapists and maybe sometimes the next village over.

The amount of people who are within my daughter Campbell’s support system is numerous. And we add to that list often.

Besides friends and family, she has therapists, teachers, doctors, nurses, equipment supply vendors, specialists, orthotists (who make her braces), not to mention her priest, hairdresser and multiple acquaintances who have become a part of her larger support circle.

Some of these people have been with us since her birth, while others have only been around for a short while. Each person plays a role in her care and makes an impact.

Most days, one or more of these people or “villagers” comes into our home. We have welcomed them not only into our home, but into our hearts.

We have learned to trust these select people to guide and support us as we travel along this sometimes-bumpy road.

For example, I recently had surgery that required no lifting for four weeks. You might be able to imagine the difficulty that posed for the primary caregiver to a child who is typically lifted multiple times daily and weighs about 50 pounds.

Her physical and occupational therapists trained my son, Matthew, to lift and transfer her to the bed, wheelchair and car seat. They also instructed him on how to break down her wheelchair to load it in the van and then reassemble it.

We also proved that some 16-year-old boys listen a lot more to people who aren’t their parents.

Another example was her hairdresser gifting her haircut and demonstrating patience as she cuts her hair while her head is moving. It might take a few of us to hold her head, but we get it accomplished.

Together we make things work and prove there is strength in numbers.

And that to me is what it means to be a part of a village of people, uniting to care for and support a little girl who gets through every day to the best of her ability, often with a smile.

Or maybe a smirk is a better description. She is a tween girl after all.

Being a mother, father, brother or grandparent of a child with special needs can also have its challenges at times. Not only the physical care that goes into taking care of Campbell, but emotionally watching her go through so many trials.

Our village not only supports Campbell, but they support our entire family.

People often ask, “What can I do to help?”

women performing puppet show for girl in wheelchair
Michelle’s daughter, Campbell, and her friends.

“We are fine, thank you,” is a frequent reply, although it can be far from the truth. Sometimes when the needs are so great, it can be hard to even know where to begin to ask for help.

We are lucky to have many people in our support system who help without asking. Whether it’s bringing a meal by after a surgery or a care package during a long hospital stay, each act of kindness is appreciated.

And the greatest lesson I’ve learned (and am still learning to accept) is that it is OK to ask for and receive help. Sometimes allowing someone to help can be the greatest gift you can give. It can show that you trust them and welcome their graciousness. That you appreciate them. And who doesn’t like to know that they have made a difference? It’s one of the best feelings, in my opinion.

So the next time someone asks, “What can I do to help?” consider eating a slice of humble pie and smiling before answering them with something you really need. Or something you just really want.

Now that I think of it, a pedicure sounds wonderful, and a cappuccino would be really nice.

Follow this journey on Chasing the Cleavers.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness, and what would you say to teach them? 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 Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Chronic illness has been a part of my life for four years now. Clearly, chronic means “of a long duration.” I thought this would have sunk in by now, and as days passed, learning how to cope would become easier and clearer. To my surprise, I thought wrong and was not prepared for accepting that chronic meant we would be tied at the hip for good. My illness has been and will always be a part of me, and no matter what I do or how hard I try, there will be no getting rid of it.

It was a sunny, 70-degree Wednesday, that transition day from winter to spring, and everyone surrounding me had high spirits. My classmates were preparing to leave for their senior trip to Walt Disney World on Thursday and had spring break to look forward to, it was a beautiful day outside, and my family was out doing enjoyable activities. Me, I was drowning in my studies, unable to attend senior trip due to my illness, going to the gym to do my physical therapy, and was emotionally and physically exhausted. I struggled to put my emotions into words. I was confused about what I was feeling — how could I explain it to someone else? I went about my day convincing myself that I was OK, although I later learned that I was far from it.

I walked into my psychologist’s office peppy as can be. After all, pushing through and painting a smile on my face usually got me through my rough days. Less than five minutes into the session, my thoughts came to the surface, overflowing my brain with depressing thoughts to say the least. I began to find the words to describe how I was feeling. “I’m physically and mentally exhausted. I’m overwhelmed with everything I need to do and can’t catch a break. I have no choice but to fight, ultimately to fight for my life, but the truth is I’m tired of fighting and don’t want to do it anymore. I’m trapped and there is no way out.”  I cried and cried, denying I had gotten to the point I promised myself I would never get to.

After 45 minutes of discussion, it confirmed my theory that I truly am trapped in a life of chronic illness and I will not be able to escape. It didn’t end on a happy note, but it did allow me to express my feelings to somebody with open ears who could sit there and sympathize with me in a time of need. I left crying and spent my ride home crying. I guess it’s true not every story has a happy ending, and I would have to become familiar with this — although that does not mean I don’t have the power to create the story of my life.

back of woman raising her arms overlooking nature

Nobody said it was going to be easy, but in my opinion, a life of letting chronic illness control you is a life wasted. I would beat what life has thrown in my direction, maybe not in a way I originally wanted, but in a way where I can enjoy myself, live and be happy and successful just like anyone else. I will have to earn it, but it’ll be worth it. I’m stronger than a life of chronic illness. I could sit here and be upset and give up on everything, but what good would that do me? Sometimes in life we must make the best out of the situations that are thrown in our direction.

That day it finally hit me that chronic means for good, or for as long as I live. But “as long as I live” is the positive way I will view my situation. I may not know why my life is the way it is, but I do know something great is going to come out of it. When I feel like giving up, I will reward myself with the friendly reminder that with every day that passes I will grow stronger.

So to the person who is tired of being physically and mentally exhausted: Go out and push through, but reward yourself by doing something you enjoy. Go for a car ride, hike, go to the beach or feel the wind on your face, because the little things in life are worth living for.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s the hardest thing you deal with as someone with a chronic illness, and how do you face this? What advice and words of support would you offer someone facing the same thing? 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 Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Does this scenario sound familiar? You enter into a social service agency designated to help people with disabilities, survey the room, and no one looks like they can relate to your struggle? Sometimes you may be met with confused looks, a placating smirk, or a generic answer for all issues. I have always hoped to enter into one of those agencies and see people with disabilities at the desk, answering the phone, setting up events, and running board meetings, but unfortunately that has never been my experience in rural Iowa.

I’m a young professional with various experiences in the private and public sector, I’ve worked in a multitude of areas such as school districts, nonprofits, etc., and I continue to become disappointed and disillusioned with the lack of people with disabilities in the workplace, particularly in areas of social service where I feel a person with a disability can bridge the gap between sympathetic and truly empathetic answers for the people they are serving. I’d love to be able to have a conversation with someone about the daily challenges of a lack of access or transportation who could truly relate to the struggle that transcends what looks good on paper.

I’m continuously worried that the stigmas of the disabled community may have influenced workers in the social service industry. The perception that our community has no voice seems to be reiterated by an industry that does not truly represent our needs. We need the voices of actual people with disabilities to say, “We are strong, independent, and we don’t need sympathy; we need true empathy.”

If anything, years of being a part of the social service system has made me feel more underserved and undervalued. I have been asked multiple questions during interviews with social services agencies that reinforce stereotypes and misconceptions of our community. Several questions about living in poverty, being on Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and I have even been offered volunteer opportunities instead of regular employment (during an interview for a paid position).

I believe we must reframe our misconceptions that just because a person with a disability may have lived in poverty, or Section 8 housing, or received SSI benefits, we cannot serve our own community in a meaningful way. Many of us are looking for employment opportunities and a chance to impact the issues facing the disabled community in a real way.

It’s wonderful that there are individuals out there who feel that they can serve and represent our interests because they have a sibling, husband, wife, or child with a disability. We can learn and grow from these individuals, but I feel the best form of advocacy is asking them to become involved in the conversation in some capacity, by really adopting the belief that any individual can participate in some way.

While I know some individuals with disabilities may not be able to speak for themselves, I feel we owe these individuals a voice from the disabled community. I know the statistics of people with disabilities in the workplace may not be on our side, but every day through news platforms I read stories of very competent, driven, motivated individuals with a disability who have so much to contribute to the issues and challenges facing the disabled community.

As we rethink issues facing the way we view America’s health care system, economy, and diversity movements, why can’t we take a second look of the lack of our own representation?

I also asked that individuals with disabilities comment below about their personal experiences with this issue, so it’s not just my voice being heard on this, but it is others as well. Together, we are proud and united!

The Mighty is asking the following: Share with us the moment you stood up for yourself or your child in regards to disability or disease, or a moment you wish you had? 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 Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

It’s a little weird to be writing a thank-you letter to my dog, since she can’t read or understand English. But I’m hoping that somehow, my furry little caretaker knows just how important she is to me. This is what I want her to know.

Dear Juno,

As one of those “dog people,” I’ve loved many dogs in my life. I’m the one who cries harder when the dog dies in a movie than when the person dies. I have to change the channel when those ASPCA commercials come on TV.

So when your “dad,” Andrew, and I brought you home from the shelter, I knew you’d be so, so loved and incredibly important to us. But I never guessed just how important you’d be.

woman kissing her dog
Tracy and her dog, Juno.

I was diagnosed with endometriosis just a few months after bringing you home. I remember my mom being worried about us training a puppy before our wedding, but it was a breeze. We never imagined another, much more difficult hurdle would await us soon after that big day.

Leading up to my diagnosis, I was so sore and exhausted. I limped around the house while working from home and took naps as soon as I was off the clock. It was an effort just to hook you to your leash and take you outside, but thankfully, you learned housebreaking easily and minimized the accidents I had to clean up.

After my surgery, when I learned I definitely had endometriosis, you curled up next to me on the couch while Andrew made me soup. You brought me your favorite toys to snuggle with, which I appreciated, even if they were covered in slobber. Although I know you didn’t understand what was wrong, you obviously could tell I was miserable, and in your own little puppy ways, you tried to make it better.

I know I’m not much fun on my bad days. You push a lot of tennis balls into my hands while I’m under an electric blanket. Sometimes I ask Andrew to take you outside when it’s my turn, because my pelvic pain makes it hard to walk. I’m not very good at chasing you around the house when you want to play with me, but you don’t hold it against me. Instead, you take advantage of the warmth from my heating pad to take your own nap. You’ll chase me when I’m feeling better.

I remember one day when I was home alone, and the burden of my chronic illness was way too much. I crumbled to the floor and buried my face in my hands, sobbing loudly. I immediately felt a cold, wet nose push under my chin and a bunch of puppy kisses wiped away my tears. It was hard to feel sorry for myself when you were climbing into my lap and showing me it’ll be OK.

Every morning, I look forward to seeing your big, bright eyes and tongue hanging out of your mouth. You help me climb out of bed when the pain makes me want to stay under the covers, and you boost my energy when chronic fatigue threatens to take the last bit of it away. Your funny faces and silly sounds make me laugh on my worst days, and you know exactly how to turn a flare-up into a snuggle party.

Even though you’re a dog, and you may not be consciously helping me fight my daily battles, you give me the courage to face my illness every day. You’re my caretaker, my best friend and better than any medicine the doctor could prescribe.

I love you, Juno, and I hope you know how much I love you. Thank you for brightening my life.

Follow this journey at Still Sunflowers.

The Mighty is asking the following: What was one moment you received help in an unexpected or unorthodox way related to disability, disease or mental illness? 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 Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Real People. Real Stories.

150 Million

We face disability, disease and mental illness together.