What You Should Know If You Laughed at This Viral Photo of Me

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This is my 15 minutes of fame. If you check sites such as the People of Walmart or Reddit you will most likely find this photo.

woman on scooter in grocery store

The worst thing about this photo is that people think a fat woman tipped over a cart because she was too lazy to get out of the cart to get the case of soda.

I have a condition in my spine called spondylolisthesis. In spondylolisthesis, one of the bones in your spine — called a vertebra — slips forward and out of place. This may occur anywhere along the spine, but is most common in the lower back (lumbar spine). In some people, this causes no symptoms at all. Others may have back and leg pain that ranges from mild to severe. The most common symptoms in the legs include a feeling of vague weakness associated with prolonged standing or walking. In my case, the longer I stand the more numb and weak my leg become. I have been known to fall because of this condition.

I am also very obese which does not help the situation in my back. I have learned that due to my mental illness – I have used eating as a way to cope. I fight my weight daily and have recently joined a gym. But my weight is still a battle.

So this happened several years ago (around 2011 to 2012). I was at a very low point in my mental health. I also was experiencing a lot of pain and weakness that day. I took a cart because I was grocery shopping for my family. I went to get a case of soda for my husband (he drinks this stuff by the gallons) and I turn and tried to grab a case off the shelf and the cart tipped. I thought I saw a flash of light and heard some young girls giggling. I thought nothing of it cause I am used to hearing people make fun of me or saying snide remarks. It was nothing new.

A few months later, I see this photo on a site making fun of people of Walmart. I have also seen this photo attached to stories that aren’t even true about this situation. The only thing I am glad about is it did not capture my face.

The reason I am sharing this is because people think it is funny to laugh at people with disabilities. You cannot see my disabilities but they are there and they are real. So next time you see photos making fun of people just remember you know nothing about these people or the struggles they face every day. It is never just harmless fun to laugh at someone.

Here are a few photos of me to prove that it is me in the photo above.

man and woman facing each other holding hands

jennifer wilkinson and young girl

My spine disease started with degenerative disc disease. Degenerative disc disease usually starts when a person is close to 50. In my case it started in my early 20s and that was before I was obese. After the disc is gone spondylolisthesis happens. Both my parents had a form of this disease and both had to have back surgeries in their early 30s. So there’s a good chance my children can get the same spine disease.

My obesity is caused by my American diet and also by my mental illnesses. I have major depressive disorder, PTSD, and avoidant personality disorder. I have experienced several cases of emotional trauma that lead to these illnesses. So I ended up using food to cope with my mental illnesses.

My main point in this answer is I did not choose to be photographed at a low point in my life. The fact that people assume I am fat because I am lazy is false. Or they assume I am fat because I want to be on disability. Obese people are treated as less than human and as something to ridicule. I just want people to be aware that fat people are people too.

I just want to get something clear – I am not asking people to accept or condone obesity. Obesity is a major health problem causing many illnesses and diseases. I also am not asking people to pity or feel sorry for me. What I want is compassion, understanding, and respect as a fellow human being. I am a person. Please treat me like one!

This blog was originally published on Quora.

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What I Wish People Understood About Polyamory and Disability

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Since my disabilities became more visible, more pronounced, I have noticed that according to many people in society, I’m not expected to have a relationship… and I’m definitely not supposed to have a non-traditional relationship.

I’m polyamorous. I fell in love with two people a long time ago. I didn’t know what to do about it, so I set them up with each other as it seemed like the easiest option. A few years later, with my disabilities worsening, my pain becoming more and more pronounced, and my independence falling off in little slivers every other month, they were there for me.

They were the only people to look at me the same way, starting from when I was 17, and even now at 29. They saw my pain at 17 and how it bothered me, but it didn’t change how they were with me. Even then, people got annoyed that I always had a headache. When I was hurting, other people would say “Again? Really?” but they didn’t.

They get me melon slices or some apple juice and do what they can to make me smile. When dealing with high levels of chronic pain, it’s amazing to find someone who helps you be able to smile, even laugh through it.

A few years ago, I was alone. My long list of problems, physical and mental, had come to a head. I was living alone, but I couldn’t make my own dinner, let alone look after a house, or myself. They dropped everything for me. Uprooted their lives and moved into a different country for me, from Wales to Nottingham, England. Incidentally, it turned out to be a good thing for one of them as he was able to get better health care.

It took us a while to find a house. They originally moved into a house one street over so they could be close all the time, willingly! I felt like I was a burden, but they showed me day after day that I have value. Even on my worst days they made me feel wanted and needed.

Finding and renting a house that accepts a person on disability benefits and someone who has a dog was hard, but we did it. Even now when I need help with clothes some days and can’t stand or even sit up, they still look at me the same way, and best of all, they understand. They don’t second-guess my pain, they believe me on a level that’s so difficult to explain because I have felt it so rarely.

I don’t meet many new people in the real world. When we do and they discover we are a throuple they are either interested, or they squint at my wheelchair and give a look of “Yeah, right.” The interested people I like, the others not so much.

Online people are less polite. They can say whatever they like because they aren’t doing it to my face. I’m just a person on the computer and an easy target because they think my relationship style is “wrong.” It’s “immoral” and “disgusting” before they discover I’m disabled; then it’s “impossible.”

I’ve had people tell me disabled people shouldn’t have relationships because they are effectively abusing their partner. They say I would be withholding things from them that they would expect in a “normal” relationship with a “normal” person. It generally boils down to an assumption that “Disabled people don’t have sex.”

I have a problem with this. For one, it implies the only important thing in a relationship is sex. There is much more to a relationship: trust, caring, honesty, closeness, happiness, even cuddling and snuggling in bed. Second, it insinuates disabled people are less, which we are not. I might not have the energy, the endurance of an able-bodied person, and some days my pain might be so bad all I can do is curl up, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like to be intimate with my partners. I love them and being close to them makes me feel better. Even if I wasn’t able to, I’m still not less; I’m still a person who is just as deserving of life as any able-bodied person.

I’ve noticed this really shows up in a polyamorous relationship. A lot of people have misconceptions when it comes to polyamory. We are a closed Triad, so there isn’t that much of a difference to a couple… we’re just a throuple. I’ve had people telling me I’m dragging them down, ruining their lives with my disability, using this innocent married couple to be my carers. A few go the other way, saying I’m being led on, I’m just an extra because they’re married and I’m being used. One person referred to me as a “token cripple.” I don’t know where this idea came from that if you’re disabled, you are supposed to never have a relationship.

I feel so amazingly lucky that I found not one, but two people who love me, not in spite of my disabilities, but for me. I don’t have to hide my pain; I don’t have to hide my depression.  They spend time researching my conditions of their own volition; they actually want to be able to talk to my doctors and help me get my treatments quicker. With “fibro fog,” when it comes to appointments, Anthony is my memory. In the past, even getting people to understand the basics of my conditions was about as fun as pulling teeth. I feel lucky that they actually want to know.

Recently I’ve had a recurrence of trigeminal neuralgia. It’s been about six or seven years since I last had full TN attacks. When I suddenly screamed in pain, clutching my face, they sprang into action to find ways to get the pain down to a tolerable level and make me comfortable. I didn’t need to ask for help, and I think that’s what it all comes down to.

I think at the most basic level, a relationship with any type of spoonie comes down to two very important things.

1) I don’t need to ask. This is important. Sometimes I will ask for specific help, but in general I don’t need to ask for things multiple times a day. Every time I ask them to do something for me, it makes me feel like a burden. That I’m this weight they have to bear. I know they don’t see me this way; it’s entirely in my head. When I don’t need to ask, I don’t get the constant feeling. They make me feel wanted and loved instead.

2) I’m believed. Being believed can lift you up, it can validate you, it can pull you out of the darkness of knowing you’re in pain but because people didn’t believe your pain you wondered if it was really that bad. Being accused of exaggerating and making up your pain can lead to constantly second-guessing yourself. Having a person just believe straight away is like they took this huge weight off of me and threw it away. I feel lighter; it gives me the strength to trust myself that yes, my pain is this bad, and no, I don’t deserve it.

A relationship is of course more than these two things, but as a disabled person in a relationship I look at things a little differently. If you boil it right down, these two things are an amazing basis for a relationship. The three of us build more and more layers on top, but they are the sturdy structure it’s built on.

People have many opinions about my relationship style, being a disabled person in that relationship and even my orientation (I’m asexual – I feel romantic attraction and I love my partners, and not feeling sexual attraction has nothing to do with my disabilities, it’s just as “normal” as being straight, gay or bi etc.) I even enjoy some of the views as some people are genuinely, happily interested. But when it comes down to it, I have something amazing and no one’s opinion of it will change that.

I’ll never stop being amazed they believe me, they understand me and they still want me. They make me stronger; they make me believe I can fight this and get through anything that gets thrown at me.

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Sens. Murray and Cantwell Challenge Betsy DeVos on IDEA Website Outage

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On Friday, Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) sent Education Secretary Betsy DeVos a letter asking why the website for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is no longer available.

Betsy DeVos had a contentious nomination process with educators, lawmakers and parents opposing her nomination due to her lack of education credentials and limited knowledge regarding IDEA, a federal law ensuring children with disabilities receive the services they need.

The senators’ letter states:

We are deeply concerned that prior to your confirmation and arrival at the Department the centralized resource website for the IDEA became inaccessible to the public for more than a week, and is now redirecting people to a site for the Office of Special Education Programs (“OSEP”). The OSEP website lacks much of the information previously available.

The Department’s failure to keep this critical resource operational makes it harder for parents, educators, and administrators to find the resources they need to implement this federal law and protect the rights of children with disabilities.

In addition to asking for a “detailed explanation” regarding the website’s current outage, Murray and Cantwell ask DeVos to promise she won’t strip the website and will release a detailed explanation to parents as to why the site went down and future plans to incorporate IDEA information into other departmental websites. The senators added:

Given your past statements about the IDEA before the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and the fact the website has been unavailable for an extended period of time, we are certain you are just as anxious as we are that these resources be quickly restored.

As of Tuesday, the website www.idea.ed.gov is still down with no response from DeVos or her office.

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5 Things Parents Should Consider Before Moving Their Child Into a Group Home

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Placing your son or daughter in someone’s care is emotional and scary regardless of your child’s disposition. In my personal and professional career, I have listened to parents’ fears and dreams when it comes to the future of their child. The top concern is, “Who will take care of them when I am no longer able to?” followed with doubt their child would receive fair treatment. I often inform family members who feel this way that no one will ever treat your child the same way you do, period.

Being able to witness transitioning a loved one from home to a residential facility personally and professionally has given me the insight to determine if an organization is a good fit for a loved one with a disability. In this blog, I will give you my top five suggestions on things to consider before you move forward with selecting a residential facility for your loved one.

1. Find out how the employees feel about the organization. 

As a parent, it is your job to research the organization that is going to be responsible for taking care of your child, and there is no better way to do this than by visiting websites with employee reviews. Glassdoor, Indeed, and Great Place to Work are a couple of sites you can use to investigate employees’ feelings about the agency. Visiting the sites can give you a feel for the organization’s culture, the pros and cons of working there, and the wages. The information is valuable to you because it gives an insider’s view of the business. If the workers are unhappy with the leadership, pay, and there are more cons than pros, then this is not the place for your family member. A lot of negatives usually indicate high turnovers which can be counterproductive in your loved one’s livelihood. Studies show jobs with high satisfaction rates usually have employees who are dedicated, committed, and involved in doing their job to the best of their ability. Therefore, happy workers usually equate to better quality and service.

2. Is the organization proactive in developing the residents?

Any group home you intend on putting your loved one in needs to be innovative, active in the community, invested in their client’s work and social life balance and devoted to enhancing life skills. You want your family member to be somewhere that will improve their quality of life and continually cultivate the development of its programs. It is critical for your loved one to live the best life possible while being a resident of a facility. If the organization does not show any initiative to improve their services, programming, or curriculum, then you may want to look elsewhere.

3. Is the organization involved in the community?

Community involvement is essential for the overall financial health of the business. Many social service agencies are nonprofit and receive funding from various sources but mainly through fundraising tactics. Bringing valuable attention to a cause requires outreach, interactions and partnerships with stakeholders, consumers, and companies. If the organization is not active in the community, it usually means that outings outside of the facility are probably scarce, there aren’t many partnerships, the volunteer base isn’t up to par, and contributions are probably weak. What does this mean for your family member? Their social life may not be as active s it would be in a residential facility that receives local support from businesses, sponsors, volunteers, and the workforce. Also, the availability to get innovative equipment, help from outside sources and extracurricular activities is probably limited.

4. Ask for a tour.

Once you figure out housing facilities in the area, it is important to schedule a tour. The tour will give you a feel of the everyday life of the residents, and it will let you know if others living there are happy with the services they receive. During your tour, you should hear testimonies of the services being provided, and you should ask the staff how they feel about working there and why they enjoy their job. You will be surprised by the answers, and you will be able to see if they’re sincere or just buying time until a better job comes along.

5. The census.

Ask questions about the demographics of people living in group homes. The activity level of the home as a whole may be based on the majority of the residents. Seniors living in a residential facility may want to relax more while younger adults may want to be active outdoors, listen to loud music, or play video games.

I hope this information helps you when deciding to place your loved one in a residential facility. Remember scouting homes is like scouting for colleges. You want the best for your child, and the organization should want and demonstrate the same.

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Thinkstock photo by utah778

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Why I Won't Let Fear of Trump Marginalizing People With Disabilities Overwhelm Me

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I knew one kid who had a disability growing up. One. His name was Brian, and he walked with a cane and talked with a slight slur. I didn’t know when I was 8, 9, 10 that he probably had cerebral palsy. We didn’t talk about diagnoses at that age. We talked about trading Garbage Pail Kids and jelly bracelets. Brian was in our classroom all day and learned the same as we did. He tripped and fell more often, but he refused help. He got up by himself and he often had a smile on his face. I remember thinking of him as a kind and determined person.

But I didn’t know anyone who had cognitive challenges and behavioral challenges. No one with Down syndrome or autism. Surely the incidence of Down syndrome and autism would have caused me to come across some person with those conditions in my formative years. I never did. You may not have either.

“We used to institutionalize kids like that.”

You’ve probably thought or heard that before. It’s true. We used to institutionalize kids with disabilities. That’s why I only knew one Brian.

The laws have changed to help create ways for people with disabilities to be more included and truly valued members of our society. With regard to education, IDEA requires public schools to provide a free and appropriate education to all children with disabilities. With regard to medical coverage, many severely disabled and medically complicated children – who would have been institutionalized 30 years ago – now qualify for state Medicaid waiver programs designed to help parents raise their children within their home and community.

I am not a person who is interested in politics by nature. My son, however, has forced me to research these issues that are front and center in our headlines. They directly affect him, our family, and our society as a whole.

I fear that with Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, many able-bodied children will opt out of public school, leaving less funding available to children with disabilities. She has refused to say whether or not all publicly funded schools will be required to abide by IDEA, a federal law. Consequently, my son may end up segregated from his peers who are more typical in their development, peers he so desperately needs. Right now, he is thriving in a public preschool classroom of kids with and without disabilities. He has good behavior modeled to him and is exposed to the same curriculum as the rest of the class. He is not progressing at the speed they are, but he has made – and will continue to make — great advances academically and socially. He needs to be included in our schools.

Trump’s proposal to offer block grants to states for Medicaid also worries me. I fear our state will choose to slash therapy and quality medical services for children like mine. Supplemental health care, respite care, medical equipment and home modifications would simply not be made available. The entitlement programs which were originally designed to help the members of our society who could not care for themselves have been diluted and traded for political favors over the years. Now it’s a mess left for family members to fund and resource alone.

A society will be judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members.” – Pope John Paul II

This is true for the unborn and the elderly, the refugee and the orphan, and the disabled. The vulnerable among us are experiencing this crisis of our society.

I could become completely consumed by fear and anger over whether or not my child’s life will be valued because of his disabilities… About if and how he will be accepted and included within our community schools. About if or how we could handle the cost of his medical complications.

I don’t have the luxury of letting fear overwhelm me. I only have one voice – the voice that speaks for me and on behalf of my child. That’s why I blog, that’s why I call and email my state reps, and that’s why I will keep advocating for access to my son’s education and many medical therapies.

The outcomes of these issues are out of my control. All I can do is ask you – plead with you – to get to know someone like Brian, someone like my son. I only knew one Brian as a kid. Knowing him forced me to look beyond myself and understand true kindness and determination. Brian made an impact on me. I hope that one day my son will, with great dignity, be welcomed to do the same.

Editor’s note: This story reflects an individual’s experience and is not an endorsement from The Mighty. We believe in sharing a variety of perspectives from our community.

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Why Parents of Kids With Disabilities Are Concerned About Betsy DeVos

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I, like many other parents across the country, was truly disappointed to see Betsy DeVos was confirmed yesterday as Education Secretary. As a special needs parent, it’s disheartening to think someone with a complete lack of knowledge on what rights my child has to a fair and equitable education will be in charge of enforcing those rights.

One of the reasons this is so fresh in my mind and I was interested in the outcome of this confirmation is because we just had an interesting and telling interaction with a community preschool we were considering for my son, Josiah. Although he will automatically qualify to receive preschool services at the local Early Intervention (EI) preschool, which will be a great resource for occupational therapy and some articulation courses, I feel like he would benefit from being in a school environment with his neurotypical peers. And I think his neurotypical peers would benefit too.

We have been on one preschool’s waitlist for a year. This preschool was recommended to us by our EI specialist and has a good proven track record of working with EI to have kids with disabilities in a mainstream preschool setting. We are still number 7 on that list, so we started looking at other options.

One that had been on our minds was a local Christian school that has a preschool starting at age 3 and goes all the way through to the 12th grade. It’s a popular choice among folks that attend our same church, and one of my husband’s colleagues sent their kids there and raved about the academics and the environment.

A few weeks ago, my husband Josh and I went to go take a look at this school and do a little tour. I had already spoken with the admissions representative over the phone and explained we were looking for a community preschool for our son with cerebral palsy. I told her Josiah has some mobility impairments and issues with fine motor skills but that cognitively, he appears to be “age-appropriate.” She said over the phone that as a private school, they are not required to provide any special treatment or services to him, but she said it in such a kind way that the subtext was, “I’m only saying this because I have to.” I stated that I completely understood, and so we set up a meeting and a tour of their campus.

Since we’d already discussed it on the phone, I was a little bit thrown off when she brought it up again in our face-to-face meeting.

“Now, you know that as a private school, we’re not required to provide any services for Josiah,” she said with just the slightest hint of defensive posturing.

“We understand,” Josh and I chimed together. “We realize this is a private school, and we know that’s the deal.”

After our brief meeting with the admissions representative, she took us on a tour of the property. We saw some of the general areas, and Josh was able to access most of them easily. When we reached the preschool building, there was a stair to get in, so I bumped Josh, and we went in to look at the classrooms.

On our way to the classroom, we stopped by the little boys bathrooms, and we observed that the toilets were still pretty high off the ground for preschoolers. One boy went into a stall, and we could see his little feet dangling in the air over the sides of the potty. We pointed this out to the admissions rep and had a brief discussion about toileting. I made a comment that generally it’s better for kids’ feet to be on the floor. I mean, just imagine trying to poop with your legs dangling in the air. No good!

“We could maybe have a step stool in there for him,” she suggested. “You know, we’re still several months out from September. There’s a lot that can change in kids this age between now and then.”

I agreed she was right, a lot can change in a few months.

We continued on to the classroom. One wall was covered in the students’ renditions of Olaf in cotton balls. Another wall had several laminated posters of the seasons, the months of the year and the days of the week. We even saw the same R2D2 backpack Josiah uses hanging on a hook with all the other little backpacks and jackets. It was a typical classroom setting.

I noticed there were a couple small circular desks and surrounding each of these desks were several of your basic plastic stackable chairs for little kids. Some chairs were still fairly high off the ground, and it would probably be tough for Josiah’s feet to touch the floor while sitting in one of them. For fine motor activities, he really does need both feet on the floor. They help to ground his body, which gives his torso the necessary support to do things with his hands that require some concentration. If you ask him to do a craft activity or draw a picture without having a good seating setup, he eventually shifts over to the left side and can lose his balance.

“You know, I’m just looking at the seating set up, and he would definitely need a chair where his feet touch the floor… possibly something with arms on it too,” I noted.

The admissions rep looked at me and said, “Well, you know, we don’t have to provide anything.”

I’m sure the look of shock on my face was obvious. “We would provide a chair for him,” I said with a hint of incredulity. “That would be something we would purchase and give to the classroom for his use!”

She pursed her lips and thought for a second. “I suppose that’s something you could discuss directly with the teacher.”

We finished out the tour and exchanged pleasantries when we left, but the defining moment had come and gone. This was not the right place for our child. If they were going to give pushback on a chair — a chair –– what else would they pushback against?

On the ride home, I couldn’t keep my voice from dripping with disdain for the school. It has a conservative Christian ideology, but when a prospective parent of a child with a disability asks for a chair, they can’t find it in their hearts to make an accommodation?

I fumed. Josh stayed pretty even-keeled.

“If they’re going to act like that about a chair, then we’re going to have bigger problems down the road,” Josh stated matter-of-factly as we drove home.

Josiah isn’t even 3 years old yet, and already, we are having to fight for his education. Yes, this was our interaction with a private school, and no, they don’t legally have to provide anything — equipment, services, etc. — to him so he can receive an education at their school. But this was our very recent experience dealing with a private school, and I fear under DeVos, a disabled child’s right to a fair and equitable education will be compromised.

Josiah’s mobility issues are minor, and his cognitive abilities are on par with his peers. I can’t even imagine what other parents of kids with disabilities deal with when their child’s challenges are more involved.

This Upworthy list is a good place to start when it comes to ways we can support the education system, but I would add one more item:

Find a family with a child who has a disability and ask how you can support them. Attend school board meetings with them, write letters on their behalf, help fundraise for adaptive equipment or just encourage your child to be friends with their child. Let them know you are on their side and will do what you can to ensure their child gets the same opportunities in school as your child.

Thanks in advance for your support.

Editor’s note: This story reflects an individual’s experience and is not an endorsement from The Mighty. We believe in sharing a variety of perspectives from our community.

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