Screenshot of Alto Website

Alto Creates First Advantage Club for People With Disabilities

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Military veterans have advantage clubs, senior citizens get discounts through membership-based programs, so why not offer something similar to people with disabilities, Moshe Gaon asked himself when founding Alto, the first advantage club for people with disabilities and their families. Before launching Alto, Gaon founded yoocan, an American-Israeli company designed to educate and motivate people with disabilities and their families.

Now, Gaon has taken the company’s mission to empower those with disabilities one step further by creating a membership-based program that provides exclusive discounts on products designed for people living with a disability. “There are many products and services people would love to get advantages on,” Gaon said. “But everything is scattered and hard to find.”

Both yoocan and Alto were inspired by Gaon’s family’s experience, after his nephew was born with a rare disease. “Families with disabilities spend more money than other families,” Gaon told The Mighty. “We have special needs, need special insurances.”

Alto works by aggregating services that already exist for people with disabilities – like free wheelchair rentals at popular attractions – as well as offering exclusive discounts on products geared towards people with disabilities. Alto works with vendors to negotiate special discounts on products for its members.

Services aggregated by Alto can be viewed for free by anyone accessing the site. Those interested in buying products will have to become a member. Membership is offered on a trial basis of $4.95 for 30 days or $59.90 per year ($4.99 a month).

Products currently available include sensory-friendly toys for kids and adaptive living products. “Usually the savings on one or two items justifies the cost of membership,” Gaon said. Average discounts range from 5 to 20 percent off.

“There’s nothing like this for the disability community in the U.S.,” Gaon said. “There should be a solution that will allow people to be empowered and get the amazing benefits and discounts they deserve as a community.”

Anyone in the world can become a member, Gaon said. However, Alto only works with American vendors at this time, meaning those outside of the U.S. would need to check that the item could be shipped internationally.

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When Disability Gets Left Out of Conversations About Privilege

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Recently I saw an article about privilege. This article used a list asking people to step forwards and backwards, according to instructions, to visually represent the privilege and disadvantages they face.

Do not get me wrong: I think that pieces like this are important, and I think this one is effective, but I do have one problem with it. Despite a total of 35 instructions, not a single one said anything about disability.

Most of the points included related to gender, religion, race, sexuality, or socioeconomic status. Disability or illness did not even rate a mention.

I think most of us who have experienced illness or disability would agree that it is often a huge societal disadvantage. Having a disability can often impact our ability to work, or our chance of getting a job when compared to other applicants. It can limit our access to certain places or events, and result in judgment and ridicule. For those of us with invisible disabilities, it can also cause us to be verbally attacked for use of facilities such as disability toilets or parking spaces. Disability often results in marginalization and disadvantage.

Articles like this one, and there are many like it, give us a good insight into the disadvantage and privilege in people’s lives, and are important in sparking the beginnings of social change. But disability remains a point of such disadvantage that it is often not included, even when it is disadvantage we are talking about.

I want to be included. I want to see people like me represented in media, in toys, in television and film, and in articles, surveys, and social experiments that center around disadvantage. Disability is a disadvantage in society, and by not talking about it, it becomes even more so.

I appreciate articles like this one because they matter, but I would like more of them to acknowledge that I and others with disabilities matter too. Include us in that which affects us just as much as the other groups targeted.

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5 Intersections of Being Queer and Disabled

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I came out as a lesbian when I was 13 years old. I have also had cerebral palsy for my entire life. When I first realized I was queer, I wondered how on Earth I could possibly have two marginalized identities like that at the same time. “Is it really possible to be both gay and disabled? What are the odds? There must be no one else who is both of these things.” I was genuinely baffled that such an intersection could exist – in part because I knew few examples of anyone else who was even gay at the time – let alone anyone who also had a disability.

Over the past few years, I have learned about the intersections between having a physical disability and being queer. These two identities connect with one another in ways I would not have expected. I have labeled these intersections into five categories.

Isolation

Both of these identities are generally not ones you have in common with your family members. You will most likely be the only one in your family with your disability or who is gay (with some exceptions of course!) This is noteworthy for a couple of reasons. First, for many other marginalized identities, such as race, class and religion, people often share them with their family. This can help young people immediately have a community as they grow into their identities, and as they are forced to navigate the ways society stigmatizes and discriminates against them because of those identities.

But when I came out as queer, no one else in my family identified as such. No one in my family has a disability – let alone cerebral palsy. If I could have asked my dad about how to navigate coming out to my classmates, or if I could have asked my mom how to navigate puberty growing pains while having cerebral palsy, and they could have responded from firsthand experience, that would have helped me so much. While my family always supported me, they did not understand how I felt or the experiences I had. This made it very lonely and isolating to possess both identities. It took me years to find friends who share these identities – and I still don’t know anyone who is both queer and who has CP. When I realized I was gay, it felt like one more identity I did not share with my family.

Dating

The second way these two identities intersect for me is in the world of dating. As a queer woman who was trying to find a girlfriend before apps like Tinder and OkCupid existed, I felt compelled to occupy spaces like gay bars and clubs in order to find someone to date. Not only that, but in order to impress anyone in these spaces I felt like I needed to dance in some type of “hot” or “sexy” way. The music was always too loud to engage anyone in conversation, so you had to use your body to get their attention. Not only was it hard if not impossible for me to dance, but oftentimes I could not even access gay bars because stairs and a ton of standing were required, which is too painful with my CP. For many years, I felt like my disability was isolating me from the only queer spaces I had access to.

Fashion

My fashion and gender presentation are another thing my disability and sexuality have both impacted in interesting ways. As someone who has cerebral palsy, it is very difficult to wear dresses because the straps fall off of my shoulder due to my posture impairments. Bras are also difficult to put on and wear for this same reason. I cannot wear heels or flats because of how much they hurt the already tight muscles in my legs. This forces me to wear formal lace up shoes and suit jackets and blazers when I need to dress professionally. When I am going out, I wear button up shirts and pants instead of dresses. It is also hard for me to put on makeup or to shave by myself – two more feminine traits.

Combined with my queer identity, these fashion choices often cause me to be labeled as “butch,” or a more masculine presenting woman (versus “lipstick,” which is a more
feminine presenting woman). Within the lesbian dating community, people oftentimes have preferences over whether or not they prefer to date butches or lipsticks. These gender labels have a surprising impact on who pays attention to you and how other queer women perceive you.

Many queer women feel pressure (especially when they first come out) to align with one of these labels. When I came out, I felt like I should cut my hair and present even more masculine to fit this butch stereotype. I feel like the limitations of my disability automatically categorize me into certain gender roles within the queer community.

Coming Out / Disclosing

My particular type of cerebral palsy is not visible to a stranger. This means that both my disability and my queer sexuality involve some process of me coming out. I choose when and how people know about my disability and sexuality. Though they both often meet with very different reactions. Interestingly enough, when I was a child and teenager, I feared coming out as a lesbian way more than I did coming out as someone with a disability. But now as an adult, those roles have reversed, and I am much more anxious about coming out as someone with a disability.

Pride and Acceptance

Society teaches us to hate both our queer sexualities and our disabilities because they are not seen as what is “normal” for bodies and minds. Life is harder with either of these identities simply because they are often marginalized and discriminated against. But both identities are an innate part of you – within your body and within your mind and heart. For both of them, you eventually learn to accept yourself as someone with a disability and as someone who is queer. You learn to advocate for yourself, and over time you learn how to love yourself. And as you become more involved within your community, you learn how to have pride in yourself.

Both of these identities give me strength and courage. Both of these identities caused me to face bullying, and therefore allowed me to grow resilience. Both of these identities helped me become extremely empathetic. Both of these identities forced me to redefine what support and love means. Both of these identities have instilled a passion for equity and social justice into my life. Both of these identities are aspects of myself I would not give up, and have pushed me to become a better version of myself. And both of these identities inevitably make me who I am.

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I Didn't 'Settle' for a Husband With a Disability

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When I tell people my husband is disabled, I usually get a quick, emotional response. I get sympathy. I get pity. I get judgment. I get people who think, poor woman, she has such a burden, to care for her husband.  I get people who think, wow, she must be a saint for selflessly choosing a disabled person as her spouse.  I get my mother, who didn’t want me marrying someone who “couldn’t be strong for me,” who may not be able to be a reliable provider. I get people who wonder, why would she choose to be weighed down by someone who is sick?

There are a lot of problems with these responses. One is that when people hear “disability,” they seem to assume someone who is unable to care for himself and can give little to a relationship. That is a very narrow definition of disability, and in this case it is wrong. Along with this comes the idea that I am the caregiver for my husband, which is also incorrect.

My biggest issue, though, is the idea that I “settled” for someone with a disability. They assume that my husband is less than other people due to his disability. This is an offensive view. And it is completely wrong.

I never “settled” for my husband. My husband is brilliant, funny, honest, loyal, thoughtful, creative, and passionate. He has an endless supply of knowledge and he is becoming a very good cook. He is a great listener. He recently got his teaching license and is naturally gifted as a teacher. He also has numerous chronic physical conditions. This is just part of him. I see him for the person he is. I love him. And loving him doesn’t mean I love part of him and ignore or forgive the rest. No, I simply love him.

I do worry about my husband. I worry about how many years we will have together. I know that realistically I will likely live longer than he does. But I try to stay in the moment and enjoy the time we have.

I do see his weaknesses, but beyond his weaknesses I see such strength.  I see the child who survived a series of life-threatening surgeries growing up, to remove lymphangioma infections related to his KTS (Klippel Trenaunay syndrome). I see the young man whose spine, bent due to severe scoliosis, was nearly crushing his organs, and had still more surgeries while in high school. I see the adult who has survived two episodes of respiratory failure, along with managing a severe respiratory problem that came mysteriously and has no name. I see a man who battles chronic pain and fatigue.

So many everyday things are hard for him. Yet he fights through the pain, the fatigue, and the respiratory condition. He teaches full-time, experiments with new recipes in the kitchen, plays in a pinball league, goes out with friends, and spends time in nature. He does so many things. I see someone who is extremely strong and resilient.

My husband is one of those amazing people who seems to be content in nearly any circumstance. He is good at riding the waves of life and seeing humor in difficult situations. He battles so many obstacles every day. Still he finds joy.

No, I didn’t settle for a husband with a disability. I was blessed with an amazing man who is more than I could have ever expected. He is so good to me. I have chronic mental illnesses. I know I’m not always easy to love. But my husband shows his love to me every day. And I know that a man who has survived all the surgeries, infections, respiratory failures, hospital stays, and the bullying and abuse of a world that mocks people with disabilities… I know this man is more than able to handle whatever the world might throw at us.

I didn’t settle. I found a man stronger than anyone I have ever met. Every night I lie in bed and trace the scars on his back, amazed that he has survived so much, and grateful that he’s mine.

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5 Things No One Told Me When I Applied for Disability Benefits

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Before we start, I’m an Australian writing from the Australian point of view, though I’m sure there are similarities in other countries. Here are five things nobody ever told me before I applied for disability benefits.

1. The system is rough. I got refused once before I appealed and eventually was approved after seven months. But I’ve seen people wait years with multiple appeals. It’s rough. The only good thing about this is that you get back pay once you’re approved.

2. You need to gather as much evidence as you possibly can. Hospital records, any other medical records. Letters from doctors, case workers, and specialists like psychiatrists. Get as much as you can. I gave them so much stuff that had they refused me again, I don’t know what I would have been able to give them. Maybe another letter from my doctor.

3. Keep fighting. I was told by a lot of people that I would probably never get it because of my age. I’m 27. Apparently they don’t like granting it to young people. Well I kept fighting and I did it, I proved them wrong. I’m good at that actually, proving people wrong.

4. Be patient; expect a lot of waiting. There’s not a whole lot you can do about it. I waited three months for my rejection and then waited four more months for my approval. I got the local member for parliament involved to see if they could speed things up a little. Obviously I’m not patient, it’s a virtue I lack. But sometimes all you can do is wait and there’s nothing you can do about it.

5. Now this is the most important one of all… you don’t need to be ashamed. You shouldn’t be ashamed, ever. You were will be awarded disability because you genuinely need it. And if anyone tries to tell you otherwise, then shame on them, not you.

Applying for disability can be a rough ride, but when it’s all over, once it’s all approved, there’s a weight that lifts off your shoulders. It’s totally worth it.

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The Challenges of Disability Inclusion in the Arabian Peninsula

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Finding a school for a child with disabilities should not be a difficult task. When asked if the school was accessible for my 3 year-old daughter in a wheelchair, the answer was almost always, “We do not have special education teachers.” Given that my daughter’s disability is physical and does not require special educators, I couldn’t help but feel disheartened by the ignorance and discriminatory language with which I was brushed off by these schools. What kind of society accepts discrimination even in its own schools?

Living in the Arabian Peninsula is undoubtedly a privilege. Due to the diverse blend of people from all over the world who live in the region, there is an exceptionally wide range of school curricula selections for our children, which supposedly all offer world-class learning. Learning, however, can only go so far when schools do not adopt a fully inclusive, non-discriminatory policy. It took having my own daughter to realize that the majority of schools in the region whether British, American, Finnish or International, discriminate against children with disabilities with very little push-back from the public.

According to a study by the World Bank regarding disabilities in the Middle East and North Africa, about 10 percent of the population of the Middle East and North Africa region has some sort of disability, and disability and poverty are “inextricably linked.” One reason they’re linked is perhaps due to the fact that disabilities in the Middle East are a taboo, and public spaces are not accessible. People rarely speak out or fight for their rights or the rights of their children. Many families hide their children with disabilities out of ignorance and fear of judgment from society, ultimately dehumanizing them and subjecting them to all sorts of negative stereotypes.

Nevertheless, accessibility and disabilities are slowly becoming topics of discussion in our society, even if rarely followed with action. Anti-discrimination activists have taken to social media to offer an insight into the lives of people with disabilities, putting a human face on the issue and raising awareness about their capabilities, needs and struggles.

At a recent lecture held at a hall with a long flight of stairs, a lecturer with no physical nor mental challenges stood and talked about inclusion. When the lecture was open to questions and answers, a friend of mine with cerebral palsy asked why a lecture about inclusion was held at such an inaccessible venue. She then added that any lecture, particularly one tackling inclusion, should be accessible to all segments of society through assuring that the venue is physically accessible, copies of the program are printed in Braille and a sign language interpreter is present.

A State’s main resource is its people. When an entire fraction of the population is marginalized, society will not reach its full potential. Societies, institutions and governments need to implement inclusion and take integration to the next step by tapping into the minds and capabilities of those with disabilities rather than ostracizing them. Schools in particular can not afford to discriminate. Not only will inclusion help students with disabilities advance academically, but socially as well. The benefits of inclusion extend to all students, as it teaches empathy and respect and helps prevent other children from growing up into adults who mindlessly discriminate. As inclusion becomes the norm, people with disabilities will no longer be seen as outcasts, the stigma surrounding disabilities will slowly disappear, and those with disabilities will finally be empowered.

In this day and age, education is a basic human right. No one has the right to decide whether or not a child (or adult) is “able” to attend an institution whether it’s a kindergarten or a Ph.D. program at university. Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton and Thomas Edison all had some sort of disability; where would the world be without them today?

*Update: Since writing this I have finally been able to find a truly inclusive kindergarten for my daughter. The kindergarten follows the German Early Years Curriculum.

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