International adoption of children with disabilities.

What International Adoption of Children With Disabilities Looks Like

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Going into our 11th year, over 1700 children with Down syndrome and other disabilities are home with their “forever families” found through Reece’s Rainbow.

Where is home and where are the children?

Well, that is what we do. We find children with Down syndrome and other disabilities in orphanages and institutions in countries throughout the world, then advocate for and provide grant funds for their international adoption into loving homes in the U.S. and Canada.

How do we do that?

We share the children on our website, our blog, through social media, and raise grant funds for them. Once a child has a family committed to adopting them, we help them raise the funds to help offset the cost of the adoption.

Once the families are ready to travel, we disburse those grant funds to the family. With an average international adoption costing upwards of $25,000, every penny helps and can literally change the course of a child’s life. We have disbursed more than $13 million in adoption grants to save them.

I’ve been with Reece’s Rainbow since the first Christmas appeal in 2006 as the Director of Design & Marketing. I’ve been blessed to witness almost all of these children’s homecomings!

I asked our families to share with us what international adoption of children with disabilities looks like. The following photos are their answers. The photos speak for themselves — the difference a family can make to a child deemed unworthy in other countries. They are their own best advocates.

From orphan to local ambassador. Bobby Baird home March 2013 from China. Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
Edna Love Boswell. Adopted at 15 months, now 4 years 10 months old. Down syndrome.
Siobhan Klassen, gotcha day in Bulgaria Dec. 2015, 4 years old. 1 year later, 5 years old.
Sterling Hinz, adopted from Ukraine in 2011. He has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism.
Sterling’s brother Laird, adopted from Bulgaria in 2015. He also has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism.
Jocelyn Lentz, adopted from Bulgaria. Referral, pickup, three years home. Down syndrome.
Josiah Decker, adopted from China, August 2014. Down syndrome and congenital heart defect.
Ryan, adopted from Bulgaria in 2015. Cerebral palsy and microcephaly.
Moses Poweska, age 6. Cerebral palsy, strabismus, intellectual disability.
Alexander Mounts, adopted in October 2011 at age 5, from St. Petersburg, Russia. Now 11. Down syndrome.
Gabe Decker, adopted from Russia in August 2011. Down syndrome.
Dottie Averett, adopted in 2015.
Kristian Howell on gotcha day 11/27/15 and last week. Home 15 months. Down syndrome, polydactyl thumb, fused toes.
Ian Crow, age 3.5 when adopted in August 2015. Home 18 months. Developmental delay.
Hiro Howell, home 8/5/13 at 16 months. He’ll be 5 in 2 weeks. Down syndrome.
Jeremy Osborn, home 1 year from Ukraine. Down syndrome.
Sarah Osborn, 1 year home from Ukraine. Down syndrome.
Ruby Osborn, home one year from Ukraine. Down syndrome.
Krystina Beamish became our daughter in April 2011 at 6 and a half years old. She was labeled as moderately intellectually delayed with weak muscles.
McKenzie Morse, adopted from Russia in 2012. Down syndrome and congenital heart defect.
Lily Mei Martinell, adopted from Nanning, China 12/2013 at age 2, now 7. Profoundly deaf.

Reece’s Rainbow is a voice of hope for these children. The need is great, but the opportunity is greater.

Learn more at Reece’s Rainbow.

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Trey Harris, Man With Disability, Prohibited From Bringing Mobility Device on United Flight

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Since a passenger was forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight a week ago, several more people have stepped forward with stories of how they were mistreated by the airline, including Trey Harris, a man with a disability who says the airline prohibited from bringing his mobility device on his flight.

Traveling to San Diego for his honeymoon this past March, Harris, who lives with spondylitis – a type of autoimmune spinal arthritis – uses a Segway miniPro and cane to get around. Before traveling, Harris called United Airline’s accessibility desk and the TSA’s disability services desk, both of which confirmed Harris would be able to travel with his Segway.

Harris and his Segway made it through security without any issues, but Harris said he was stopped once he got to his gate. “[T]he agent said I couldn’t carry it on, and I couldn’t gate check it because it ‘wasn’t allowed,'” Harris wrote in a post explaining what happened on Medium. “I asked if they’d seen that notation in my itinerary. They said they had, and it indeed showed my prior call.”

After the agent at the gate refused to let Harris board, Harris called the accessibility desk again, which confirmed he had permission to bring it on the flight. After some back-and-forth with the agent at the gate, the final decision as to whether or not his device could board the plane was left up to the captain.

“I’m then told that the captain has made the decision NOT to allow it, and has ‘final authority,'” Harris writes. “I ask what can I do — gate-check it? No, it’s not being allowed on the plane period, cabin or cargo. Can we book another flight while we argue our case? No — no flight will arrive in time for our ship departure.”

Harris then had to leave his Segway at the gate or risk missing his flight:

The gate agent grumbles that we could’ve done that at the start without all this trouble, and then lets us board — me hobbling on my cane down the jetway. We take off, and my honeymoon starts with me sobbing for an hour, my husband consoling me. I felt humiliated, like all the passengers blamed me for the delay. (One passenger a few rows back was grousing loudly, “entitled idiot thinks he can bring a hoverboard onto an airplane”.) I assumed the Segway — a device that’s been essential to me for much of the last year I’ve had it — is lost.

Without his Segway, Harris was forced to rent a scooter for several hundred dollars for the duration of his honeymoon cruise.

“If you’re told an accommodation will be made, that’s a promise that shouldn’t be reneged on,” Harris told The Mighty. “Folks with disabilities need accommodation, yes, but even more important than accommodation is some control over our lives, and in travel, that means we need to be able to count on the arrangements we make. As people with disabilities, we already have to do much more planning than others when we travel. The airlines have to cooperate and stick to their promises, or flying just becomes an impossible risk.”

Harris said he isn’t looking for any compensation from United but would appreciate an apology.

A United spokesperson told The Mighty:

We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience Mr. Harris experienced and are in the process of reaching out directly. FAA regulations differ depending on the type of lithium battery. Certain Segways that contain lithium ion batteries may not be permitted as carry-on items but may be checked at the ticket counter as a mobility device. We are contacting Mr. Harris to apologize for what occurred.

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How Rescue Dogs Can Help Children With Disabilities

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I volunteer with an animal rescue, and personally struggle with depression. My dog and the pups I foster are sometimes the one thing that can make me laugh. But this is not my story.

The animal rescue often sets up our events in pet stores, so people can see and interact with the animals prior to bringing them into a permanent home. These can be loud with dogs barking and busy with a lot of people looking. We adopted a puppy to a lovely set of parents with their daughter, I’m guessing around 12 years old. They said their daughter was autistic and they wanted a puppy that could go into special training to be a service animal for her.

She was kind of verbal about the dogs, with some repetition of words, and very interested in them. The parents were asking me about various puppies, but the girl was very drawn to one cage of puppies. The puppies, of course, licked her fingers as soon as they were in reach. They asked to get one out of the cage to see how she would react. I said to her, “Would you like to hold this puppy?” Her dad was right there and said he would hold the pup for her. I explained, “Daddy is going to hold the puppy for you, in case he gets wiggly.”

While they were spending some time off to the side with the pup, an older woman came up to me and said “That poor dog, tisk tisk.” I wish I had responded — at least said “that is rude” to the unkind woman, right away. But I was shocked into silence, and desperately hoped the parents and daughter did not overhear.

I wish I had said: numerous studies and personal experiences have shown that dogs have a great effect on children and people with assorted disabilities. Dogs can improve their quality of life, in part by making interactions with others less stressful. We, the rescue group, would be happy if every puppy could go to such a loving family. That family will really love that pup until it dies of old age. They will form a bond, care for the dog, and also get the dog really well trained. Every puppy and dog should get what that family will provide: a home filled with love where they are a valued family member.

Dear family: you are loving and attentive. I wish I had spoken up on your behalf at the time. I wish you the best with your training and really hope the dog is a huge benefit for your daughter. She now has a furry friend who loves her no matter what, and will always want to be with her.

Please consider if a rescue dog or puppy will fit into your family with the necessary training. A local pound may not have the resources to work with you much, but I think most good animal rescues are staffed by caring people who will be willing to help you find the right dog for your family. If you’re hoping to train the dog as a service dog, please be sure to research training options in your area first, as some programs only work with their own dogs or have waiting lists, particularly for working with children. Your local pet store might offer basic training, and can generally recommend other resources in your area. If you call or email a rescue group, please be patient as the “staff” are generally all volunteers, and they might be super busy at events. Best wishes!

I welcome messages with questions. In the NYC area, I can probably make some recommendations.

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Thinkstock photo by Jupiter Images.

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How We Can Show Society What's 'Behind the Disability'

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These days people with disabilities are finding our voices and making them heard. Whether we are designers with Down syndrome in Guatemala, teen models with cerebral palsy in Spain, or we are strutting or wheeling down the catwalk with amputated limbs, we are making our presence felt. For too long we have allowed those who haven’t walked in our shoes to control the narrative of our stories. It’s time we take control and change the tone of the story of disabilities. We constitute the largest minority group, yet other smaller minority groups have gained more prominence than us. I believe this is largely because we are seen as a cost center, a non-income generating group who keep taking the resources of our countries without yielding profits.

While some of us cannot work and thus have to use a welfare program of some sort, many of us are working and contributing to the wealth of our countries. Whether or not we are being “productive,” we need to get visibility and thus compel industries to consider our needs when designing their products, because we also have buying power. Our mark must be seen across all industries, especially those that design our equipment, prostheses, and shoes.

As a child, I hated those bulky orthopedic shoes we were all given to wear with leg braces. They were either black or brown, bulky, heavy and unfashionable. When I was given the option of wearing them with Nike trainers, I jumped at it – they came in many different colors and were much nicer from an aesthetic point of view.

What if we could use our experiences to influence the design of the orthopedic shoes being manufactured these days? Or to jazz up our rollators, crutches, wheelchairs? What if we could catch the attention of Christian Louboutin and have him design our orthopedic shoes? Yeah, it’ll be super pricey but we could aspire to one day own a pair of Louboutins just like able-bodied shoe lovers.

For many people, our disabilities don’t define us; they are just a part of who we are, like a leg or an arm. We have the same emotional, psychological and sexual makeup as everyone else. When we start controlling the narrative of our story, many more people will get to know the real us, who we are behind the images our physical and/or mental conditions project.

What if we started a social media campaign and introduced ourselves by answering these questions: Who are you? What are your likes/dislikes? What do you do? And lastly, what is your disability?

I am Farida, a software engineer from Ghana. I love reading and watching “The Blacklist” …and I have cerebral palsy. #BehindTheDisability

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The Ultimate Guide to Finding Shoes That Fit Over Braces

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After my 1-year-old son with cerebral palsy received his first pair of braces, I thought “This isn’t so bad, I can get some shoes around these.” I was wrong. Even though he started out with the smaller SMOs, it was still hard to get shoes that went around those things. He is now in AFOs, and it is even more difficult to find shoes that work. I had a very defeating day in the mall dragging my son to every single store trying to shove shoes over his braces. If you are there, this article is for you.

I have not personally tried every shoe I’m about to list. I have included every single shoe I have tried or have heard from other parents that they have tried and it worked for them. This information is difficult to come by, so I wanted to make it readily available to all parents who need it.

Nike Flyease

Nike is my favorite company ever. Nike teamed up with Lebron James to develop a shoe for a fan who has trouble tying his shoes due to cerebral palsy. You can read all about this wonderful story, The Flyease Journey. However, my child was a 1-year-old and needed a very small size; the smallest they offered in the Flyease series was for a 4-year-old. After a quick chat with their customer service, they told me they would send my request for a smaller size to their production team. Two weeks later, they had smaller sizes listed on their website. (Yes, really.) I ordered two pairs after one got chewed on by a dog.

The shoes have an awesome zipper strap that make getting the shoes on so much easier around braces. Not only are they great for people who find tying shoes difficult, but also for parents who are tired of shoving, tugging, shimmying, and shaking their kid’s shoes over their braces. It’s remarkably easy to get these things on. I even see they now offer options in Wide and Extra-Wide. I used regular width, 2 sizes larger than his foot size and they worked great.

Converse

Regular Converse All Star Low Top shoes went over my son’s new larger braces (AFOs) perfectly. We could not use the one with a velcro strap because the strap would reach across, but the strings worked out well. We picked up a pair in his size at Kohl’s, but they can be found at many department stores and even Target. Converse is owned by Nike, so that obviously gets them brownie points with me.

Converse also made a shoe called the Converse All Star Easy Slip that folds back and allows an easier entry. I haven’t tried them yet, but have heard good things about them.
Cons – the Converse website doesn’t seem to carry the Easy Slip, but it can be found on several websites including Amazon.

Stride Rite

I’ll admit Stride Rite isn’t my favorite, but many parents would sing their praises. I ended up with a pair of their shoes as the first pair we ever had with braces. My son had his smallest braces at the time. Stride Rite carries XW and XXW sizes that will fit over braces. The selection for XXW is very small and the shoes we had were XW.

Cons – they were difficult to get on and the strap constantly flipped off. I ended up trying to sew it down and extend it, but I’m not the greatest seamstress and so it wasn’t a great plan on my part. The shoe itself was hard, and if you’ve ever been kicked or had your toe stepped on by a kid with braces, you know what I mean. These shoes hurt. They worked at the time, but with all the other choices, I probably won’t be back.

Crocs

Crocs are the best. I’ve gotten the Kid’s Classic Croc and it’s perfect when you’re in a rush. Are Crocs the cutest shoe out there? Not at all. But when they’ve got Ninja Turtles or Pink Sparkles, then who cares? Like Converse, these are also easily picked up in most department stores and on Amazon. A quick tip to get them on – push the strap down past the heel of the shoe to make a clear opening, slip the shoe on, then pull the strap up behind the foot.

Cons – be careful not to get a Croc with a significant arch in the sole. Most of the shoes listed here can have their soles removed, but on the Croc it’s not possible. Arches in shoes can cause heavier in-toeing, so be careful with your selection. Get as flat as possible in all shoes.

PLAE

I have not gotten to order a pair of these yet, but they appear to be awesome. Their designs are great and their customer service can help you in choosing the best style to go with orthotics. What makes them unique is their extra long strap option that makes getting shoes over orthotics much easier, not to mention you can make those straps custom. Their shoes are also lightweight and flexible with removable insoles. They have a ton of cool designs I can’t wait to try. Finding cute shoes for AFOs are difficult, and I’ve heard some rave reviews of these.

Keeping Pace

Keeping Pace is a company dedicated to making shoes only for orthotic purposes. The shoe has an easy back entry to make getting on and off easier. Cons – I’m not loving their styles as they are very generic and bulky. Their prices are significantly higher than the other shoes listed, and you can’t order online, you have to call in. I don’t think I’ve made a “phone order” since 1997 (my mom did it). But, since they serve only our orthotic community, I felt they were worth mentioning.

Hatchbacks

Hatchbacks is another company serving only the special needs community. Their shoes are cuter than Keeping Pace and you can order online. Their shoes offer a back entry that is so helpful. Cons — Their options are limited and their prices are also a little steep.

Stonzwear Boots

You focus on getting shoes that fit… and then it snows. Boots are impossible to get over braces most of the time, so I had no idea what to do whenever it was snowing. I wanted him to be able to play outside too. And then I found out about these babies. You just pop them on right over whatever shoe he/she already has on, pull the cords and boom! You’ve got a snow boot over their braces. Do you have a shopping bag over their shoes to keep their regular shoes from getting wet? No. You are a super parent and have these cute little things on them. I personally will be getting the fire trucks for next season. Cons – You haven’t bought them yet.

Honorable Mentions

Answer 2 Shoes are specifically designed by Apis Footwear for orthotics. K-Swiss is reported to work as long as they have a flat bottom. They offer wide and XW sizes for kids, although those particular options don’t offer the cutest of styles. New Balance also offers wide and XW options, and like K-Swiss, you would need to make sure they are flat. They have more XW options than K-Swiss. Smartfit shoes by Payless have been reported as helpful. Obviously, they are on the cheap side, which is awesome, and they have several wide options. If you are in search of dress shoes for boys, this is where I would recommend you start. They have a couple for girls, but they are not the cutest.

Socks

I am not a fan of paying $13 for one pair of socks for a now 2-year-old. But I will list the places I have heard of for people who may have trouble finding socks elsewhere or need them for a specific reason. Remember to speak with your orthotist if there is ever any redness or rubbing from braces. It may not be the socks.

I have used socks from Target and Amazon for my son. When he went up to a higher brace, it was a little harder to find knee-high socks for a 2-year-old boy (they have a ton for girls and they are adorable). But all you have to do is search Amazon for “toddler boy knee high socks” and the latest collection will come up. Our local Target store carries knee high socks for toddler girls. Once he gets above 3 years old, it will be easier to find. Almost all athletic brands, such as Nike, make tall athletic (soccer) socks that go to the knee or above and they carry them in many department stores. They just don’t have soccer knee socks for 2-year-olds. Bummer.

Cascade Dafo – $5 – $13 per pair
AFOsock.com – $4.50 – $5.00 per pair
SmartKnitKids – $7.95 per pair (seamless for sensory issues)
Keeping Pace Socks – $17.98 for 2 pairs – $62.99 for 6 pairs

Follow this journey on Special Needs Rant.

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Photo via Nike.

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Why I Break the 'Taboo' of Talking About Disability

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Is it reasonable or even cool to talk about your disability in public, or should you just accept that you’re human just like everyone else in the world?

I tend to think talking about my disability should be first and foremost in my mind, and I get irritated when my disability gets put on the back burner in society. Talking about certain challenges many people haven’t experienced before or think are difficult seems to make them uncomfortable. My everyday conundrum is why is my disability shunned?

In today’s society, many people consider being politically correct very important. Popular culture today stresses that we should accept any individual, regardless of race, gender, sexual preference or disability. But I’m afraid political correctness has nearly eradicated the ability for an able-bodied individual to ask questions and learn about differences. Yet I believe this is done in part because the average person wants and tries to incorporate us into society.

Every disabled individual deserves to have the same rights as everyone else, but my
concern is this: how and when are we going to move forward if the average person doesn’t know or comprehend our struggles? I believe it’s up to us as disabled people to teach our peers about the different struggles we face in our everyday lives. We need disabled leaders in our community just as much as we need to be accepted in society. Once this happens, then people can truly start learning.

Another factor that ties into the political correctness scenario is that we disabled people face a more difficult job market and housing situation. The job market for people with disabilities is improving, but still needs a lot of work. I believe this is due in part to companies not understanding that a disabled person can meet the job requirements, or not taking the time to fully accommodate workers. Although only 17.5 percent of people with disabilities are employed, I believe this ugly statistic can be changed through job coaching, building resumes and peer support groups. But we disabled people need to be aware of the facts and talk about our challenges.

Many people say “my disability doesn’t define me.” I choose to say “How can I make my disability into ability?” I do this by advocating constantly on social media, writing articles on The Mighty and being a part of an adult support group. I have recognized that I can make a thing people some perceive as ugly into something beautiful simply by talking about it. This is why I exist. I exist to teach others about how I am different, how I have embraced my difference and how I can make it beautiful.

I believe talking about my disability has become taboo in certain situations, but that doesn’t mean I won’t try to roll past the negativity.

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