This Nonprofit Created 6 Different Small Businesses To Give Job Variety

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Extraordinary Ventures creates small businesses for people with developmental disabilities to pursue jobs they are passionate about.

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To Give People With Disabilities More Job Choices…

This Nonprofit Created 6 Different Small Businesses

Extraordinary Ventures (EV), based in Chapel Hill, NC, creates and supports businesses employed by people with disabilities.

These self-sustainable small businesses provide resource for more than 60 employees to pursue job based on their own interests.

EV oversees an event center, laundromat and candle business as well as dog walking, bus detailing and office services.

“These are guys and girls that can manage and run and participate in an effective and profitable business and they shouldn’t be ignored.” – Tom Kuell, EV Operations Director

“We’re trying to find a sustainable model to provide jobs, real jobs, that create value for the employee, pay them and create a skill set that could be transferable.” – Van Hatchell, EV Managing Director

“I like my job. It’s fun, it’s good and it helps me to experience more.” -Robert Hart, EV Gifts Employee

To learn more, visit extraordinaryventures.org.

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When My Daughter's Teacher Used the R-Word

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Nearly three quarters of the way into my daughter’s second year of kindergarten, I scheduled a meeting with her teacher to learn more about how things were going in the classroom. It was an enlightening experience, in more ways than one.

It’s understandable that as a child with multiple disabilities in an inclusive classroom setting, my daughter would be pulled out of class for a variety of necessary therapies. While just 20 minutes per week doesn’t seem like much in a two and a half hour day, multiplied by five days, subtracting all of the extra activities, there simply isn’t much time left available to teach and learn.

Although, a disappointing reality, this isn’t what shocked me.

During the course of this meeting, my daughter’s teacher scrambled to show me all the items that I had requested to see – math workbook, poetry folder, etc. She even offered to burn a CD of some sight word chants so we could practice them at home.

That’s when she said it.

In reference to the technological skills required to burn that CD, she said she was “retarded” when it came to those kinds of things.

Ummm. Pardon me?

I didn’t even take a breath before I called her out on it. Oh, no, no, no… please don’t use that word.

Without skipping a beat, she kept talking, throwing in a few sheepish “I’m sorry’s” along the way.

After the meeting ended, I couldn’t get that scene out of my head. The physical hurt from it wasn’t apparent until the following day – when I could barely turn my head due to the tightness in my neck.

What caused the pain was the realization that this is not only my daughter’s teacher, but at least 40 other kids’ teacher as well – this year alone. How can we expect someone to teach a concept they don’t fully understand? How many children who look up to this teacher may have heard her say the R-word and believe it is acceptable because she did?

It’s been seven years since Rosa’s Law was signed. The R-word has been deemed offensive and inappropriate at the federal level and at many state levels. The Spread the Word to End the Word campaign has reached hundreds of thousands of people through social media, inviting them to take the pledge to stop using the R-word. Hollywood actors, television celebrities, and other high-profile individuals have been called out publicly for their use of the R-word.

In spite of all of these efforts, one group has been overlooked. It’s the very people on the front lines, those who are helping to bring up the next generation of people to treat each other with kindness, dignity, acceptance and respect. It’s within our communities, our neighborhoods, and our schools where we need to shift the focus our efforts on raising awareness and signing pledges to abolish the use of the R-word.

I’m sharing this experience as a means to bring awareness to the ignorance that exists within the very walls in which future generations are learning how to treat each other. I sincerely hope no other parent feels the pain of hearing their child’s teacher refer to him or herself as “retarded,” and that all school districts place a higher priority on teaching children the true meaning of Respect.

Take the pledge! Sign up to support the elimination of the derogatory use of the R-word from everyday speech and promote acceptance and inclusion.

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The Harmful Myth About Special Olympics Athletes We Must Address

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Recently, former California Governor and action film icon Arnold Schwarzenegger posted a video with Special Olympians. He captioned the video with “These guys inspire me.”  As heartwarming and encouraging as this video is, an internet troll committed on the video, saying “The Olympics are for the best athletes in the entire world to compete against each other to determine who is the best. Having retards [sic] competing is doing the opposite.”

Schwarzenegger responded to this spiteful internet troll, emphasizing that, “As evil and stupid as this comment is, I’m not going to delete it, or ban you (yet), because it’s a teachable moment.”  Usually, troll comments don’t bother me.  But as a sister of a Special Olympic swimmer, this troll’s comment got under my skin.

To get some perspective, I asked my brother John, the Special Olympic swimmer, about his thoughts on this situation. He said, “I understand his mind set, trying to compare the Special Olympics to the Olympics. But this is not the best way of sharing his opinion. He sees the Special Olympics as more of a pity party than a real athletic competition.”

To me, this unfair perception of the Special Olympics is without a doubt the most annoying stereotype. Too many people think that just because someone has a physical, mental, and/or developmental disability, they are limited in all abilities.  For example, historical figure Helen Keller did require help with self-care. Yet she was able to make incredibly significant contributions to society. Even modern disabled celebrities, like musician Stevie Wonder, actress Marlee Matlin, inventor Ralph Braun, and world renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking don’t let their disabilities limit them. They work with their disabilities. Each are influential pioneers in their fields.

A few years ago when I went to see John compete in the Special Olympics, I passed by the gymnastics competitions. A girl about 10 to 12 years old with Down syndrome was on a balance beam. She did two perfect back flips. My jaw dropped in amazement. Never in a million years could I stand on a balance beam, let alone do a back flip.

John has also been surprised by the abilities of other Special Olympians. While John was going up to the official podium to get his silver medal, he saw another swimmer who won a gold medal in his competition. Unlike all of the other swimmers, this swimmer was paraplegic. John couldn’t help but go up to him and tell him that he was “So hard core!”

As in all athletics, you have to qualify, train, and compete in local games in order to make it to the regional Special Olympics. Then the top Special Olympians at the regional games can qualify for the World Special Olympics. While competing in the regional Special Olympics, athletes can also face disqualification if they perform incorrectly. This happened to John when he incorrectly performed the butterfly stroke. As disappointed as he was, he understood that he needed to practice harder.

The Special Olympics emphasizes that participants must work hard for their team and have good sportsmanship. Yet each athlete is challenged to the best of their abilities. Despite what some uninformed people like that internet troll might think about the Special Olympics, the athleticism is real and the best of the best win.

Take the pledge! Sign up to support the elimination of the derogatory use of the R-word from everyday speech and promote acceptance and inclusion.

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Why I Ask You Not to Say the R-Word

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The “R-word.” You may hear it being said as you live your life. Maybe you hear it in the mall, a restaurant, at work, school, or as you’re walking down the street. I don’t know about you, but when I hear the “R-word,” it gets my attention. It causes me to stop and think to myself, “Do they really know how much impact the word they just said has?” Do they know the “R-word” can be like a slap in the face or a punch to the stomach? Do they know just how much the “R-word” word hurts?

I wonder, do they know just how much people with disabilities are capable of, how much we can do? Do they know everyone needs a friend, even those who may have different abilities? Do they realize that individuals with disabilities can hear them? And hearing that word, it hurts. It’s painful. I know they say words shouldn’t hurt, but some do.

You may think, well, I didn’t mean it like that! Or I wasn’t referring to that… well, it doesn’t matter. Choose a different word. Yes, even using the “R-word” to describe something totally unrelated to the disability community is totally not cool or OK. Find another word. Please, I’m begging you. How about ridiculous? Maybe the shoes look ridiculous, maybe you did something ridiculous, but not the “R-word.”

The best R word in my book is respect. Respect me as I respect you. Get to know me and give me a chance as I get to know you. Have an open mind, and remember the possibilities.

I wrote this post as an individual with autism who has heard the “R-word” too many times. I wrote this blog to advocate and speak up for my friends who may not be able to do so. I ask that you take a stand. I ask that you please choose a different word.

Take the pledge! Sign up to support the elimination of the derogatory use of the R-word from everyday speech and promote acceptance and inclusion.

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How the Special Olympics World Winter Games Will Bring a 'Heartbeat for the World'

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In just a few weeks, more than 2,600 athletes will compete at the at the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games. Among them, our national team, Special Olympics USA, will send a 210-member delegation to represent the United States from March 14-25 in Graz, Ramsau, Schladming, and Styria, Austria.

Among them is my friend and fellow Special Olympics athlete Jamiah Shepard of South Holland. Jamiah will compete in snowshoeing on Special Olympics USA. Jamiah was diagnosed with an intellectual disability at an early age and does not let any of her challenges get in the way of her accomplishments, including receiving a Sportsmanship award at Thornwood High School, being a three-time state basketball champion, and competing in the pentathlon for the first time at Illinois’ 2016 Summer Games. In all, Jamiah has competed in pentathlon, track and field, basketball, snowshoe, gymnastics, cheerleading and bocce. Jamiah’s favorite part of competing in Special Olympics is “Getting a gold and having good competition against somebody.”

Local Special Olympics staff had their eyes on Jamiah at a recent state Winter Games held in Galena. A year ago, they selected Jamiah to run for Special Olympics USA at the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Austria.

Jamiah is joined by 149 other athletes from Special Olympics USA. Our national delegation includes traditional Special Olympics athletes and also Special Olympics Unified Sports teams, where people with and without intellectual disabilities train and compete together as teammates.

Biannually, athletes go beyond geographic boundaries, nationality, gender, age, culture, religion, and political philosophy to come together for the flagship event of the Special Olympics movement: the Special Olympics World Games. This event brings a much-needed message of equality, tolerance and acceptance to communities around the globe. About 15 years ago, when I began competing in Special Olympics, my mom Linda Smrokowski, 65, attended her first Special Olympics event. It was at this moment that she perfectly stated the effect of the Special Olympics movement.

“If the whole world were like Special Olympics, there would be no wars,” said my mom. “The movement brings out the best in everybody.”

According to the press release from Special Olympics USA, this is expected to be the largest Special Olympics World Winter Games in history. Athletes from 106 nations will be competing in 9 Olympic-type sports, including floor hockey, stick shooting, figure skating, speed skating, alpine skiing, snowboarding, Nordic skiing and snowshoeing.

ESPN, the global television network and digital media organization, is to produce extensive coverage for sport fans and supporters of the Special Olympics movement around the globe. This coverage is said to be the first-ever coverage for a World Winter Games event. As the official broadcaster of Special Olympics, the television coverage can be seen on ESPN’s television networks in the U.S. and streamed through WatchESPN and on the ESPN App.

While at the training camp in Vermont for Special Olympics USA, ESPN had their eyes on the amazing athletes who were preparing for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “They [ESPN] were stalking me for Vermont,” said Jamiah. ESPN reporters were interviewing a few of the athletes who will be featured as part of the comprehensive coverage in Austria. Jamiah is not sure if she will be featured on ESPN, as the sports media network will select the featured athletes once they arrive in Austria on March 12.

There are only a couple hundred Special Olympics athletes, like Jamiah, who have the opportunity to represent the United States at a Special Olympics World Winter Games. This is a unique honor to both represent our country with one’s athletic abilities and to demonstrate one’s joy to the world. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for these athletes to demonstrate their athletic abilities, competing at the highest level on the world stage, and to have life and cultural experiences that will stay with them for the rest of their lives,” said Chris Hahn, Head of Delegation for Special Olympics USA, in a press release statement. “I encourage every American to cheer on these inspiring athletes, to share in their triumphs and to take pride in knowing that they will represent our country with excellence and honor.”

Jamiah is most looking forward to competing against other people from the 106 countries. Admitting the excitement of competing at the World Games, she is also a little bit scared of this opportunity. “I’m also doing a 400 but I’m kinda scared about doing the 400 because it’s a longer event and I’m not used to doing a 400,” said Jamiah. “But I’m going to try and do it.” Jamiah added that she likes to try new things.

Americans watching the upcoming Special Olympics 2017 World Winter Games at home can be part of a terrific fan club mission. According to online literature from Special Olympics World Winter Games Austria 2017, “Mission 3000” has launched to become the great fan club mission of all time. This fan club mission gives you an opportunity to support an athlete before and during the World Games. Are you part of a class of students, youth group, music club, or simply just have a group of friends? Then you can sign up to become a “Fan Club.” Once you sign up, you will get in touch with an athlete and write letters, record video messages, send pictures and introduce the athlete to the culture and tradition of your country.

Just ahead of the 2017 World Winter Games, Coca-Cola has released a new song. The unified song, “Can You Feel It,” was written and performed by Austrian singer Rose May Alaba. Alaba is joined by musicians with intellectual disabilities. She will perform the song live at the Opening Ceremony on March 18 and at the Closing Ceremony on March 24. The song begins with the words “Love is our language, there’s no need to fight.” This is the perfect anthem for these Special Olympics 2017 World Winter Games. If every person across our globe bears witness to the extraordinary love we Special Olympics athletes bring to our world, there truly is no need to fight.

In addition, as with the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games, where SO Cheer made its first appearance, unified and traditional cheer team members will once again be making their mark on these 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games. SO Cheer will be at many of the sports venues to cheer on these incredible athletes.

The 2017 World Winter Games for Special Olympics truly brings a message of equality, tolerance, and acceptance. In light of recent news stories of inequality and intolerance, the message of this event is much needed today. As the tagline of these World Games suggests, the Special Olympics movement will bring a “heartbeat for the world.”

Join me and let’s bring a heartbeat to the world, thereby creating acceptance and inclusion in our communities for those of us with special needs.

You can listen to an interview with Jamiah Shepard and hear Special Olympics podcast coverage on Special Chronicles at SpecialChronicles.com/Austria2017.

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I'm Sick of Hearing the 'R-Word'

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“That’s retarded.” “Dude, I got retarded drunk this weekend.” “You are a legit retard.” “I failed my math test, that’s so retarded.”

People, it is 2017. As a high school student, I hear these phrases daily — sometimes hourly. Every time I hear this, my heart and stomach drop. I feel empty, confused, and sad all at once. I become internally distraught because I can’t comprehend how the speaker of those words thinks it’s OK to use that language.

People with disabilities are first and foremost people. They make a very broad and diverse minority group. All genders, ages, religions, socioeconomic levels, and ethnic backgrounds are represented in the disability community. Just as the use of other derogatory terms is inexcusable, this situation is no different. A wave of sadness takes over, and I don’t understand how someone thinks a name of a medical condition is an insult. Furthermore, it is an outdated term that isn’t even used in the medical field anymore.

I feel sorry for the people who are so insecure with themselves that they can’t treat others with basic human respect. I feel bad that they don’t see what I do; the charisma and genuine joy of life within the individuals with disabilities I have interacted with. Then comes the next stage. Anger. Livid anger.

I get enraged with the amount of ignorance one person can possess. Their use of old or inaccurate names adds to negative stereotypes and misconceptions. A disability is above all a medical diagnosis. The only place a diagnosis is even relevant is in a medical, educational, legal or service setting. Besides that, the words on someone’s medical form should have zero effect on how you perceive them. Would you describe something as “OMG that’s so cancerous” or “I’m such a tumor?” No. The same goes for people with developmental or intellectual disabilities. Those who think otherwise are disrespecting people with disabilities by stripping them of a chance to show their personality or interests. The language chosen to describe others exposes your fundamental beliefs and ideas about them.

It is one thing if you simply did not know the meaning of the word. We have all been there. I have been there. But when someone is clearly aware and should know better, I lose all respect for them. I would like them to interact with someone in the disability community. Learn a thing or two. Witness the endless determination and hard work someone may put in to accomplish a daily task. See the creativity used to communicate differently. Be exposed to that person’s own interests and become cultured on a subject they enjoy that you may know little about. Then, try to tell me how you think a diagnosis makes you superior.

This is just a friendly reminder that words are the most powerful thing. You can use them to tear someone down to their worst or bring someone up from their lowest. They can calm someone down in a life-or-death situation or just express affection. Our words and evolve from feelings to attitude to actions. You will inevitably interact with a person with a disability through your life. One day, you could even give birth to, have a relative with, or meet a parent of someone with a disability. People with intellectual disabilities are not “sick” or “suffering” from them. A disability is not inherently a problem. The “r-word” and the stigma surrounding disabilities is the problem.

Disability is a natural part of the human experience. I’m sorry if differences make you uncomfortable or insecure. You probably have a lot more in common with “that retard” than you think. But your ignorance is not an excuse to hurt the people I love. So no, I am not being “hypersensitive” or “dramatic” when I call people out for using the r-word. I expect people to be civil and respectful.

On October 5, 2010, Rosa’s Law was signed. It replaced all references to “mental retardation” and “mentally retarded” in federal documents with “an individual with an intellectual disability” or “intellectual disability.” So the next time you go to say “that’s retarded,” think about those you are hurting in the process. It’s not socially acceptable anymore, and you need to catch up with the times.

Take the pledge! Sign up to support the elimination of the derogatory use of the R-word from everyday speech and promote acceptance and inclusion.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via Sanja Grujic.

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