Abby Brocato

@abby-brocato | contributor
Abby is a student at James Madison University and the lucky sister of an amazing girl with Down syndrome. When she’s not reading or playing field hockey, she can be found volunteering for Overcoming Barriers. Someday, she hopes to make the world a better place for people with disabilities.
Community Voices

Advocate like a sibling

“Advocate like a sister.” I want that on a shirt. I want it up there with “advocate like a mother”, and while we’re at it, let’s go ahead and add sometjing for the brothers and the dads. Moms do a lot, don’t get me wrong; my mom fights the school system tooth and nail to get my sister what she needs. But what about the rest of us?
#Disability #advocate

Community Voices

Connections

Every time I go out and see a young child with Down syndrome, I want so badly to go introduce myself to their parents. I want to say “hi, my sister has Down syndrome, and don’t worry - they’re just as sassy when they’re 15, extra chromosome or not.” I want to tell them how she still calls me names, tries to tackle me when I annoy her, and yells at me for eating her fries. I want to let them know that despite what all the doctors told them, their child will lead a fulfilling life with all the ups and downs associated with growing up. But most of all, I just want them to see that this diagnosis, it doesn’t hinder their child - it’s creating connections with a whole community of supporters and cheerleaders, people like me.
#ThisIsDownSyndrome

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Abby Brocato

I Won't Be Complacent About the R-Word Anymore

Walking around the fitness center at my campus’ gym, my heart twinged in my chest as I heard the opening chords of a popular song. “Rolex,” a recent hip-hop song by Ayo and Teo, has been afforded a decent amount of radio time due to its relatively clean lyrics. Despite its record as an expletive-free track, there is one prominent word in the song that I consider to be vulgar and insensitive: “retarded.” However, society doesn’t seem to hold this degrading word in the same regard I do. And so radio stations continue to play the song, R-word and all, on repeat throughout the day. I was surprised the first time I heard a song on the radio containing the R-word; how could such a controversial and obviously offensive word be played on the radio with no regard for the dignity of those with disabilities? Each time I hear it, I feel minuscule cracks in my heart form, just waiting to break. As I hear the word used in pop culture and songs, I still feel the twinge in my chest, butI’ve grown used to the dull pain. As always, as I wandered through rows of ellipticals and treadmills, I braced myself for the impending word. Yet, this time, the fissures never trembled. I didn’t hear a cycle of calming words in my head, attempting to compensate for the derogatory term that could spark rage in the pit of my stomach. I was surprised to say the least; this was the first time I’d heard the R-word taken out like the true expletive it is. If I was shocked about this, then I knew it meant I’d grown used to having a word that carried so much negative meaning present in my society. And so this time, as the derogatory adjective was covered by a robotic beep, a new word popped into my head: complacent. It’s not that I haven’t been both enraged and saddened by the use of the R-word in today’s hits, or that I don’t feel guilty that it’s used in everyday slang. It’s that I haven’t done anything about it. I hear the offensive term on the radio and don’t say anything. I’ve been upset, but I haven’t been vocal. And if I’m not vocal and adamant about what needs to change, I am being complacent. It shouldn’t be surprising that one institution recognizes the negative impact of the word – it should be a basic act of human decency, reacting to the needs and emotions of others. As Eldridge Cleaver said, “If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.” I reject the idea that I am part of the problem. I will be part of the solution. I refuse to believe that my voice cannot cause change; I refuse to believe I can’t help change society’s viewpoint on the R-word. I will not be silent. And above all, I will not be complacent. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock image by Amana Images.

Abby Brocato

Social Anxiety and the Double-Edged Sword of Social Media

For a girl with social anxiety growing up in the age of Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter, social media has always been a double-edged sword. Torn between the sites that bring me a sense of calmness and security and the addictive apps that cause me distress, going through short periods of no social media has been a common occurrence. Sitting in the library on a Monday night, the large building is noticeably empty. Tables students fight over during the day are empty, and the few dedicated people are hard at work to get into the nursing program or finish solving an organic chemistry equation. I, on the other hand, don’t need to be there. With no classes the following day, the majority of my university was at some sort of party or watching “The Bachelor.” I didn’t have any assignments due the next day, or a test I desperately needed to study for. However, I did have invitations. Invitations to go to a party, invitations to watch “The Bachelor,” invitations to do anything besides spending the night surrounded by books. My social anxiety prevented me from accepting any of these offers, and I was content with my decision. Yet when I opened Snapchat and Instagram, I was bombarded with pictures of my friends laughing, having fun, and criticizing Nick’s latest decision on “The Bachelor.” My anxiety returned, yet this time in a totally different way. Am I missing out? Should I have said yes anyways? Do people think I’m lame for not posting anything? Millions of self-deprecating thoughts ran through my mind, and the myriad Snapchat stories continuously posted fueled my anxiety. This is just one example of the many times my social anxiety has prevented me from opportunities, and social media has been there to dig the knife in deeper. Though the internet has driven my anxiety further, it has also helped to expose new outlets and communities. Through The Mighty, I’ve been able to find others who struggle with the same issues as I do and read about their own experiences. It has allowed me to accept how my brain functions and realize it’s not something to be scared or ashamed of; I’m only as “different” as I perceive myself to be. The articles and stories I’ve read about the struggles of anxiety have helped me recognize that my condition is real, rational, and can be improved. Social media has allowed me to share my stories with others and to find a home with those whose have similar experiences. The double-edged sword of social media has hurt me and helped me, yet I can’t imagine living a life without the community I’ve found within The Mighty. Without social media and The Mighty, I don’t know where I would be in my battle with anxiety. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock photo by Yakobchuk Olena

Abby Brocato

Why a Disability Access Pass at Disney World Isn't Unfair

Ask any child where they’d most like to go, and almost all would respond with a resounding “Disney World!” My family is no exception, and all five of us radiated excitement on our way to the Happiest Place on Earth. The most enthusiastic of our group was undoubtedly Jessie, my 13-year-old sister who has Down syndrome. At Disney World, it is fairly easy for us to obtain a Disability Access Service Card. The individual with the disability must simply go to guest services and set it up. Once obtained, the person with the disability and their family can use it to get through lines much quicker than the average wait time. Despite the straightforward process, my family often questions the necessity of our pass. “Do we need it?” we ask silently, worry creasing our brows. “Do we ‘deserve’ it?” we question in our heads, second-guessing ourselves. My sister can walk, talk, and sass her way into anyone’s hearts. The irony is her abilities stir guilty feelings in my heart as we walk by the winding lines, getting on famous rides in fewer than 10 minutes. I see the mother struggling to keep four kids in line, knowing she has two hours until the ride. I take my sister’s hand and lead her through the line. “Don’t judge us!” my heart screams, seeing people’s faces as we hurry by. “We have a reason to cut in line!” Jessie cannot stand in a line for two hours; she loves Elsa and Big Thunder Mountain but is not capable of waiting in the boiling heat. Every time we move ahead in line, I have to remind myself she needs this pass. She has a need, and Disney is simply meeting that. Fear of judgment can cast a cloud over even the happiest moments, and allowing it into my heart did not do me any favors. Don’t apologize for getting your or a loved one’s needs met. Don’t feel guilty that a wonderful place has a system for allowing people with disabilities to better enjoy their experience. Let go of the fear of judgment from people who don’t understand your needs, and appreciate that visitors with disabilities can experience Disney World in a less-stressful way. It isn’t “special” treatment; it is a different way to get an equal chance at having a magical time. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here .

Abby Brocato

The Moment I Saw How Others See My Sister With Down Syndrome

Being the oldest of three siblings, I naturally keep tallies — making sure my brother doesn’t eat the last Pop-Tart or that my sister doesn’t take all of my popcorn. Despite my attempts for food fairness in the house, other people have never seemed to see it the same way. Likely because my 12-year-old sister Jessie has Down syndrome. Jessie knows everyone in our neighborhood and introduces us to random people wherever we go, prompting us to name her “the mayor” for her superior social life. But I’ve never seen it as anything special or extraordinary; it’s just Jessie being Jessie and other people reacting positively. Yet I wondered — why don’t people compliment me on my new dress or how I did at a swim meet? Why doesn’t the waitress at our favorite restaurant remember my name and my usual order? Because let me tell you, Jessie gets complimented. Jessie’s favorite meal of spaghetti with no sauce is remembered. This has always been the “Down-side” — the not-so-fun part of having a sibling with special needs. But today was the day that I truly got it — the day I saw what made other people smile. As we walked along the boardwalk at the beach, we headed into our favorite sports store where we get our Baltimore Orioles fan gear. Jessie’s an all-around excited person, so going into a store with her favorite team’s paraphernalia was even more exciting for her. She perused, attempting to convince us to buy her shirts that were too small and hats that were too large. We finally made it to checkout with both a shirt and a hat (in the right size). She was happy to have gotten a shirt that matched mine and a hat that matched our brother’s. The sales clerk noticed and was all smiles as we approached. She made small talk with us, asking Jessie questions about how much she loved the Orioles. After we paid, the woman took out a sparkly Orioles bracelet my mom and I had been admiring. “Hold out your arm,” she told Jessie and then fixed the clasp around her small wrist. Jessie’s face lit up like a Christmas tree as she exclaimed, “Oh my gosh!” The clerk beamed at her. While my mom thanked her a thousand times, the woman insisted it was no problem; she wanted Jessie to have it. And that is when I understood why other people treat Jessie the way they do. Instead of seeing the “needs,” they see the “special.” And I couldn’t be happier about that.