‘Black, queer, disabled and brilliant’: Activist hopes to make history in space

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Eddie Ndopu wasn’t expected to live past 5 years old. Now, the 27-year-old South African hopes to be the first person with a disability to travel to space.

Eddie Ndopu describes himself as “black, queer, disabled and brilliant.”

“I embody all of the identities that position me at a disadvantage in society,” he told NBC News. “But I am turning that on its head.”

By the end of the year, the 27-year-old South African hopes to become the first person with a disability to go to space.

When Ndopu was 2 years old, he was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), an incurable condition that causes progressive muscle degeneration and weakness. His prognosis was devastating: His family was initially told he would not live beyond the age of 5.

But a tenacious Ndopu said it wasn’t long before he was able to “outstrip and outlive all expectations,” both academically and medically. He attributes this in part due to his mother, whom he said never gave up on him or stopped fighting for him.

Ndopu said when he was 7 years old and living in Namibia (he moved to neighboring South Africa when he was 10), his mom came home to find him sitting in front of the television staring despondently at a blank screen. “She held my head in her hands and begged me to tell her what was wrong,” Ndopu recalled.“Finally, I told her all I wanted was to go to school.”

Despite inclusive education laws, growing up disabled in southern Africa meant a mainstream education was never guaranteed. In fact, a 2017 United Nations report revealed that even today, 90 percent of disabled children in developing countries never see the inside of a classroom.

But Ndopu said his mom is a “fearless warrior” who knocked on “every door” until finally he was accepted to a small elementary school on the outskirts of his hometown.

Ndopu has so far outlived his prognosis by more than two decades, and last year he became the first African with a disability to graduate from Britain’s prestigious University of Oxford. The disability-rights activist, who admits he has a weakness for lipstick and fashion, said he is “a living manifestation of possibility.”

Now Ndopu, whose disease has left him unable to walk, has set himself a new “audacious” goal: to become the first person with a disability to go to space.

Backed by the United Nations, he hopes to deliver “the speech of [his] life,” championing disability rights from a space shuttle to the UN’s New York headquarters this December.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, a South African lawmaker and the executive director of UN Women, told NBC News if Ndopu attains his goal, it would be “a powerful symbol to demonstrate that people with disabilities can break barriers.”

“By reaching space,” she added, “it clearly demonstrates that determined disabled people, in an enabling environment, can excel like anyone else.”

Continue onto NBC News to read the complete article.

Best and Worst States on Jobs for People with Disabilities

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disability friendly states

By Philip Kahn-Pauli

Floridians with disabilities experience the biggest jobs gains of any state, with more than 23,000 people with disabilities entering the workforce. Of the 50 states, 29 states saw job gains for Americans with disabilities.

Vermont, under Gov. Phil Scott, becomes one of the top 10 states with the best employment rates and Rhode Island, under Gov. Gina Raimondo, jumps from 47th in the nation to 19th. New statistics recently released show that Americans with disabilities saw a slowdown in job gains compared to those of the previous year. The Disability Statistics Compendium, released by Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire, shows that the employment rate for people with disabilities has risen to 37 percent. The Compendium also shows that geography has an impact on employment outcomes for Americans with disabilities. People with disabilities in North Dakota are twice as likely to have jobs as West Virginians with disabilities.

The newly published 2018 Annual Disability Statistics Compendium compiles data collected by the Census Bureau. The Compendium is intended to equip policy-makers, self-advocates and others with clear statistics on disability in America today. Out of over 20 million working-age people with disabilities, 7.5 million have jobs. This data also shows the serious gaps that remain between disabled and non-disabled Americans. 37 percent of U.S. civilians with disabilities ages 18-64 living in the community had a job, compared to 77.2 percent for people without disabilities.

“Our nation was founded on the principle that anyone who works hard should be able to get ahead in life,” said Hon. Steve Bartlett, current Chairman of RespectAbility, who co-authored the Americans with Disabilities Act when he was in Congress. “People with disabilities deserve the opportunity to earn an income and achieve independence, just like anyone else.”

Further analysis by the nonpartisan advocacy group RespectAbility shows that 111,804 people with disabilities entered the workforce in 2017. That number is down from the previous year’s increase of over 343,000 new jobs for people with disabilities. Different factors explain the slower pace of job growth. A slowing economy is one factor, as is changing patterns of growth in different sectors of the economy. One lesson is clear to Andrew Houtenville, PhD of UNH’s Institute on Disability: “there is still a long way to go toward closing the gap between people with and without disabilities.”

“Employment rates only tell part of the story,” added Philip Kahn-Pauli, Policy and Practices Director at RespectAbility. “When you look across the intersection of disability and race, you find serious gaps in outcomes.” Only 28.6 percent of African Americans with disabilities have jobs compared to the 38.6 percent of Hispanics with disabilities and 41.2 percent of Asian Americans with disabilities who have jobs.

Some states have higher employment rates for people with disabilities than others. North Dakota leads the nation with 56.3 percent of its citizens with disabilities employed and is closely followed by South Dakota with a 51.3 percent disability employment rate. One of the biggest surprises in this year’s data is Vermont. Under Gov. Phil Scott, Vermonters with disabilities have seen a 5.7 percent increase in jobs, bumping their employment rate to 47.2 percent. For a full break down of the top 10 states, please see the table below.
 

State Ranking State Total # of Working-Age PWDs # of PWDs Employed Total Job Gains and Losses Disability Employment Rate 
1 ND 37,320 21,019 -2267 56.3
2 SD 49,546 25,419 -904 51.3
3 UT 150,964 74,754 -13 49.5
4 NE 112,418 55,391 2068 49.3
5 MN 305,082 145,697 617 47.8
6 VT 47,113 22,234 1728 47.2
7 KS 191,769 89,069 4807 46.4
8 MT 69,553 31,935 -1484 45.9
9 IA 170,186 77,746 -2670 45.7
10 WY 41,825 19,063 578 45.6

 
Of the 50 states, 29 states saw job gains among the disability community, while people with disabilities lost economic ground in 21 states. Census Bureau data shows an astounding 23,953 Floridians with disabilities gained new jobs. Illinois saw the second biggest job gains for people with disabilities with over 20,000 new jobs even as 50,000 people without disabilities left Illinois’ workforce.

Rhode Island deserves credit for seeing a major turnaround. As reported by RespectAbility, Rhode Island under Gov. Gina Raimondo ranked 47th in the nation last year with an abysmal 30 percent disability employment rate. As a result of a settlement agreement with the Department of Justice, Rhode Island began to close shelter workshops where people with disabilities had been paid subminimum wages. Through sustained efforts to promote competitive, integrated employment Rhode Islanders with disabilities are now experiencing new success. Over 7,000 people with disabilities entered the workforce in 2017, pushing Rhode Island to stand 19th in the nation. As bipartisan consensus grows around ending subminimum wages, Rhode Island shows that transformative success is possible.

Continue on to RespectAbility.org to read the complete article.

How little person Leah Smith is teaching her average-sized daughter, 2, to love her body

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Leah Smith

Disability rights activist, Leah Smith, learned a lot about her body while growing up as the only little person in a family of average-sized people. Now, as a parent to two average-sized children herself, Smith is doing her part to teach her little girl and boy about loving their bodies no matter what, and using her own experiences to do so.

“I grew up in an average-sized family and I was the only little person, so I do understand that aspect of being different,” Smith shared at the 2019 MAKERS conference on Thursday. “But I think when I first had Hazel [her daughter], I wasn’t sure how it was gonna play out. I didn’t know if well, maybe we don’t understand each other or whatever.”

She and her husband, Joe, faced challenges being first time parents after their daughter was born two and a half years ago. But raising a child who would need to understand both of her parents’ disabilities came with additional pressure — and ultimately led to Smith’s decision that Hazel needed to learn about the importance of body positivity from a very early age in order to embrace difference.

“I have this radical notion that I need to teach her how to completely love her body. And I’ve been amazed that even at 2 how many times she overhears other women talking about how they don’t like their bodies,” she shared, “‘Oh I don’t like my legs, I don’t like my whatever.’ And really trying to send a different message to her.”

That message is one that Smith had to learn the hard way, after coming face-to-face with what made her different. During her first job in retail as a 16-year-old, Smith explained that she encountered blatant discrimination for the first time, and decided that she needed to do something about it.

She and her husband, Joe, faced challenges being first time parents after their daughter was born two and a half years ago. But raising a child who would need to understand both of her parents’ disabilities came with additional pressure — and ultimately led to Smith’s decision that Hazel needed to learn about the importance of body positivity from a very early age in order to embrace difference.

“I have this radical notion that I need to teach her how to completely love her body. And I’ve been amazed that even at 2 how many times she overhears other women talking about how they don’t like their bodies,” she shared, “‘Oh I don’t like my legs, I don’t like my whatever.’ And really trying to send a different message to her.”

That message is one that Smith had to learn the hard way, after coming face-to-face with what made her different. During her first job in retail as a 16-year-old, Smith explained that she encountered blatant discrimination for the first time, and decided that she needed to do something about it.

“People just started thinking that I was in a space that they could just comment on my body openly, and it was the first time that I had ever really faced that,” she explained. “It was the moment that I realized how am I gonna deal with this, how am I gonna move forward? This is obviously a reality, and so how do I not internalize this? How do I not make sure that this doesn’t effect me and what I want to do with the world?”

For Smith, the answer seemed to be within the fashion industry and discovering the ways that she could change it herself. Until she realized that clothing is not the underlying issue.

“I didn’t really understand what I was tackling,” she said of her goal to illustrate that bodies of all types were just as beautiful as the 6-foot standard. “And so, I was determined the finish the degree but then after that I said we’ve got bigger fish to fry. We have got to create a space for us first before we can worry about our clothes.”

Now, Smith is tackling those bigger issues as an activist. But she refuses to neglect the important details, like accessible clothes.

Continue on to YahooNews to read the complete article.

Highlighting African-Americans with Disabilities in Honor of Black History Month

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black-history-month

As we celebrate Black History Month, which takes place every February, RespectAbility recognizes the contributions made and the important presence of African-Americans to the United States. It is important to note this includes more than 5.6 million African-Americans living with a disability in the U.S., 3.4 million of which are working-age African-Americans with disabilities.

Therefore, we would like to reflect on the realities and challenges that continue to shape the lives of African-Americans with disabilities.

Only 28.7 percent of working-age African-Americans with disabilities are employed in the U.S. compared to 72 percent of working-age African-Americans without disabilities. This is in line with the rest of the country, with fully one-in-five Americans having a disability and just 30 percent of those who are working-age being employed, despite polls showing that most of them want to work. This leads to approximately 40 percent of African-Americans with disabilities living in poverty compared to 22 percent of African-Americans without disabilities.

Deafblind lawyer Haben Girma advocates for inclusion in both education and Hollywood.

For many of the 1,199,743 black students (K-12) with disabilities in America today, the deck is stacked against them. Frequently “invisible disabilities” such as ADHD are not diagnosed and students do not get the supports they need to achieve. Frustrated, they can act out and become suspended. African-American students with disabilities are disproportionately impacted by suspension in schools, with more than one in four boys of color with disabilities — and nearly one in five girls of color with disabilities — receiving an out-of-school suspension.

Studies show that when students miss too many days, either for being truant or just being absent, they get so far behind in class that it can lead to them dropping out of school. As documented in Disability & Criminal Justice Reform: Keys to Success, this can lead to the school-to-prison pipeline. Today there are more than 750,000 people with disabilities behind bars in America. Many of them do not have high school diplomas, are functionally illiterate and are people of color.

Harriet Tubman did not let her epileptic seizures stop her from risking her life to free slaves through the underground railroad.

Overall, only 65 percent of students with disabilities graduate high school compared to 84 percent of students without disabilities. However, only 57 percent of black students with disabilities graduate high school compared to 74.6 percent of black students without disabilities.

Some celebrities and business leaders are using their voice to share their stories, educating people about both visible and invisible disabilities. They are defying the statistics and have remained highly successful with their disabilities. These role models make a big difference in setting high expectations for youth with disabilities. People with disabilities of all backgrounds can be amongst the highest achievers on earth. Harriet Tubman had Epilepsy, actress Halle Berry lives with diabetes, business leader and Shark Tank superstar Daymond John is dyslexic and Stevie Wonder is blind. Each of them is a positive role model for success. They are perfect candidates for RespectAbility’s #RespectTheAbility campaign, which is shining a light on individuals with disabilities who are succeeding in their chosen careers.

Continue on to Respectability.org to read the complete article.

SeaWorld’s Orlando water park now is a certified autism center

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Aquatica Orlando — SeaWorld’s water park — has put staff through training and added more resources for visitors to become an official certified autism center, the company said Tuesday.

“Guests will also be provided with specific information about attractions and experiences along with in-park accommodations to help them plan their day and make informed choices best suited to their individual needs,” the company said in a press release.

“We continually strive to create safe and meaningful experiences for all of our guests, and we are committed in our efforts to offer families inclusive activities for children with autism and other special needs,” Heaton said in a statement.

Another SeaWorld-owned property, Sesame Place, became the world’s first certified autism center theme park last April, the company said.

Employees at Aquatica Orlando underwent autism sensitivity and awareness training to help them talk with families and people with autism. They must undergo training every two years to keep the certification that’s through International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards.

Continue onto the Orlando Sentinel to read the complete article.

Turning the Tassel—Helping people with autism spectrum disorder earn a college degree and be prepared to enter a competitive workforce

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By Rebecca Hansen, Ed.D.

Meet Jeff Staley. Jeff is from Sewickley, Pennsylvania, and is currently studying computer and information technology at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia.

Before graduating from Poolesville High School, Jeff earned 15 college credits from coursework in algebra, calculus, analytical geometry, and statistics. Jeff was accepted into The West Virginia Autism Training Center’s College Program for Student’s with Autism Spectrum Disorder following his junior year of high school. For five weeks, between the months of July and August, The College Program hosts a high school summer transition program, in which students who have been accepted by Marshall University take one college class of their choice, live in the residence halls, and participate in social skill development workshops and activities led by peer mentors and mental health counselors.

For the past 10 years, students have reported that this experience helped to ease the transition from high school to college by providing them with newfound self-confidence, autonomy, and understanding of the expectations of advanced learning.

Jeff spent the summer following his junior year of high school earning an additional three college credits in general psychology. During this summer experience, Jeff learned how to balance free time, live away from home, create and maintain peer relationships, and navigate a college landscape. Many people with autism spectrum disorder find comfort and reassurance in experiencing the physical layout of a new environment in advance, guided by a trusted professional who understands how anxiety producing establishing a new routine can be. Proper planning and anticipation of a change in routine can help alleviate the stress and anxiety related to it. The College Program recommends visiting a variety of college campuses to find out the types of supports that may exist to help with academic demands, social opportunities, and residence life needs.

An impressive 94 percent of students who have received services from The College Program have graduated or are currently on track to graduate from Marshall University.

Jeff Staley
The College Program provides individualized skill building and therapeutic supports to degree seeking students with Autism Spectrum Disorder through a mentored environment while navigating a college experience at Marshall University.

The College Program is dedicated to create safe spaces for people with autism spectrum disorder throughout campus, in the community, and on the job. The College Program’s Allies Supporting Autism Spectrum Diversity movement works to educate people who wish to provide a safe and accepting environment for individuals living with autism spectrum disorder. The one-hour training provides participants with the opportunity to better understand challenges with social communication and provides practical ways in which to best communicate with someone on the autism spectrum. Many people are still afraid to talk to someone with autism because they don’t know what to say or how to best interact. Our advice? Don’t shy away. Invest time in learning more about how autism affects someone’s daily life. Oftentimes, they will thank you for it. Knowledge decreases the fear factor and leads to an environment where everyone can experience a life of quality.

People with autism, such as Jeff, can feel empowered by talking about how the disorder affects daily life. These conversations are at the crux of creating an inclusive campus culture. Neurodiversity is becoming better understood and sought after on campuses throughout the nation and beyond the graduation stage as employers are now seeking to hire people with autism. Employers are beginning to see the benefits of hiring someone with autism because they have established creative interviewing practices so that the candidate’s skill set is emphasized over their potential inability to maintain small talk.

Every June, for three weekdays, The College Program offers an employment preparedness workshop where participants have the opportunity to learn more about the job search process, cover letter and resume development, the proper use of social media, issues surrounding disclosure, self-advocacy skills, finance management, and the importance of networking. A panel of local employers from a variety of businesses and non-profit sectors participate to share the necessary skills to obtain and maintain employment. The College Program recognizes the importance of meaningful employment and the need that exists for practical information to assist students as they transition into more independent adults. What to learn more about Jeff? Check out marshall.edu/collegeprogram/employment-preparedness and watch the six-minute video about the Employment Preparedness Workshop.

To learn more about how to become an ally, participate in the employment preparedness workshop, or to apply to The College Program, please visit marshall.edu/collegeprogram or call 304-696-2332.

11 Simple, Proven Ways to Optimize Your Mental Health

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Only you truly know the unique triumphs and travails of living in your own head. If you experience ongoing depression, anxiety or other symptoms, “Seeking professional help as early as possible, rather than waiting, can be critical,” says Dr. Robert Klitzman, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University in New York City. However, you needn’t be diagnosed with a mental health condition to benefit from taking steps to improve your psychological well-being. Here are some ways you can get a mental edge. The payoff could include everything from a happier, healthier, longer life to better relationships.

Get moving.

You might not want to sit down for this. “Physical exercise is very important in preventing or reducing mental health problems,” Klitzman says, which include depression. “When we exercise, our body releases endorphins – natural opiates that improve our mood and make us feel good. Exercise can also help cognitive functioning – how well we think.”

Watch your weight.

Being sedentary, by contrast, can prove a double whammy, since we don’t get the mental jolt from exercise – and we’re more likely to pack on pounds. Putting on extra weight, research shows, can weigh down our mental health, too. Obesity and diabetes increase the risk for depression, says psychiatrist Dr. Mahendra Bhati, an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Be careful what you consume.

Your diet – whether predominantly plant-based with healthy greens, nuts and other lean proteins (good), or laden with saturated fat, processed foods and sugars (not so good) – can impact mood and anxiety levels. So, too, can other things we put in our body to get by in the moment, from tobacco and alcohol to recreational drugs. Better to avoid the feel-good momentary fixes, Klitzman says, and spare yourself the crash later.

Stay in the moment.

We all sometimes seek to avoid uncomfortable situations, either by physically removing ourselves or checking out mentally. “That’s normal … it’s just that when you do that very chronically and habitually, it could develop into significant problems with anxiety and depression,” says psychologist Brandon Gaudiano, an associate professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. Experts recommend practicing mindfulness instead to help deal with difficult circumstances and emotions. “It’s paying attention to the present moment and what your experience is,” says Gaudiano, noting that approaches vary. “Bringing awareness, acceptance, self-compassion, curiosity and just noticing non-judgmentally those internal experiences as they’re arising.”

Continue onto U.S. New & World Report for the complete article.

Easterseals serves 20,000 vets and their families in 2018

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Angela Williams of Easterseals poses in red dress for camera

In 2018, nearly 20,000 veterans and military family members received support through Easterseals through an extensive list of programs, including; advocacy and education and employment programs and job training.

Other programs include; military and veterans’ caregiver services, veteran community services and support and health and wellness programs. The organization is led by President and CEO Angela Williams, a retired United States Air Force officer, serving in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps. The iconic nonprofit kicks off its 100th anniversary celebration, furthering its mission of supporting the disabled and their families. Over the past century, Easterseals has provided a multitude of disability services to more than 1.5 million people, helping to meet individual and family needs.

Easterseals Military & Veterans Services
Our mission is to ensure that it’s possible for veterans and military families to live their lives to the fullest in every community. We work to break down barriers, engage organizations and communities, and connect veterans and military families with what they need for meaningful employment, education and overall wellness. Our grassroots outreach – through 71 local affiliates in communities nationwide– provide unmatched, accessible, and indispensable resources and support for veterans and military families.

Grassroots Solutions through Easterseals
The needs of veterans and military families are evolving, not disappearing. That’s why Easterseals specializes in identifying the needs of veterans and military families, particularly with employment, job training and support like family respite opportunities. We work to make solutions easily accessible in communities.

Learn More about Easterseals Military and Veterans Services

Discover how we’ve been successful so far in our mission.

Our work in action

  • Advocacy & Education
    Veterans and military families deserve services delivered in an appropriate, timely, and accessible manner. Our Washington, DC-based government relations team works to influence federal and state legislation affecting veterans and military families and actively engages with Congressional staff in pursuit of these goals.
  • Employment Programs and Job Training
    Our employment programs provide the necessary tools to achieve and maintain meaningful employment and a steady income. We offer skills training, job search assistance, employment preparation and guidance. For example, we partner with the Direct Employers Association, which has a membership of about 800 employers who want to hire veterans and people with disabilities. Through this partnership, Easterseals is offering a job search portal at easterseals.jobs, which features job postings from these employers.
  • Military and Veterans Caregiver Services
    We strive to ensure military caregivers can access what they need to take on the enormous responsibility of caregiving—often, while still needing to work, navigate family life and take care of themselves. We embrace and support military caregivers, particularly as they transition into this new experience, life-long trajectory and unfamiliar — yet vital role — within their families and communities.
  • Veteran Community Services & Support
    Veterans come home to their families and communities, so serving them must be a community undertaking. That’s why, across the country, we are delivering services that veterans and military families need to live productive, successful lives.
  • Health and Wellness Programs
    We aim to reach as many veterans and military families as possible to provide health resources and programs, including adult dayand medical rehabilitation services.

Additional resources

What are many veterans asking themselves these days? “What to wear?!” As military members return to civilian life and face the job search, figuring out the right suit to wear to an interview can be the biggest challenge, while the job responsibilities are a breeze. Watch the video below to see why, and help spread the message that veterans are highly skilled and valuable employees. See all three of our military themed public service videos.

In November 2015, Easterseals hosted Heroes Work Here, an event to educate corporate leaders on hiring and retaining veterans. With friends and partners, we gathered important advice about how to hire America’s best and brightest. Find tips on why and how to hire veterans here!
Watch Travis Mills explain how you can hire veterans with Easterseals’ help right now.

Veteran and Dancing with the Stars winner JR Martinez and veteran and author Travis Mills play word association with Easterseals, our veteran edition!

Pegi Young, 66, Musician Who Started a School for Disabled, Dies

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Pegi Young, a late-blossoming folk-rock musician who was a founder of a school for children with severe physical and speech impairments, like her son from her marriage to the singer-songwriter Neil Young, a performer at its many star-studded benefit concerts, died on Tuesday in Mountain View, Calif. She was 66.

Her brother Paul Morton said the cause was cancer.

By the early 1980s, Ms. Young had grown frustrated with the special education programs available for her son, Ben, who was born with cerebral palsy in 1978. She began thinking about starting a school to better address his needs and those of other children who had largely lost the ability to speak.

That inspiration led in 1987 to the Bridge School, an innovative institution in Hillsborough, Calif., that has since achieved global reach. Ms. Young founded it with the speech and language pathologist Marilyn Buzolich and Jim Forderer, who had adopted many special-needs children.

At the school, about 17 miles south of San Francisco, children from ages 3 to 12 use augmentative and alternative communication techniques, including speech generators and manual communication boards, to help them articulate their thoughts and prepare to complete their educations in their local school districts.

Vicki R. Casella, the executive director, said in a telephone interview that Ms. Young had a “determination to ensure that children like Ben have the opportunity to become active participants in their communities.”

Dr. Buzolich added that Ms. Young’s experience as the parent of a child with special needs had been critical to the school.

“Professionals often diss parental input, but the parent sees the whole child,” Dr. Buzolich said by telephone. “You can imagine the parents at the Bridge School saying to themselves, ‘She understands me, she knows what it’s like, she’s been there.’ ”

The school runs an international teacher training program; implements its curriculum in developing countries; organizes conferences; and conducts research to measure the effectiveness of its educational strategies.

“I take a tremendous amount of satisfaction with the knowledge that we’re changing lives for the better,” Ms. Young said in 2017 in an interview with AXS, a ticketing website. “It’s truly having a global impact.”

Continue onto the New York Times to read the complete article.

One woman on coping with blindness and arthritis: ‘Joy is a choice’

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Joy Ross

Although many assume that arthritis is synonymous with old age, Joy Ross, who is a speaker and has a YouTube channel with 88,000 followers, wants people to know that there’s more than one type of arthritis — and the condition can affect younger people as well.

The mother of two was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at just 3 years old. She also has uveitis, a form of eye inflammation, which left her with limited vision and, eventually, left her blind.“Many assume arthritis is an old person’s disease that affects the joints, but arthritis can also cause a loss of eyesight,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

For Ross, coping with arthritis has come with its fair share of depression, but she manages to use social media platforms like YouTube to help inspire and uplift others. And although vlogging is something she never intended to do, the response to her channel has been overwhelmingly positive.Videos on the channel offer a glimpse into Ross’s life as a blind woman living with arthritis, as she has posted videos about her family and her guide dog, Antonia, and how she navigates daily life.

“I make videos about my life and how to live through joy,” she says. “I think people are drawn to the realness of it, as I am not sugarcoating any of my experiences.” Simple day-to-day tasks can be very challenging for Ross. She shares that the fatigue from arthritis can be both debilitating and overwhelming. Choosing outfits and styling her hair are equally taxing, but she explains that clothing that is easy to put on, such as leggings, boots, and slip-on shoes, and a flat-iron brush for her hair can be lifesavers when her hands are aching.

Sadly, Ross’s two daughters, Giorgianna and Isabella, whom she shares with her husband, George, have inherited juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Ross has tried to stay strong for her family, saying that her faith and positive attitude is what makes her a walking example for her own children.

Continue on to Yahoo lifestyle news to read the complete article.

A Love Lesson Unlike Any Other

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By Santura Pegram

For most people, determining which is the greatest of Maslow’s five hierarchy of needs is debatable. However, what cannot be contested is the power of real love when you find it, embrace it, are blessed with cultivating it, and can share it.

Coincidentally, the famous words of American novelist Tom Robbins couldn’t have said it better than when he poignantly expressed how “we waste time looking for the perfect lover instead of creating the perfect love.” Sadly, far too many people expend a vast amount of their lifetime trying to do just that – “looking for,” instead of “creating,” the essence of what true love really is and whether or not they’ve ever had it (or the potential for it) right under their own nose.

For one South Florida couple, they epitomize what this often-taken-for-granted need truly means.

On the outside, just a few short years ago Kayleigh Ferguson-Walker and Ramon Ferguson-Walker appeared like any other couple in love: comical and jovial most of the time, apprehensive although dreamy-eyed at others. Yet, on the inside, since they’ve known each other they have always shared an uncommon bond of unselfish mutual support that transcends selfish trivial materialistic desires; a rare trait absent in most relationships today. And, they are two incredible people who have been – and continue to be – tested far beyond what the average human mind can imagine, let alone endure. Although Kayleigh nor Ramon want anyone to feel sorry for her, no one should ever allow themselves to think or feel life is so bad for yourself, because if Kayleigh and Ramon can rise above such a life-altering challenge, then surely you, too, can overcome adversity with prayer, time and grace.

Kaleigh Ferguson-Walker
Kayleigh Ferguson-Walker with husband Ramon (pictured right) and Santura Pegram

Kayleigh, the 32-year old wife to Ramon and mother of their beautiful young daughter, Aaliyah, has undoubtedly endured more than her share of unfortunate circumstances that most people would likely have given up hope on altogether. Amazingly, NOT Kayleigh or Ramon Ferguson-Walker. Unlike most people, this couple is learning what it means to “digest ‘no’ responses as vitamins” and use other people’s unspoken doubts about her to prove what someone with an indomitable spirit can overcome – with teammates like their Heavenly Father quarterbacking her life and Ramon leading her defensive game plan.

Tragically, in early 2017, the Ferguson-Walker’s endured a series of unimaginable events that completely changed their lives forever. Pregnant at the time, Kayleigh unexpectedly developed complications which led to not only the loss of her unborn baby due to contracting a serious infection which triggered a diagnosis of sepsis, but also the loss of both of Kayleigh’s own arms and both legs as a result. Quite a sacrifice for merely seeking to have a (second) baby. Despite all of that, through her unwavering faith in God, her inspiring love for life, her unyielding love for her husband and family, as well as her incredible love for people in general, Kayleigh has transformed into not only becoming a human testimony of what our Higher Power is capable of doing in spite of, but together, her and Ramon are also becoming the classic example for what true love and a fully-committed relationship looks like despite the most extreme conditions.

Now, a little over one year after the ordeal that would forever change their lives while simultaneously continuing to test their faith in God and each other, Kayleigh is continuing to heal and decipher God’s strange purpose for her life. What  seems to be unexplainable to most people is clear to Kayleigh and Ramon: God has His hands on them both and she has an eye-opening message that will captivate any audience despite her lingering challenges from her tragic ordeal.

Kayleigh holding her daughter Aaliyah

While recently seated next to Ramon and asked her perspective on the translation of life and love, a smiling Kayleigh gleefully conveyed, “For love, I see it as unconditional for Ramon and Aaliyah. Personally, my heart is not all mine; it is divided for the three of us so that anything I do pertains to my family. My life revolves around my family (particularly my husband and daughter) so my beliefs come from the guidance of God who directs me and helps me as a wife and mother.”

Adoringly, when asked what his thoughts were to the same question, Ramon expressed, “Our lives are meant for each other. The love that we share is not an emotion or feeling. It’s who we are in Christ, because he is love. The essence of everything comes from love. It is where we come from, who we really are, what we are made of. And, this is my wife and daughter. My family is my love and my life. They are a direct reflection of who God is in me.”

Although their spiritual strength and love for each other has helped them navigate through most storms thus far, the kind deeds of other people are just as important. Thankfully, while a previous GoFundMe campaign was created on her behalf to offset mounting costs not covered by insurance for expensive ongoing medical procedures and prosthetic limbs, a newly-launched separate initiative known as the Kayleigh Ferguson-Walker Homebuilding Fund seeks to raise contributions for the construction of an ADA-compliant, one-level, Ranch-style home that will be equipped with ‘Smart Home Technology’ enabling her to control most things by her voice.

Donations to help the ‘Kayleigh Ferguson-Walker Homebuilding Fund can be made online at: fundly.com/the-kayleigh-ferguson-walker-home-building-fund. Plans also include seeking for donations to go towards an education fund and hopeful donation of a new vehicle from any major auto manufacturer that will be modified for her to drive again and resume a life as close to normalcy as possible once she’s equipped with prosthetic limbs.

The resilient little woman with a phenomenal spirit and her uncommonly caring soulmate-best friend-lifetime partner are certain to touch countless lives over the course of time. If you haven’t heard of them before now, you will soon. They’re the humble couple who can teach people twice their age and/or other millennials alike what bulletproof love, genuine respect, and selfless commitment is all about. They’re living a love lesson unlike any other. A beautiful one indeed.