Freedom’s April Newletter

April 2015 Newsletter


  • Mary Smith talks about her experience with disaster planning and independence
  • Freedom’s Top Volunteers
  • What’s Wrong With This Picture?
  • From Where I Sit…
  • Welcome to the Family (new staff members)



April 14, 2015

Leslie Winkler repackages plastic sprayers at Job One, a sheltered workshop for adults with disabilities in Independence, Mo. Proposed regulations would set new limits on who would be eligible to work in such environments. (Tammy Ljungblad/Kansas City Star/TNS)

Leslie Winkler repackages plastic sprayers at Job One, a sheltered workshop for adults with disabilities in Independence, Mo. Proposed regulations would set new limits on who would be eligible to work in such environments. (Tammy Ljungblad/Kansas City Star/TNS)













The Obama administration is proposing new regulations that would sharply limit people with disabilities from entering employment situations where they earn less than minimum wage.

The U.S. Department of Education is unveiling a draft rule this week designed to encourage competitive employment for most people with disabilities, largely through modifications to the Vocational Rehabilitation program.

The proposal comes less than a year after the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act was signed into law mandating the changes.

With the rule, the administration is placing a heightened emphasis on competitive integrated employment. Unpaid work would no longer qualify as a potential employment outcome in Vocational Rehabilitation plans and “economic self-sufficiency” must be among the criteria considered in helping individuals with disabilities establish goals.

“Individuals with disabilities, with appropriate supports and services, are able to achieve the same kinds of competitive integrated employment as non-disabled individuals,” the rule indicates.

States and schools would be barred from establishing agreements with any entity to employ people with disabilities at less than minimum wage under the proposal.

What’s more, those with disabilities age 24 and younger would be prohibited from working for subminimum wage unless they first receive pre-employment transition services at school and are provided “meaningful opportunities” to achieve competitive integrated employment. Meanwhile, anyone who is employed for less than minimum wage must regularly receive career-counseling services.

The rule would also require the Vocational Rehabilitation program to increase the share of funding set aside for helping people with the most significant disabilities participate in supported employment and would allow such services to be provided for up to four years.

Dedicated funding must also be earmarked under the plan to provide job exploration and similar services to individuals with disabilities in the early stages of transition.

“With the addition of these early pre-employment transition services, the VR program can be characterized as providing a continuum of VR services, especially for students and youth with disabilities,” the rule states.

The proposed rule is expected to be published Thursday in the Federal Register and will be open for public comment for 60 days.



By Matt Agorist, April 13, 2015

Image Credit: Charlie Archambault/Center for Public Integrity

Image Credit: Charlie Archambault/Center for Public Integrity


Lynchburg, VA — Nothing wreaks of the police state like police officers assaulting and arresting children at school; especially an 11-year-old boy with autism.

Meet Kayleb Moon-Robinson, a 6th grader at Linkhorne Middle School, whose life has been forever changed thanks to the American police state.

Kayleb’s problems began one day as a teacher was yelling at him for misbehaving. In a fit of anger, Kaleb kicked a trashcan; not a teacher, not another student, a trashcan.

When the school police officer witnessed Kaleb’s attack on the trashcan, instead of getting detention or losing his recess break, Kaleb was arrested. He was then charged with disorderly conduct in juvenile court.

Disturbingly enough, none of the teachers or school officials saw a problem with the use of law enforcement to remedy middle school discipline problems.

Not only did they see nothing wrong with it, but school officials actually used this armed agent of the state as their personal attack dog on this 11-year-old autistic boy.

After the initial charge of disorderly conduct, life for this little boy, who says he loves science, would get worse, much worse.

Only a few weeks later, Kaleb would be accused of breaking another rule. Kaleb, who was treated differently than all of the other students, was forced to remain in the classroom until all of the other students left at the end of each period.

In November, Kaleb left the classroom as the other students left, instead of waiting. The principle then sicked his state-sponsored attack dog on this boy. The school cop approached Kaleb, who might weigh 80 pounds, as if her were a 250 pound hardened criminal.

“He grabbed me and tried to take me to the office,” Kayleb told the Center for Public Integrity. “I started pushing him away. He slammed me down, and then he handcuffed me.”

The incident was witnessed by school officials, and none of them spoke up or tried to stop it.

The Center for Public Integrity reports:

Stacey Doss, Kayleb’s mother and the daughter of a police officer herself, was outraged. Educators stood by, she said, while the cop took her son in handcuffs to juvenile court. The officer filed a second misdemeanor disorderly conduct complaint. And he also submitted another charge, a very grown-up charge for a very small boy: felony assault on a police officer. That charge was filed, Doss said the officer told her, because Kayleb “fought back.”

“I thought in my mind — Kayleb is 11,” Doss said. “He is autistic. He doesn’t fully understand how to differentiate the roles of certain people.”

However, the fact that this young boy with autism hadn’t really done anything wrong, did not stop a Lynchburg juvenile court judge from finding Kaleb guilty.

Earlier this month Kaleb was convicted of felony assault on a police officer. At 11, this young boy’s life has been permanently altered. He will now carry a felony conviction around with him for the rest of his life.

As tragic as Kaleb’s story sounds, it is sadly not an isolated one. Young autistic children often find themselves on the receiving end of police state violence while attending public school.

In January, Colton Granito, an 8-year-old boy with autism, threw a tantrum during class. Instead of following the boy’s IEP plan, police were called. Colton was handcuffed, transported to jail, and forced to sit in a cell for hours wearing a straight jacket. He was subsequently charged with assault and sentenced to probation.

The photo below is of a 10-year-old child handcuffed, laid out on the back of a police cruiser. The boy’s name is Ryan and he has autism. He misbehaved at school and was also arrested and treated like a criminal.













In September of last year, we reported on body cam footage showing a 9-year-old special needs boy handcuffed as his father pleaded with the officer to release him.

That same month, a highly disturbing video of cops manhandling a 13-year-old autistic child as he screamed for help emerged on Facebook.

And these cases contain only autistic children. If you truly want a glimpse into the horrid effects of the police state on all school children, take a scroll through our archives, at this link.

“The State represents violence in a concentrated and organized form. The individual has a soul, but as the State is a soulless machine, it can never be weaned from violence to which it owes its very existence.” -Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

Being dependent upon the state to solve one’s problems is a de facto dependency upon violence.

Until people wake up to the reality of relying on a system of violence to maintain “order,” we can expect this problem to get worse.



There is a story about four kinds of horses.

four horses









The first horse is the best horse.  He is responsible to the driver’s will without even seeing the shadow of the whip.  The second best horse will respond quickly to the sound of the driver’s voice or, as soon as he sees the shadow of the whip.  The third horse will run when he feels pain from the touch of the whip against his skin.  And the fourth horse won’t move until he feels the pain from the whip penetrate to the marrow of his bones.  When it comes to action, which type of horse are you?

Realistically, you’re probably a different horse in different situations, but most of us wish we were the first best horse, no matter what situation we are faced with.  Not only do we want to take the right action at the right time, be we want to do it mindfully, gratefully, competently and without being distracted.

So by now, you may be thinking, which horse really is the best horse?  I can tell you right away, it isn’t the first horse.  Here’s the paradox: it’s the fourth horse, the one who feels the most pain, who has the truest spirit.  The fourth horse has the biggest heart, has very little pride and arrogance, and also has the most compassion for other horses who are struggling, because struggle is the thread of that horse’s daily existence. Most of the time it takes pain to get the other three horse to move. Most of the time it seems like it takes some type of painful situation to get us to do something different, to move. (Gregg Krech. The Art of Taking Action: Lessons from Japanese Psychology)

Wishing you peace and wellbeing as you figure out how work with your life – with your circumstances, your feelings, your family members, your challenges, your dreams and your disappointments.

PS: Remember to hold the one’s you love just a little closer and tighter this week (without expectations).

Freedom Friday: Dating in a wheelchair

Dating in a wheelchair: Your problem, not mine


The advice from my doctor was to check myself into a nursing home for the rest of my life, but I wanted a career, adventure, love, and sex












Recently a friend asked me how my love life was going and I drew a blank. Love life? What love life?

It’s not just that I’m 57: I also live with a disability. In 1976, at the age of 18, I dropped out of college after three semesters and went hitchhiking alone in Europe—to find myself. Outside of Granada, Spain, a truck hit the car I was riding in while I slept in the back seat. I woke up on the side of the road, paralyzed from the chest down.

The injury was devastating, but the societal condemnation that came on top of it was worse. This was the tail end of eugenics. In the United States, we were still sterilizing people with disabilities against their will. The kindly advice from my doctor was to check myself into a nursing home for the rest of my life to avoid being a burden on my family.

No way was I going to allow myself to be shut away from life. I wanted an education, a career, adventure, love, and sex. But in the climate that prevailed at the time, people were shocked that I dared to hope for romance and physical intimacy. It was as if, somehow, my disability made me less human to them. I get it. I was born into the privileged, able-bodied class. I was taught all of societies’ biases: that people with disabilities are different, sub-human, to be avoided (which is why we segregated them). And yet, when I became one of “them,” I was, still me. And I’m still able in so very many ways: I’m a lawyer, conflict resolver, leadership development expert, writer, professional storyteller, improviser, world traveler and kick ass spades player. I have a social life, opinions, ideas and feelings just like everybody else.

My self-esteem as a woman, however, took a big hit. Intellectually, I know it shouldn’t, but the cultural messaging of revulsion and burdensomeness around disability that I was taught as a child and my inability to meet conventional definitions of womanly beauty, make me feel unattractive. Heck, some people won’t even talk to me because of the wheelchair, much less date me. Yet my passionate desire for life and love is fully operational.

Returning to college a year after the accident I was as insecure as the next girl about my body, and then some. We’re not talking cellulite or muffin top here, but withered legs, a slumping stomach and a bunch of ugly scars. (Of course, as so many women do, I see myself in the worst light possible). Then there were the nitty-gritty matters: my anxiety about how and when to tell a romantic interest that I control my bowel and bladder in a manner wholly unfamiliar to most people. Or explain that I have no sensation from the chest down so they don’t think I’m casting aspersions on their masculinity when I ask: “Is it in yet?” Still, none of that stopped me from wanting, needing and pursuing love, just like everyone else.

My one boyfriend in college, a blue eyed, dark haired hunk, raised in Hawaii with the Aloha spirit, told me all women are beautiful no matter how they look. (God love him!) With him I learned that approaching sex was easier than I thought it would be. Information emerged organically as we spent time together. He asked simple questions: “Why are you in a wheelchair? What happened? What’s that like?”

As we reached different stages of intimacy, he asked more questions. “Can you feel this? Is it okay if I move you like this? Can you roll over?” Our fun, healthy sex life came down to good communication, just as it does with every couple in a new sexual encounter. But some of his friends weren’t so enlightened, and asked him if my body was cold like a cadaver. (Seriously, a cadaver?! In fact, it was and is as nice and warm as any other living, breathing body).

I graduated from law school and got a good job (no small thing when the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is 65 percent). It was easy and fulfilling for me to fight for my rights–non-discrimination in hiring, equal pay, architectural access–but hard to fight against cultural norms of beauty. I did try. I was on many panels for doctors and medical school students about sex and the disabled. But even some medical professionals were capable of questions like: “Is this really an issue? Why would a man find you attractive?” (Ah, there is nothing like rejection in front of a crowd).

In this social environment whole years of my life passed with unrequited longing on my part. (Even able-bodied women my age will say this sounds familiar). Most men tell me I’m a nice girl, but … They’re looking for trophies; women their male friends will envy. Fortunately, there are some men, a few men, who don’t see the wheelchair at all.


Outside a jazz bar in Denver on Labor Day weekend, 1983, my friend and I met the man she would marry, who introduced me to the man I would subsequently marry. I was 28 and marriage was great. Our careers were going strong. He was a computer scientist. I was a civil rights lawyer. He was a nurturer and I was fiercely independent. Together our lives were better, easier than they were apart. He cut the lawn and did the laundry. I grocery shopped, cooked and paid the bills. We built our dream house. And people told me all the time what a saint he was for marrying me. Which was so insulting, suggesting that I brought nothing to the table. And yet, I felt lucky, as if I had been pulled off the seconds shelf.

Anne Thomas

Anne Thomas














Then, we divorced. He had a mid-life crisis and ran off with another woman—sigh: Yes, the cliché applies to the disabled and able-bodied alike. People often asked if I was disabled before we got married. When I told them I was their response was: “Oh well, he knew what he was getting himself into then.” (Honestly, people have no idea what they are saying sometimes).

Back in the dating world at 43, during the 2000s, my insecurities—the beauty and body issues—returned in force. I had been loved for a long time and I want that again, so I tried everything; the Internet, singles events, singles bars, organized singles dance parties (that last one may not have been the best choice for me, all things considered!). But my peer group hadn’t shed the negative messages about disabilities that we were all taught as children.

Everyone is just one car accident, fall down the stairs, disease, violent crime or shallow dive away from becoming a member of the club.

At 50, on a business trip to Cairo, I met someone and we really hit it off. Short with wavy hair, he had the longest lashes I had ever seen on a man, and was much younger than I. We had a crazy-fun affair for two years. The most refreshing part of it was that our relationship challenges had nothing to do with the disability. The alliance was doomed to fail for reasons of distance, religion and the age gap.

Then one night I met a man at a concert and the connection was so strong that I thought my life was about to change. It was wonderful, and scared me, and made me hyper self conscious about being disabled. The prospect of romance is really the only thing that makes me think of myself as disabled. Having a physical disability is just my life. Everything I have to do because of it is background noise.

The man invited me for a drink. The only way out of the building for me was a metal wheelchair lift. I cringed as it clanged and banged on the way down. I felt like the Goddess of Thunder (not in a good way). Side by side, we made it to the sidewalk. It was hard for me to push the chair because of the cross slope for rain run off, but I didn’t want to ask for help and appear weak or needy. We talked until two in the morning and he never asked me anything about my disability. He didn’t see it, and it felt as if I’d known him forever. And yet years of rejection stopped me from showing him how much I liked him. The night ended, and we didn’t exchange contact information.

For the last four years I’ve been dating a guy who was a caregiver in college to other students with severe disabilities. It’s a huge relief not to have to explain anything to him about my body and how it works. But he lives in another state and travels professionally. I’ve been thinking about getting back on the Internet to meet people who live within a 30 mile radius for a change, but the last time I tried that, men wrote me things like this: “I want to throw you on a bed, take your wheelchair away and do whatever I want with you.” Creepy.

I Googled disabled women and dating. The articles and blog posts I saw confirmed that younger women with disabilities who came of age in the era of online dating are still having the same problems I’ve had. It’s too hard, with a disability, to connect with a man on the distant Internet. I have found that, in my case, men need to experience me to see past it.

The source of attitudinal barriers is fear. Fear of the unknown. The able bodied fear the possibility of becoming disabled some day and being incapable of coping. Some people actually express that anxiety: “I don’t know how you do it, I would have killed myself by now.”

But all it takes to remove that fear is self-awareness and a conversation with the person who is different. Just normal conversation. It will become quickly apparent how regular the other person is, how much you have in common with him or her, how their hopes, dreams and needs mirror your own. Disability is an equal opportunity condition. Everyone is just one car accident, fall down the stairs, disease, violent crime or shallow dive away from becoming a member of the club.

Even though it’s been a long time since I had a date, I’m still putting myself out there, looking for love. I’m pretty optimistic about my chances because, as I age, my peers are starting to experience physical deficits of their own. They worry a lot about their own bodies and attractiveness and my issues are less foreign to them. They are learning for themselves that they still want and need love no matter what they look like, how old they are or how their bodies fail them. They know that skin is still skin, touch is still powerful, and that a physical union is also an emotional and spiritual bond. The desire for love only dies when we do.



For Americans with disabilities, no less than for all other citizens, the opportunity to earn a living and be self-supporting is a universally held goal. Yet in perhaps no area of public policy has the expectations gap so stubbornly resisted our efforts to achieve equality. Whatever set of statistics one chooses from among the varying estimates of employment rates for Americans with disabilities, the rate and level of employment for this population remain far too low. These employment and earnings gaps are a substantial public and policy concern. A lack of employment opportunities limits the ability of many people with disabilities to fully participate in society, as employment plays a number of important roles and functions for individuals.

There is a direct benefit to expanding employment opportunities for people with disabilities. For employers who are projected to face labor shortages as the baby-boom generation retires, non-employed people with disabilities represent a valuable tool of human resources to help fill those needs. For people with disabilities, employment has not just economic value, but important social and psychological value as well. For government, increased employment of people with disabilities helps increase tax receipts and decrease social expenditures. Finally, as recognized in the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, there are societal benefits from greater inclusiveness in mainstream society as the barriers facing people with disabilities are dismantled.

Just in case you missed this:

Microsoft announces pilot program to hire people with autism

Posted April 3, 2015 by

This theme resonates with me on two levels.

First, as a parent. I am the proud mom of Shawn, now 19, diagnosed with autism when he was four years old. Secondly, as a proud executive at Microsoft. A company that believes strongly in diversity.

At Microsoft, we believe that diversity enriches our performance, our products and services, the communities where we live and work, and the lives of our employees. We provide an inclusive environment where everyone can do their best work and have been investing in these programs for many years. In fact, this was one of the things that attracted me to Microsoft.

We have been committed to enabling people with disabilities to be successful for a long time. We also work with Supported Employment and vendor partners to hire people for roles in event services, transportation, and food services. In these roles, we see only 1 percent attrition level. Today, people can consider a wide range of opportunities in supported employment with our vendor partners at Microsoft.

This week, we announced another exciting effort, a new pilot program with Specialisterne, focused on hiring people with autism for full-time, Redmond-based Microsoft positions. It’s early days but we’re excited to get going and we know we’ll learn a lot along the way. Why are we so passionate about this space?

It’s simple, Microsoft is stronger when we expand opportunity and we have a diverse workforce that represents our customers. People with autism bring strengths that we need at Microsoft, each individual is different, some have amazing ability to retain information, think at a level of detail and depth or excel in math or code. It’s a talent pool that we want to continue to bring to Microsoft!

This represents only one of the ways we are evolving our approach to increase the diversity of Microsoft’s workforce. We believe there is a lot of untapped potential in the marketplace and we are encouraged by the strong level of readiness from the vendors who cater to this segment.

Our effort goes beyond autism. We are passionate about hiring individuals of all disabilities and we believe with them, we can create, support, and build great products and services. Our customers are diverse and we need to be as well.

At Microsoft, we encourage all employees to realize their full potential. This belief and the inspiration I get from my son is what drives me personally and why I was honored to speak.

The day my son was diagnosed I distinctly remember the final words of two doctors I overheard as my husband and I left the medical center, “I think they understand.”

I also remember how we walked to the car, pulled onto the road, drove 15 miles to our home, and entered the house. All in silence. We did not know what to say.

But we do now. What we learned over the last 15 years was to find our voice. To model what a unique advantage a young man like my son Shawn can offer. To think of where he is now, a college freshman and part-time employee, and where he has the potential to go, makes my husband and I so proud.

I am also proud of how our society and our workplace is moving forward with the commitment to help support people with autism and disabilities in general.

Candidates interested in our pilot program can email resumes to Find out more about Microsoft’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.

About the Author:  Mary Ellen Smith, Corporate Vice President, Worldwide Operations, Microsoft

Mom says special needs son at East High told to remove his varsity letter

By Craig Andres

Published: March 26, 2015, 5:16 pm; Updated: March 27, 2015, 4:07 pm

WICHITA, Kansas (KSNW) – A Wichita woman claims her special needs son was asked to remove his letter jacket at school.

The student, Michael Kelley, has Down Syndrome and autism. Kelley is not a varsity athlete but participates in extra-curricular special needs basketball.

His family bought him a varsity letter like the other kids wear, but recently, his mother says he was asked to not wear the jacket.

Michael Kelley

Michael Kelley













Turns out, the letter is an official Wichita East High School varsity letter, and East High says he is not supposed to have that letter.

KSN talked to his mother Jolinda Kelley. She says Michael, her adopted son, is one of a kind and loves to play basketball.

When he was recognized for participating, Jolinda bought a varsity letter and put that letter on the jacket.

She was shocked when she says he was asked at school to take the jacket off.

“Another parent, from what I am told, was upset that my son was wearing his letter jacket.”

The mother claims her son was asked to take that jacket off and was given a sweat shirt to wear instead.

The family says it was told only varsity teams can wear the letter according to East High’s policy.

East High Principal Ken Thiessen says, “Teachers told the parents they would prefer he not wear the letter on his jacket.”

Thiessen pointed out his special needs teachers do a lot of volunteer work, like organizing basketball games, and he appreciates their efforts.

KSN also asked Thiessen if the school would consider giving a varsity letter to special needs kids.

“We have considered it, and our decision was no. We decided that is not appropriate in our situation because it is not a varsity level competition.”

Thiessen says his building decided varsity letters would be for varsity letter winners only. KSN found out that there is no district-wide policy in Wichita.

The family turned to J. Means, USD 259’s Athletic Director. He told the family that when he was the athletic director at Northwest High their policy was to allow special needs students to earn letters, just like other athletes.

KSN reached out to school board members to ask if they would consider making a district-wide policy.

“I would definitely be willing to look at it and be sure that kids are being treated fairly,” said Lynn Rogers, USD 259 Board Member.

As for Jolinda, she says she understands each school can make the rules, but she wants to see a rule change.

“It’s not just my son. It’s every student that was out there last night. It’s every student that’s there on Fridays that plays their hardest and to the best of their capability regardless what that is.”

KSN reached out to USD 259 Superintendent John Allison. He was in meetings today.

East High will celebrate the varsity basketball team winning state this year, and the team will be recognized by the school board Monday night.

KSN will continue to follow this story and will be at the meeting to ask school board members about special needs students and varsity letters.


When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. (Henri Nouwen, Catholic Priest, Author)

Wishing you peace and wellbeing as you reach out to others with a warm, tender hand.

PS: Remember to hold the one’s you love just a little closer and tighter this week (without expectations).

 The Huffington Post, by Kimberly Yam


Autism pic










A Pennsylvania father whose son has autism is creating an app that will help people with the disorder and their families.

Topher Wurts is developing the “Autism Village” app which will allow people in the autism community to add, rate and review different restaurants, museums, parks, playgrounds and other locations based on “autism friendliness” — the level of comfort or accommodation a place is able to give a person with autism.

The 48-year-old, who was inspired to take on the project because his 13-year-old son, Kirby, has the disorder, launched a Kickstarter to fund Autism Village and told HuffPost he expects to launch it this summer.

People who have the disorder, along with their families, may run into various challenges when visiting unfamiliar places.

Some people with autism may have special diets, while others may be sensitive to different environmental factors like light or sound. Certain locations may not be safe for a child with autism who has little awareness of his surroundings. Wurts told HuffPost in his son’s case, the pair has difficulty going to places with overwhelming sensory elements.

“Kirby is very sensitive to sensory input and so loud and bright places are a problem,” the 48-year-old said. “We always look for places that aren’t going to create sensory overload.”

Wurts explained that through the app, people will be able to indicate to others whether a restaurant menu is accommodating to someone on the autism spectrum, or if a location is overstimulating and therefore unsuitable for some people with the disorder.

Ultimately he hopes that his app will make the the lives of people in the autism community easier, and open up new possibilities for them.

“Families and autistic adults — especially when away from home or when looking for new ideas — will benefit from being able to discover places that are highly rated and reviewed by other autism families. There’s lots of misinformation out there and reading reviews by other families or people who are actually in the autism community will be really helpful,” Wurts said in an email, adding, “What we’re doing will dramatically improve the day to day for autism families and, hopefully, give them more time and better tools to help their kids.”

The 48-year-old says that the app is in its final stages, with a few more adjustments to make before it’s released on iOS.

Wurts credits his son with being the driving force behind the project.

“[Kirby is] really just an inspiration,” Wurts said. “He led us into the autism community and then we realized how helpful we could be to many people by applying ourselves to using our skills from other startups and industries to helping with practical problems that autism folks deal with day to day.”

To learn more, visit the Autism Village website here, or check out their Kickstarter here.