Itsy, the Titanium woman in Evil Speaks, is chinked in battle—even her hair.

Raj says, “I’m chinked too,” and reveals the purple dagger-shaped birthmark running down the side of her face.

Benny adds, “We’re all chinked.”

My own “real life” heroes are not superstars. They are people who overcome tremendous real life obstacles every day of their lives. I start the following list with real tales of my own, but I hope readers will join me and add to this list. Please do not use real names if stories are about minors or if you are not the person sharing his or her own story, use Sam or Sally or make up a first name of your own. The stories are solely about people dealing with physical and mental “differences” (and caregivers, friends, teachers, etc.) and geared toward fostering awareness in young readers. Many people face discrimination for various reasons, and other sites focus on that—not this site. I reserve the right to post or reject all items sent to me.

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  • “Roughly half of adolescents with autism, intellectual disability, speech impairments and learning disabilities are bullied at school . . . . That’s significantly higher than the rate of bullying faced by typically developing students, about 1 in 10 of whom are victimized by their peers.” (Disability Scoop).
  • “Most teenagers struggle with their self-image, but teens with learning disabilities are particularly vulnerable. They’re aware they have more learning difficulty than their peers, which can lead to feelings of embarrassment, failure, low-self esteem and worries about the future. While teens and parents may avoid talking about learning disabilities at all, many teens benefit from learning more about their differences.” (VeryWell).
  • “The transition from youth to adulthood is challenging for almost every young person. This is particularly true for young people with disabilities. Yet, it is in those crucial transition-age years that a young person’s future can be determined. The Guideposts for Success represent what research and practice has identified as key educational and career development interventions that make a positive difference in the lives of youth.” (NCWD)
  • October is the official National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), which raises awareness about disability employment issues and celebrates the many varied contributors of America’s workers with disabilities. The theme for 2016 is #InclusionWorks. To obtain materials and help spread the message, click on the link above.

My hope is to spread awareness throughout every school, home and workplace.


  • Sam, a “high-functioning” autistic student, taught my class that inclusion does work. Once the students learned about autism and Sam’s struggles, they began to nurture Sam, encourage him and help him socialize. This brought joy to the classroom each day. Sam’s mother said, “This is the first time in his life he’s ever had friends.” Sam had his first birthday party with those friends. This only works if students are educated about our differences, admonished for bullying, and taught how they can help another.
  • A very good friend of mine, Karl, grew up being bullied for having a cleft palate. He needed surgery and speech therapy. He made his way to Yale, and is now a college professor. You can read about his story in Cleft Heart: Chasing Normal.
  • One of my favorite professors survived a stroke. He lost the use of one arm, had to use a cane to walk and half of his face sagged, but that didn’t stop him from teaching. His enthusiasm and dedication to his students never waned. The students admired his spirit. We learned more than literature: we learned about compassion and inclusion.
  • A women who suffered brain damage after a drunk driver struck the car containing her and her parents (her parents were fine) walked with her guide dog past my classroom door, and I got to know her. Before the accident, she was a teacher, but now, she could not work due to seizures. I invited her to give a presentation to my class about her condition, and she showed the students how her guide dog helped her each day. It gave her such joy to be in a classroom again and teaching others. It took a year for her to learn to sew, and she uses this talent to make and donate dog kerchiefs to PawPals, who provided her assistance dog. This organization provides more than dogs–it provides independence and hope.
  • I mentioned this in Q&A, but it bears repeating. Sally was in my MFA program in Creative Writing at Chapman University, and she came to class each day with a huge smile and a passion for writing. She arrived to class in a motorized wheelchair that had a respirator which breathed air into her lungs. She had to speak on the exhale. She had limited use of one hand, with which she guided her wheelchair. She wrote a novel and did her homework using voice technology on her home computer, saying each word, since she could not type. She also mentored families with children, like her, born with spina bifida. Meeting Sally caused me to stop complaining about the petty issues in my life. My regret is that I never asked her to go for a cup of coffee or tried to engage with her outside of the classroom.

To celebrate 25 years of workplace inclusion, the U.S. Department of Labor posts profiles of some heroes among us. Their stories are inspiring!