+
upworthy
More

“Am I disabled?” For millions, there’s not always a clear answer

At some point in my childhood, my hands began to shake.

Not badly at first—I couldn’t draw a straight line, but I didn’t mind much since I’d never had any inclination towards art. As I entered my teenage years, though, the tremors got worse and started spreading out of my hands.

Although I tried to control the spasms in my face with ever-increasing doses of beta-blockers and anti-epileptics, by middle school I’d acquired the nickname “Twitchy.” In high school, my handwriting had gotten so atrocious it’d become a running joke among the teachers. And by the time I reached college, I finally admitted to myself that my neurological condition made a few things in life definitively harder.


Yet the first time a classmate recommended, after watching me take notes by hand, that I ask for an accommodation to help with written exams, I balked.

I told him I felt like anything they could offer would be unfair because I could use extra time to think over questions longer than other students. Besides, I type faster than average. My tremors, which this friend pointed out are explicitly covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (or ADA), are kinetic. That means that most of the time, they’re mild, especially when I’m at rest, though they spike drastically under certain conditions. But I knew in the back of my head that the real reason I didn’t want an accommodation was because it’d mean officially claiming a disability.

It wasn’t that I was ashamed of the classification. Instead, I felt like calling my tremors a “disability” would cheapen the word.

I’d grown up around adults with tremors who made no bones about them, and around people with far more obvious disabilities—like my hemiplegic mother. To me, a disability was something that interfered with pretty much every aspect of your life.

I felt like calling my tremors a ‘disability’ would cheapen the word.

I’m not alone in this. In forums and blogs, and among my friends with brain damage, serious mental illness, or other less-apparent issues, plenty of people want to know whether it’s accurate, acceptable, or functionally vital to call themselves disabled. But there just aren’t that many guidelines out there.

Yet after sustaining a serious of minor injuries with lasting effects on my chest and shoulder in recent years, making it incrementally harder to do select tasks, I've found my self questioning my status more and more.

So after scalding myself with hot tea and feeling something go pop in my ribcage while working out for the umpteenth, I decided it was time to try to resolve this debate within myself once and for all by reaching out to as many experts on disability identity and politics as I could.

"The first thing to know is that there's a difference between disability and impairment," says Professor Lex Frieden, a wheelchair-bound spinal cord injury victim and architect of the ADA.

“Impairment relates specifically to the kind of condition that somebody might have,” explains Frieden. “It’s kind of a general description” of whatever affects you physically or mentally.

Disability, on the other hand, is harder to define. There are legal definitions, the best known of which is the ADA’s, which counts any physical or mental impairment that limits at least one major life activity as a disability. But other regulations differ—under the Social Security Disability Insurance program, you need to be limited to the point of being unable to work. Different states have different barriers and metrics when it comes to measuring disability for parking permits or accommodations. And what counts as a “reasonable accommodation” by an employer is surprisingly hazy, which makes it a challenge to effectively argue an ADA discrimination case.

Frieden says that disabilities really come down to context and interpretation. “If you have a vision problem, for example, that doesn’t prevent you from driving, then you don’t have a disability when you’re driving,” he says. “But if that vision problem prevents you from being a professional target shooter, then you do have a disability” if that’s your dream vocation.

This conditional view of disability is a fine way of thinking about it as a legal or physical state. It helps us to determine who is eligible for which benefits. But a conditional view of disability doesn’t do much for someone who’s just trying to figure out whether it’s okay to think of him or herself as disabled.

For example, says Carrie Sandahl, the head of the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Program on Disability Art, Culture, and Humanities, if someone has a disfigured hand that doesn’t actually limit his or her functional abilities, someone else can still see the difference and treat that person differently. The ADA has a provision protecting people who experience disability discrimination when they might not actually have a disability, so that individual might be entitled to some form of "disability" benefit or consideration. But even if the individual claims that benefit, he or she might still not think it's okay to identify as disabled if he or she is only perceived as such, but not physically prevented from doing anything.

The fuzziness of who’s roped into disability as a concept or identity, versus who’s entitled to a benefit, can cause serious issues—especially when people with disabilities police each other over discrepancies between one’s apparent identity and claimed community or benefits.

“You witness people with some impairments who are able to have more access to things than people with other kinds of impairments,” says Sandahl of her own experience. “You can call it a disability hierarchy… We’re able to come up with a bunch of ways to differentiate amongst us.”

Cheryl Green, an artist working with brain injury victims whose own brain injury is not readily apparent to many, describes a double whammy experience of what’s seen by some as a “lesser” disability: Non-disabled people discredit or disbelieve the impairment’s impact, going so far as to deny accommodations, as do more obviously disabled people, who decide not to welcome someone like Green into the impaired community.

“[This] might help people get things that they need and keep other people from getting things that they don’t really need,” says Green, who argues that even though she’s able to pass as fully abled in certain contexts, that shouldn’t affect her commitment to or identification with disabled communities. “It also makes everybody into a vigilante instead of focusing [on] what the actual problem is—the idea that we don’t need to make the world as accessible as possible.”

To someone like me who’s dead terrified of overstepping and getting rebuked for claiming something beyond my need or (in)ability, this isn’t a reassuring status quo.

Many of those who'd be considered by most to be disabled, at least from the outside, choose to shirk the label—even if they might be able to benefit from it.

That’s not always because internally they decided their impairments didn’t affect them enough to warrant the identity; often it has to do with judgments from the outside world.

That said, Frieden believes that if Franklin Roosevelt were politicking today, he might not feel the need to hide his disability for fear of losing standing with world leaders or the electorate. “I think we’ve probably made a lot of progress in our culture by having people who don’t have disabilities willing to claim they do in order to get some modest benefit”—as with those feigning some type of impairment to get better a parking spot.

But both Frieden and Green think we’ve got a long way to go before we reach full acceptance, especially for people whose disabilities are invisible. As Green puts it: “Wheelchair is cool. Blind is cool. Deaf is cool because you get those cool interpreters at concerts who are fun to watch. The little things that people can latch onto that they kind of like. But cognitive and intellectual disabilities—that is a group that is really, really kind of hated by society.”

Self-righteous able-bodied people have taken to policing what they see as fraudulent claims to disabled status. These folks, points out Frieden, are often making a slew of wrong assumptions about those with truly debilitating heart conditions or respiratory problems. Occasionally, adds Sandahl, individuals with less outwardly conspicuous disabilities might feel as if they need to use a symbol of their impairment, like a cane. But if that a cane-user’s balance issues are only intermittent, as soon as someone catches that individual walking cane-free, they’re sure to face an undue amount of scorn.

“That’s the reason why I think a lot of people with non-apparent disabilities have a hard time coming out,” she says, “because it’s difficult to signal to people, and then people are suspicious.”

Admitting we need support can feel like an admission of deep personal failure.

It’s all summed up, says Sandahl, in that regrettable pejorative idiom, “Use it as a crutch,” which has turned a vital mobility tool into something unnecessary to be transcended.  

“The medical model tells us that we should all be striving for normalcy,” says Sandhal. “That if we’re not [normal], we need to be corrected. We need to be rehabbed. We need special education. We need radiation. We should put our energy into approximating normal. Not only is it something we should strive for, but it’s our personal responsibility. So if we don’t try to ameliorate our conditions, then it’s [our] fault that [we] are impaired—that [we] haven’t tried hard enough… It’s just a perverse cultural construct.”

For Sandahl, who has mobility issues, this internal stigma forced her, against her best knowledge and logic, to avoid using a walking aid for a long time—until she blew out a hip. Then she opted to use a cane, only to develop scoliosis from relying too much on it. This led her to crutches, but she could only support her weight on her arms for so long, limiting her mobility. So eventually she decided to start using a wheelchair, which she admits made her feel like a lesser human.

“People will hurt themselves by not using an aid before they need it,” says Sandahl. I know from the pain in my joints and chest and twinge in my hands that I’ve done just that for years. And the twisted part is that, even as I write this, I worry that becoming disabled in my own mind will still feel wrong. As if I’d be an interloper, a fraud, rather than someone with a real need.

I've come to believe that if you know in your aching bones that you need an accommodation or a community to identify with, then you ought to claim your disability.

The problem becomes knowing the difference between what we need and what we want. I’m not entirely sure that I need people to help me carry a hot beverage every now and then, or if I just want one damn thing to go a little easier next time. (It sure would be nice to avoid tremor-splashing coffee on my next first date, though.)

I worry about making the wrong call. If I claim more for myself than I should, I’ll be one more person contributing to a diminished perception of others with more severe impairments. If I claim less than I should, my complacency might lead to more vigilantism against people with less evident but still impactful conditions. I also still worry about the way others will judge me for either identifying as disabled, or claiming an unnecessary benefit—or both. This continuing murkiness will probably drive me to claim a disability benefit on occasion and only situationally refer to myself as “minorly” disabled.

But that's just my personal calculation. If, like me, you’ve found yourself asking whether something's bad enough to merit help, or just to call yourself disabled, I hope you’ll give yourself permission to answer that question honestly.

This article originally appeared on GOOD.

Education

Someone criticized a middle school teacher's behavior. Her comeback was an A+.

When a person commented, "your a teacher act like it," Amy Allen hilariously took the advice to heart.

A rude commenter got a lesson from Ms. Allen.

Being a teacher isn't easy. Teaching middle school students is especially not easy. Teaching middle school students who spent several of their formative years going through a global pandemic in the age of smartphones, social media and a youth mental health crisis is downright heroic.

If you haven't spent time in a middle school classroom, you may not fully grasp the intensity of it on every level, from the awkwardness to the body odor to the delightful hilarity that tweens bring to the table. When you connect with your students, it can be incredibly rewarding, and when you don't…well, we all read "Lord of the Flies," right?

Skilled teachers bring out the best in young people, and that can be done in many different ways. For Amy Allen, it's by making her middle school classroom a fun, welcoming place to learn and by bonding with her students.


"I love teaching middle schoolers because they are awkward, and I’m awkward, so we get along," Allen tells Upworthy.

She plays games with students, gets rambunctious with them and creates opportunities for them to expend some of that intense pre-and-early-teen energy in healthy ways. For instance, she shared a video of a game of "grudgeball," an active trivia game that makes reviewing for a quiz or test fun and competitive, and you can see how high-energy her classroom is:

@_queenoftheclassroom

If this looks like fun to you, pick up my grudgeball template (🔗 in bio) #qotc #grudgeball #10outof10recommend @Amy Allen ☀️ @Amy Allen ☀️ @Amy Allen ☀️

"I think for teachers, we always want to create moments for our students that are beyond the standard reading, writing, memorizing, quiz, 'traditional learning,'" Allen says. "Games are a great way to incorporate fun in the classroom."

Allen clearly enjoyed the game as much as her students—"I love the chaos!" she says— and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Fun keeps teachers sane, too. But one person took issue with her classroom behavior and commented, "your a teacher act like it." (Not my typo—that's exactly what the person wrote, only with no period.)

Allen addressed the comment in another video in the most perfect way possible—by acting exactly like a teacher.

Watch:

@_queenoftheclassroom

Replying to @كل الكلبات تريد مني Come see me if you have any further questions. #qotc #iteachmiddleschool #weDEFINITELYdonthavefuninhere @Amy Allen ☀️ @Amy Allen ☀️ @Amy Allen ☀️ #Inverted

There are two solid ways to handle a rude comment without making things worse—you can ignore it or you can craft a response that makes the person look like a fool without being cruel or rude yourself. Allen's grammar lesson response was A+ work, right down to the "Come see me if you have any further questions" caption.

In fact, the person apparently went back and deleted their comment after the comeback video went viral, which makes it all the more hilarious. The video currently has more than 4 million views on TikTok and over 18 million views on YouTube.

"What’s funny is I left my correction on the board accidentally, and the next day, students asked me what that was all about," Allen says. "When I explained it, they thought it was cool because 'why would anyone go after Ms. Allen'? At that point, the video had maybe 10,000 views. I never imagined the video would go viral."

Two days later, as the video was creeping toward a million views, she upped the stakes. "Some of my students are my ultimate hype people, and they were tracking it harder than I was," she says. "I made a 'deal' with my fifth period if it reached 1 million during their class, they could sit wherever they wanted the entire week. During lunch, I checked, and it reached 1 million. So when they came back from recess, I announced it, and it was like I was a rockstar. They screamed and cheered for me. It was an incredible moment for me."

The irony, of course, is that Allen was acting like a teacher in her grudgeball video—an engaged teacher with engaged students who are actively participating in the learning process. Just because it doesn't look like serious study doesn't mean it's not learning, and for some kids, this kind of activity might be far more effective at helping them remember things they've learned (in this case, vocabulary words) than less energetic ways of reviewing.

Allen has her thumb on the pulse of her students and goes out of her way to meet them where they are. Last year, for instance, she created a "mental health day" for her students. "I could tell they were getting burnt out from all the state tests, regular homework, and personal life extracurricular activities that many of my students participate in," she says. "We went to my school library for 'fireside reading,' solved a murder mystery, built blanket forts, watched the World Cup, colored, and completed sudokus. Is it part of the curriculum? No. Is it worth spending one class period doing something mentally rewarding for students? Absolutely."

Teaching middle school requires a lot of different skills, but perhaps the most important one is to connect with students, partly because it's far easier to teach someone actually wants to be in your classroom and partly because effective teaching is about so much more than just academics. A teacher might be the most caring, stable, trustworthy adult in some students' lives. What looks like silly fun and games in a classroom can actually help students feel safe and welcomed and valued, knowing that a teacher cares enough to try to make learning as enjoyable as possible. Plus, shared laughter in a classroom helps build a community of engaged learners, which is exactly what a classroom should be.

Keep up the awesome work, Ms. Allen, both in the classroom and in the comment section.

You can follow Amy Allen on TikTok and YouTube.

Democracy

What to know about the 1864 abortion ban Arizona's Supreme Court says is 'now enforceable'

The legal code it comes from also outlaws interracial marriage and forbids minorities from testifying against white people in court.

Peter Zillmann (HPZ)/Wikimedia Commons, Brandon Friedman/Twitter

Arizona's borders may soon be even more consequential.

When the 2022 Dobbs decision overturned the federal protection of medical privacy in reproductive decisions, leaving abortion law up to the states, experts warned of the legal and medical consequences to come: People in states with old laws on the books would find themselves facing abortion restrictions the likes of which had not been seen in over 50 years since Roe vs. Wade became "settled as a precedent of the Supreme Court," and medical providers would face legal conundrums that threatened patient care.

Nearly two years later, we've seen the fallout on multiple fronts, from women suing states for denying them medically necessary care to children who have been raped and impregnated being forced to travel across state lines to get an abortion.

And the latest development has Arizona set to enact a near-total abortion ban based on a 1864 legal code, after the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that the law "it is now enforceable."

Here's what to know about the 160-year-old law:


There is only one abortion exception allowed for in the law—to save the life of the mother. As medical providers have made clear, that kind of exception is a murky gray area that leads to impossible questions like "How imminent does a mother's death need to be?" for a doctor to take action without fearing legal repercussions.

Civil War-era historian Heather Cox Richardson shared some of the details about how the law came about and the context in which it was written on Facebook, and the historical facts paint a picture of how utterly absurd it is for the law to go into effect in 2024.

"In 1864, Arizona was not a state, women and minorities could not vote, and doctors were still sewing up wounds with horsehair and storing their unwashed medical instruments in velvet-lined cases," wrote Richardson. She pointed out that the U.S. was in the midst of the Civil War, and that the law didn't actually have much to do with women and reproductive care.

"The laws for Arizona Territory, chaotic and still at war in 1864, appear to reflect the need to rein in a lawless population of men," she explained, sharing that the word "miscarriage" was used in the criminal code to describe various forms of harm against another person, specifying dueling with, maiming and poisoning other people.

Richardson offered that detail as the context in which the law states that "a person who provides, supplies or administers to a pregnant woman, or procures such woman to take any medicine, drugs or substance, or uses or employs any instrument or other means whatever, with intent thereby to procure the miscarriage of such woman, unless it is necessary to save her life, shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for not less than two years nor more than five years."

How did the law even come about? At that time, the newly formed Arizona Territorial Legislature was composed of 27 men. The first thing they did was authorize the governor to appoint a commissioner to draft a code of laws, but a judge named William T. Howell had already written one up. After some discussion, the legislators enacted Howell's laws, known as "The Howell Code."

The code included laws like, "No black or mulatto, or Indian, Mongolian, or Asiatic, shall be permitted to give evidence in favor of or against any white person," as well as "All marriages of white persons with negroes or mulattoes are declared to be illegal and void."

Richardson also pointed out that the code set the age of consent for sexual intercourse at 10-years-old.

Essentially, a law written by one man, 48 years before Arizona was officially a state, over half a century before women were allowed to vote, when it was perfectly legal to enact and enforce racist laws and see 10-year-olds as old enough to consent to sex, is now considered "enforceable" by the Arizona Supreme Court.

As Richardson pointed out, the difference now is that women can vote. And Americans have proven time and again that draconian abortion laws are wildly unpopular across the political spectrum. Even some Republican lawmakers and politicians are flip-flopping on previous praise for the 1864 law, saying that the Arizona legislature needs to do something about the law to prevent it from taking effect.

Joy

Watch a timid shelter dog named 'Venom' transform with some tender care and a new name

Rocky Kanaka knew "Venom" wasn't a fitting name for this sweet girl, and he sat with her to earn her trust.

Venom was unsure at first but warmed up after a while.

Dogs are a man's best friend, as the saying goes, but that's only true when humans treat them as they should be treated. When someone neglects, abuses or otherwise mistreats a dog, their sense of trust in human companionship gets disrupted and doesn't come as naturally as it should.

It's common to see issue with dogs who end up in shelters. They might be timid, suspicious or fearful, and living in a kennel in a shelter away from everything familiar doesn't help. Even if a shelter is better than the unhealthy situation they came from, it's certainly not ideal, which is one reason Rocky Kanaka goes to visit and sit with shelter dogs. If he can help a dog feel safe and convince it to to trust him, he kick-starts the process of repairing the dog-human bond.


One dog Kanaka sat with was a 3-year-old black Shepherd mix named "Venom." She was curled up in the corner of her kennel and wasn't too keen on having him coming into her space. She wasn't aggressive, but guarded. Her self-protective instincts seemed on, so Kanaka took it very slow.

He began by turning his back to her and squatting down, not interacting with her other than to speak soothingly, just to let her get used to his presence. He brought some treats, which he shared with her before sitting down. She kept looking at him with a mix of curiosity and trepidation, and Kanaka respected her space.

He found out she had been at the shelter for 10 days, which Kanaka said was bad because if a dog is still in this kind of nervous state after 10 days in the shelter, it's harder for them to get adopted. Soon, he got her to take treats from his hand, which enabled him to move a little closer to her—the goal being to eventually get her to approach him.

Then Kanaka got her story, including that her name was Venom and this was her second time in the shelter. The first time, her owners were on vacation, The second time a good samaritan brought her in, and the shelter couldn't get a hold of the owners. When they were finally reached, the owners said that she had not been behaving well with their smaller dog and they didn't want her anymore.

Kanaka didn't cast judgment on the owners for giving her up, but he was totally taken aback by her given name.

"Come on. Venom? She is anything but that. It should be like, Honeysuckle, you know? Or something sweet. Something sweet like Honey. I think that's her name, Honey."

Watch how this sweet puppers slowly warms up to Kanaka and begins to trust him:

Watching her eventually melt into a state of relaxation as Kanaka scratched her head was so rewarding. You can tell that she's a good girl who's been through some rough times, and she'd be an incredible dog for someone who took good care of her.

"Her eyes and brows are so expressive. You can read the concern in her face," wrote one commenter.

"That poor baby is heart broken. She knows she was left and lost family. I feel you baby," wrote another.

"What a sweet little fluff," shared another. "How could anyone just abandon her and not think she's worth the fee will baffle me for all of time. And to call her 'Venom' is not only an insult to her, but an insight into the life she could have previously had and how her last 'owners thought of her. Can't wait for her to find her forever home and finally get all the love she deserves."

Thankfully, according to an update on Kanaka's website, Honey was adopted on March 8, 2024. So hopefully, she did find a forever home with people who will appreciate and nurture her naturally sweet disposition and give her the life she should have.

You can follow Rocky Kanaka for more "Sitting with Dogs" videos on YouTube and on his website rockykanaka.com.

A tourist visiting Italy. (Representative image)

Americans pride themselves on living in the “best country in the world.” However, the American way of life isn’t for everyone and some prefer the more laid-back approach to life that people enjoy in Europe.

Four years ago, a writer named Roze left her tiny apartment in Los Angeles, booked a one-way flight to Turn, Italy and never looked back. Now, she documents her new life in Europe on TikTok to inspire others to pursue their dreams.

Recently, she posted a video in which she counts down 5 things that she’ll never do now that she lives in Italy. These are examples of the relief some Americans feel when they move to Europe and settle into their new, stress-free lifestyle.


1. Rush

"One of the first things that attracted me to Italian culture is the fact that people don't seem to be in a rush. There are no drive-thrus. People don't walk and eat. If you need a coffee, you sit down and drink a cup of coffee. There's always time for that."

2. Own a car

"I don't plan on ever living in a place where you need a car to get around. I don’t like the expense of a car and it’s just bad for the environment.”

3. Live for work

“I’ll never obsess about work as much as I used to do in the U.S. Now, I'm not saying that people don't work here. People work very hard, but there's not as many people who make working hard their whole personality."

@rozeinitaly

A few ways my perspective has changed since moving abroad, maybe some other American immigrants can relate? #fivethingschallenge #5thingsiwouldneverdo #5thingschallenge #americanimmigrant #movingabroadtips #expatsinitaly #italylifestyle #lifeinitaly🇮🇹

4. Trust the internet for business hours

"If you look it up on Google Maps, it says that it's open from 10 am to, I think, 7 or 7:30 pm. Does that mean I can go there at like 2:30 3 o'clock? No. What is not listed on there is that they are closed from 1 to 4 for lunch."

5. Worry about medical bills

“I just don’t plan on living anywhere where there is not some kind of universal healthcare.”

A group of travelers waits patiently to check their bags.

Maybe you’re one of those elite travelers who’s mastered packing for an entire trip using only carry-on luggage. If so, you’re likely haughty and won’t stop crowing about the convenience of hopping off the plane and jetting to your destination.

We know: The airlines lost your bag in 1986 and you vowed never again. So, now you roll three garments, one pair of shoes, a tiny bottle of 5-in-one body wash, and a Kindle into your backpack, and you're good to go.

For the rest of us mere traveling mortals, especially those with kids, checking bags is a necessary evil—a necessary and costly one.

If it seems to you like checked bag fees have been steadily climbing, that’s because checked bag fees have been steadily climbing. According to this article, bag fees on American Airlines rose 33% just last year from $30 per bag to $40 and 5 of the 6 biggest carriers raised their fees last year.

Why is the entire industry upping their checked-bag fees? There’s a specific reason involving an arcane bit of tax code, which accounts for why the fees are tacked on separately versus rolled into the price of the ticket.


Jay L. Zagorsky, a business school professor who studies travel, says 7.5% of every domestic ticket goes to the federal government. Airlines dislike this, claiming it raises ticket prices for consumers. But as long as the bag fee is separate, it is excluded from the 7.5% transportation tax.

Estimated bag fees for 2023 topped 7 billion. By making the bag fees separate, airlines saved themselves about half a billion dollars. If that savings has been passed down to the customer, then we all got a bit of a break, too.

Perhaps you automatically dislike the separate fees because you’re Gen X and remember a time when a ticket was all-inclusive. Now, it feels like you’re paying for stuff you used to get for free.

Turns out that more and more travelers actually like the separate charges.

“One thing that our research has shown,” Henry Hartevedlt, president of travel industry analytics firm Atmosphere Research told USA Today, “is that more than two-thirds of U.S. leisure airline passengers now feel that the unbundling of the coach product and letting people buy what they want and need on an à la carte basis is actually something they like because it helps them stick to their budget.”

This is a positive way to look at something that’s undoubtedly here to stay. And now if you hear someone complain about bag fees at the airport, you’ll know why it’s done the way it’s done, which is really sweet satisfaction in itself.

Of course, there's always this unusual workaround courtesy of Reddit user Old_Man_Withers, "I Fedex my luggage to the hotel and carry nothing on the plane but my laptop for work. It doesn't matter if it's 2 days or two months, I ship it. The hotel has it waiting in my room when I get there and I ship it back home from there when I'm done. No random inspections, no chances of loss without recompense, fully trackable... I see no downside that isn't worth the 50-100 bucks it costs."