For this woman, who's blind and autistic, sex positivity matters even more.

Michelle Smith, 21, was understandably nervous when her mom found the BDSM restraints she had hidden under her bed.

"I was afraid you’d find those," Smith said, hiding her face in shame. "I thought you’d noticed them before and just ignored them."

"'Them' what?" Mom responded as she glanced around the room at the collectible anime action figures and other nerdy memorabilia that adorned the shelves. "It’s just a strap to a suitcase."


There's always a strange tension between parents and children when it comes to sexuality. But in this particular instance, mom's naïveté was compounded by the fact that Michelle is legally blind and has autism — and she was about to leave for a kink party with her then-boyfriend.

Photo by Sarah Ginsburg/"Best and Most Beautiful Things." Used with permission.

Blindness and autism can obviously cause some complications, especially in terms of work and school. But what about sex and romance?

Humans are sexual creatures, and neither blindness and autism should change that. Still, Smith had some difficulty when she first began to explore her sexuality — not because of her disabilities but because of other people's perceptions of her disabilities.

"When I first got into this lifestyle, I was convinced that no one would want to play with 'some blind chick,'" she says. "There were people online who said things like, 'Oh, you have autism, that means you can’t consent.' And it’s like, excuse me? Who are you to say that?"

Photo by Sarah Ginsburg/"Best and Most Beautiful Things." Used with permission.

When Smith finally found a safe kink community, she laid down the ground rules: They weren't allowed to ask about her disabilities, unless they had specific questions about what she could or could not do or see.

BDSM and other kinds of sex play involve power and authority — two things that don’t often get bestowed on people with disabilities, at least consensually.

Smith might enjoy being submissive in a sexual way, for example. But that's different from when people see her with a cane out on the street and treat her like a child. That is condescending and unwanted, while her sex life is liberating and cathartic and — above all — consensual.

Photo by Sarah Ginsburg/"Best and Most Beautiful Things." Used with permission.

"When you’ve already had to acknowledge the fact that you’re a little bit unusual, finding out that you’re unusual in a sexual way, you just kind of shrug and say 'that figures!'" she says with a laugh.

In her experience, there's a lot of overlap between autism, kink, and nerd/geek communities. She also finds a similar empowerment from cosplay — dressing up like her favorite characters from anime or video games for conventions with like-minded fans. Again, it offers her a sense of control; she's accepted and appreciated for the same passions that make her "different" in the eyes of others.

Photo by Matthew Dorris/"Best and Most Beautiful Things." Used with permission.

Since she began to embrace her kinks and quirks, Smith has had several relationships, lived on her own, and continued to pursue her career, just like any other able-sighted or neurotypical person might.

That doesn't mean everything is simple or easy, of course. Both her autism and blindness still affect her life in certain ways, and sometimes even work together to a disadvantage. "Sometimes with autism I get really interested in something, and then I’m frustrated with my blindness when I can’t do it," she says. (This can be particularly hard to balance with her love of video games, where her sight problems prevent her from enjoying certain games that aren't calibrated for people with low vision.)

In the meantime, she's still striving toward her dream job of being a full-time voice actor for cartoon work. She's making industry connections through friends in Los Angeles and building a reel and resume through making original animated projects with friends. It's not an easy path for anyone to follow — but there's no reason that her autism or blindness should get in the way either.

Photo by Sarah Ginsburg/"Best and Most Beautiful Things." Used with permission.

By sharing the story of her passions and perseverance, Smith hopes to break down stigmas around disability, neurodiversity, and sexuality.

"Autism is a disability of the people who don’t have autism more than it is for the people who do," she says. "It’s a disability of perception. Neurotypical folks, a lot of times they don’t give us a chance, and I think that’s where a lot of the problems come from."

She also shared a story from a recent screening of "Best and Most Beautiful Things," a documentary film that chronicles her journey over several years. After the movie, an older woman confessed that the movie — and Smith herself — had made her rethink the way that she treats her own granddaughter.

Photo by Jordan Salvatoriello/"Best and Most Beautiful Things." Used with permission.

"I don't know if her granddaughter is queer or kinky or has crazy-colored hair, is a nerd, is blind, has autism, any of the above, all of the above, none of the above," Smith says. "But that girl who I have no idea about, who probably has at least a couple things in common with me, is now not worrying about the way her grandma looks at her. So that makes me happy."

And that's the crux of Smith's mission in life. She doesn’t want to change the way she is or the world that she lives in; she just wants to help others understand it, with all its kinks and quirks.

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On an old episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in July 1992, Oprah put her audience through a social experiment that puts racism in a new light. Despite being nearly two decades old, it's as relevant today as ever.

She split the audience members into two groups based on their eye color. Those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment by getting to cut the line and given refreshments while they waited to be seated. Those with blue eyes were made to put on a green collar and wait in a crowd for two hours.

Staff were instructed to be extra polite to brown-eyed people and to discriminate against blue-eyed people. Her guest for that day's show was diversity expert Jane Elliott, who helped set up the experiment and played along, explaining that brown-eyed people were smarter than blue-eyed people.

Watch the video to see how this experiment plays out.

Oprah's Social Experiment on Her Audience www.youtube.com

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via Cadbury

Cadbury has removed the words from its Dairy Milk chocolate bars in the U.K. to draw attention to a serious issue, senior loneliness.

On September 4, Cadbury released the limited-edition candy bars in supermarkets and for every one sold, the candy giant will donate 30p (37 cents) to Age UK, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for the elderly.

Cadbury was prompted to help the organization after it was revealed that 225,000 elderly people in the UK often go an entire week without speaking to another person.

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Well Being

Young people today are facing what seems to be greater exposure to complex issues like mental health, bullying, and youth violence. As a result, teachers are required to be well-versed in far more than school curriculum to ensure students are prepared to face the world inside and outside of the classroom. Acting as more than teachers, but also mentors, counselors, and cheerleaders, they must be equipped with practical and relevant resources to help their students navigate some of the more complicated social issues – though access to such tools isn't always guaranteed.

Take Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, for example, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years, and as a teacher for seven. Entering the profession, she didn't anticipate how much influence a student's home life could affect her classroom, including "students who lived in foster homes" and "lacked parental support."

Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience, says it can be difficult to create engaging course work that's applicable to the challenges students face. "I think that sometimes, teachers don't know where to begin. Teachers are always looking for ways to make learning in their classrooms more relevant."

So what resources do teachers turn to in an increasingly fractured world? "Joining a professional learning network that supports and challenges thinking is one of the most impactful things that a teacher can do to support their own learning," Anglemyer says.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience.

A new program for teachers that offers this network along with other resources is the WE Teachers Program, an initiative developed by Walgreens in partnership with ME to WE and Mental Health America. WE Teachers provides tools and resources, at no cost to teachers, looking for guidance around the social issues related to poverty, youth violence, mental health, bullying, and diversity and inclusion. Through online modules and trainings as well as a digital community, these resources help them address the critical issues their students face.

Jessica Mauritzen, a high school Spanish teacher, credits a network of support for providing her with new opportunities to enrich the learning experience for her students. "This past year was a year of awakening for me and through support… I realized that I was able to teach in a way that built up our community, our school, and our students, and supported them to become young leaders," she says.

With the new WE Teachers program, teachers can learn to identify the tough issues affecting their students, secure the tools needed to address them in a supportive manner, and help students become more socially-conscious, compassionate, and engaged citizens.

It's a potentially life-saving experience for students, and in turn, "a great gift for teachers," says Dr. Sanderlin.

"I wish I had the WE Teachers program when I was a teacher because it provides the online training and resources teachers need to begin to grapple with these critical social issues that plague our students every day," she adds.

In addition to the WE Teachers curriculum, the program features a WE Teachers Award to honor educators who go above and beyond in their classrooms. At least 500 teachers will be recognized and each will receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. Teachers can be nominated or apply themselves. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, or sign up for access to the teacher resources available through WE Teachers, visit walgreens.com/metowe.

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One of the major differences between women and men is that women are often judged based on their looks rather than their character or abilities.

"Men as well as women tend to establish the worth of individual women primarily by the way their body looks, research shows. We do not do this when we evaluate men," Naomi Ellemers Ph.D. wrote in Psychology Today.

Dr. Ellers believes that this tendency to judge a woman solely on her looks causes them to be seen as an object rather than a person.

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Culture