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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As millions of Americans have raced to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, millions of others have held back. Vaccine hesitancy is nothing new, of course, especially with new vaccines, but the information people use to weigh their decisions matters greatly. When choices based on flat-out wrong information can literally kill people, it's vital that we fight disinformation every which way we can.

Researchers at the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a not-for-profit non-governmental organization dedicated to disrupting online hate and misinformation, and the group Anti-Vax Watch performed an analysis of social media posts that included false claims about the COVID-19 vaccines between February 1 and March 16, 2021. Of the disinformation content posted or shared more than 800,000 times, nearly two-thirds could be traced back to just 12 individuals. On Facebook alone, 73% of the false vaccine claims originated from those 12 people.

Dubbed the "Disinformation Dozen," these 12 anti-vaxxers have an outsized influence on social media. According to the CCDH, anti-vaccine accounts have a reach of more than 59 million people. And most of them have been spreading disinformation with impunity.

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Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash
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Meanwhile, outbreaks across South America, Africa, and Asia continued, as the highly contagious virus continued to kill three out of every 10 people who caught it, while leaving many survivors disfigured. It took a renewed commitment of resources from wealthy nations to fulfill the promise made in 1959.

Forty-one years later, although we face a different virus, the potential for vast destruction is just as great, and the challenges of funding, personnel and supply are still with us, along with last-mile distribution. Today, while 30% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, with numbers rising every day, there is an overwhelming gap between wealthy countries and the rest of the world. It's becoming evident that the impact on the countries getting left behind will eventually boomerang back to affect us all.

Photo by ismail mohamed - SoviLe on Unsplash

The international nonprofit CARE recently released a policy paper that lays out the case for U.S. investment in a worldwide vaccination campaign. Founded 75 years ago, CARE works in over 100 countries and reaches more than 90 million people around the world through multiple humanitarian aid programs. Of note is the organization's worldwide reputation for its unshakeable commitment to the dignity of people; they're known for working hand-in-hand with communities and hold themselves to a high standard of accountability.

"As we enter into our second year of living with COVID-19, it has become painfully clear that the safety of any person depends on the global community's ability to protect every person," says Michelle Nunn, CARE USA's president and CEO. "While wealthy nations have begun inoculating their populations, new devastatingly lethal variants of the virus continue to emerge in countries like India, South Africa and Brazil. If vaccinations don't effectively reach lower-income countries now, the long-term impact of COVID-19 will be catastrophic."

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