+
upworthy
More

He didn't know anything about disability. But what he learned would make a lasting impact.

True
Hasbro Be Fearless Be Kind

When he enrolled in an eighth-grade elective, Seth had no idea it would totally change his life.

In fact, he hadn't expected to take an unusual elective at all — that is, until his dad, a science teacher at his middle school, brought up the idea of Seth taking a class called Unified Leadership, which focused on intellectual disabilities.

Seth is, in many ways, just like most teens you would meet. He plays baseball, video games, and likes to work on dirt bikes. All this is pretty standard fare for a teenager growing up in Swartz Creek, a small city in southeast Michigan.


So a class about disabilities was a bit out of Seth’s wheelhouse. But he said, sure, he’d take it.

The decision not only turned him into a social activist, it also had a ripple effect across his whole school.

All photos courtesy of Kayla Bright.

Unified Leadership was — and still is — a relatively new classthat's part of the Unified Champion Schools program, which is funded by the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs. In it, general education and special education students study together, helping promote a broader view of disabilities and social inclusion.

“They learn about different disabilities: what that means for the people who have them, what that might look like, the different challenges they may have,” says Kayla Bright, the special education teacher who leads the class.

Students were surprised to find, for instance, that celebrities — like NFL running back Jamaal Charles — face intellectual disabilities and still succeed at the highest levels, Bright says.

Of course, studying the issues in a classroom isn’t the be-all and end-all for unified learning.

Students also take part in public awareness campaigns, such as the “Spread the Word to End the Word” campaign, which challenges inflammatory language used against people with disabilities.

They put up posters in school and even brought to school a well-known public speaker, Anthony Ianni, a former basketball player for Michigan State University who was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder as a young boy.

Sports also fits into unified learning in another more active way. The program, through its Unified Sports initiative, also incorporates Special Olympics sports and related activities so that the students can play a number of sports together, including basketball, flag football, weightlifting, and track and field. Its explicit aim is to promote social justice in the more than 5,000 K-12 schools currently participating in the program.

This program helped Seth realize that kids with disabilities often face discrimination on the playing field.

Before taking the class, Seth hadn’t really considered this form of widespread discrimination. The troubling truth is that disabled students face a barrage of social obstacles at school. While bullying is rampant in the U.S., students with disabilities are at an increased risk.

After befriending the special education students in his class, it didn’t take long for Seth to better understand their struggles. He realized that disabled people are often treated as outsiders and disrespected, even though they shouldn’t be. He saw an opportunity to make a difference, to fight discrimination and to change others’ minds.

“Training together and playing together,” the Special Olympics website notes, “is a quick path to friendship and understanding.”

Studies back this up. They reveal that Unified Sports teammates often spend time together outside competitions, and as they get to know each other, the barriers break down between those with and without disabilities.

And this has certainly been the case for Seth, who has made good friends while coaching bowling and while competing in sports like shot put, weightlifting, and long jump.

But Seth knew that fighting discrimination meant more than just playing sports.

That’s why he has undertaken the hard work of helping curb his abled friends’ prejudices and helping them gain a greater sense of empathy for people with disabilities.

In part, this means fighting verbal harassment. Seth has seen his friends called the R-word by bullies. He knows that not only is this disrespectful, it feeds into the pervasive narrative that disabled students are outsiders, that they deserve ridicule — a narrative that can cause terrible harm and division.  

And that’s why he’s become so passionate about the “Spread the Word to End the Word” campaign and urges others to disavow inflammatory language.

Though the Unified Leadership class just launched last year, it has already affected the rest of the school, thanks to the efforts of kids like Seth.

Kayla Bright, the class’s teacher, says that along with Seth, other general education students have begun hanging out with their special education peers. They've started seeing special ed students as potential friends, rather than outsiders to ridicule. Students who used to be shunned were now being included and treated with compassion.

It was a broad change that offers lessons for adults, too, Bright says — from the importance of empathy and acceptance to the language that we use to talk about disability.

Bright marvels at people like Seth, who are willing to stand up and confront discrimination rather than stand by and watch it happen. This fearlessness explains why Seth was recently awarded the Be Fearless Be Kind award from Special Olympics and Hasbro, the global play and entertainment behind hits brands like My Little Pony and Play-Doh.

Be Fearless Be Kind is the company's largest philanthropic initiative, designed to empower youth like Seth to have the empathy, compassion, and courage to stand up for others and be inclusive throughout their lives.

And though history books are filled with the stories of larger-than-life leaders, more often than not, the stuff of social change often boils down to these small acts of courage.

Befriending someone who’s different from you, repudiating hateful language, showing compassion for someone whose differences you’ve always feared — these are the things that result in real change.

That change is starting to happen on school playing fields. It's about time we all follow suit and get on the same team.

Image from YouTube video.

An emotional and strong Matt Diaz.


Matt Diaz has worked extremely hard to lose 270 pounds over the past six years.

But his proudest moment came in March 2015 when he decided to film himself with his shirt off to prove an important point about body positivity and self-love.

Keep ReadingShow less
Community

Man uses social media to teach others ASL so kids don't experience what he did as a child

Every child should be able to communicate in a way that works best for them.

Man teaches people ASL so no child experiences what he did

People start communicating from the moment they enter the world usually through cries, faces, grunts and squeals. Once infants move into the toddler phase the combine all of their previous communication skills with pointing and saying a few frequently used words like "milk," "mama," "dada" and "eat."

Children who are born without the ability to hear often still go through those same stages with the exception of their frequently used words being in sign language. But not all hearing parents know sign language, which can stunt the language skills of their non-hearing child. Ronnie McKenzie is an American Sign Language advocate that uses social media to teach others how to sign so deaf and nonverbal kids don't feel left out.

"But seriously i felt so isolated 50% of my life especially being outside of school i had NONE to sign ASL with. Imagine being restricted from your own language," McKenzie writes in his caption.

Keep ReadingShow less
Family

Wife says husband's last name is so awful she can't give it to her kids. Is she right?

"I totally get we can’t shield kids from everything, and I understand the whole family ties thing, but c’mon."

A wife pleads with her husband to change their child's name.

Even though it’s 2023 and schools are much more concerned with protecting children from bullying than in the past, parents still have to be aware that kids will be kids, and having a child with a funny name is bound to cause them trouble.

A mother on Reddit is concerned that her future children will have the unfortunate last name of “Butt,” so she asked people on the namenerds forum to help her convince her husband to name their child something different.

(Note: We’re assuming that the person who wrote the post is a woman because their husband is interested in perpetuating the family name, and if it were a same-sex relationship, a husband probably wouldn’t automatically make that assumption.)

"My husband’s last name is Butt. Can someone please help me illuminate to him why this last name is less than ideal,” she asked the forum. “I totally get we can’t shield kids from everything and I understand the whole family ties thing, but c'mon. Am I being unreasonable by suggesting our future kid either take my name, a hybrid, or a new one altogether?"

Keep ReadingShow less
Joy

Bus driver comes to the rescue for boy who didn't have an outfit for school's Pajamas Day

“It hurt me so bad…I wanted him to have a good day. No child should have to miss out on something as small as pajama day.”

Representative Image from Canva

One thoughtful act can completely turn someone's day around.

On the morning just before Valentine’s Day, school bus driver Larry Farrish Jr. noticed something amiss with Levi, one of his first grade passengers, on route to Engelhard Elementary, part of Jefferson County Public School (JCPS) in Louisville, Kentucky.

On any other day, the boy would greet Farrish with a smile and a wave. But today, nothing. Levi sat down by himself, eyes downcast, no shining grin to be seen. Farrish knew something was up, and decided to inquire.

With a “face full of tears,” as described on the JCPS website, Levi told Farrish that today was “Pajama Day” at school, but he didn’t have any pajamas to wear for the special occasion.
Keep ReadingShow less
via Imgur

Memories of testing like this gets people fired up.

It doesn't take much to cause everyone on the internet to go a little crazy, so it's not completely surprising that an incorrect answer on a child's math test is the latest event to get people fired up.

The test in question asked kids to solve "5 x 3" using repeated addition. Under this method, the correct answer is "5 groups of 3," not "3 groups of 5." The question is typical of Common Core but has many questioning this type of standardized testing and how it affects learning.

Keep ReadingShow less
Joy

There are over 30 years between these amazing before-and-after photos.

"It's important for me for my photography to make people smile."

All photos by Chris Porsz/REX/Shutterstock.

Before and after photos separated by 30 years.


Chris Porsz was tired of studying sociology.

As a university student in the 1970s, he found the talk of economics and statistics completely mind-numbing. So instead, he says, he roamed the streets of his hometown of Peterborough, England, with a camera in hand, snapping pictures of the people he met and listening to their stories. To him, it was a far better way to understand the world.

He always looked for the most eccentric people he could find, anyone who stood out from the crowd. Sometimes he'd snap a single picture of that person and walk away. Other times he'd have lengthy conversations with these strangers.

Keep ReadingShow less