2020 Disability Holiday Gift Guide

The Original Disability Holiday Gift Guide 2020. Text is surrounded by snow covered pine trees.

Wow…we’ve made it to the 2020 holiday season. Bittersweet though it may be, I’m finding joy in upholding the tradition of the annual Disability Holiday Gift Guide along with Kate Caldwell of the Chicagoland Entrepreneurship Education for People with Disabilities (CEED) project. People have actually been reaching out to ask when the guide would go live this year, so that’s been especially exciting to know that so many of you look forward to it!

I know we’ve all felt the devastating effects of the year behind us, and because of this, it’s more important than ever to find ways to support one another. One of the ways I’m doing that is by shopping small businesses and celebrating the entrepreneurial spirits of disabled creators. This year’s guide has a fun array of disability-owned small businesses to get your holiday shopping adventures started. So, take a look around and find something that brings a bit of happiness to a loved one (or you!). Then, please spread the love by sharing the gift guide. And most importantly, here’s to a safe, healthy holiday season for all.

Jen White Johnson
Disability advocacy-focused designs celebrating Black lives.

Safe Place Art by Michelle Davis
Sustainably made hair accessories.

Dissent Clothing
Clothing and accessories that celebrate the disability experience.

Erry B. by Ericka Olujie
Clothing and accessories to spread awareness of Black Deaf culture.

a rainbow in your cloud by Amina Mucciolo
Vibrant prints, stickers, and apparel.

JazeluCreations by Jazalee Sircus
Handcrafted body products and jewelry.

Altered Angles by Ariel Henley
Watercolor art that celebrates the beauty of facial differences.

Popcorn for the People by Samuel Bier
Gourmet popcorn in a variety of delicious flavors.

Shock and Awesome Co by Rachael Rose
Feminist and sex-positive apparel, art, and embroidery.

Devovere by Nicole Rolph
A custom lingerie and accessories brand for people of all body types.

EcoLocal by Pauline
Reusable products for green homes.

Jeanne Fry Art
Handmade contemporary folk art pieces.

Ian Reynolds Art
Bright scenes of nature and life’s little moments.

One Vine Lane by Alixandria
Handmade polymer clay jewelry and other fun wares.

Click here to check out the graphic version of the 2020 gift guide. (Please note it is not fully accessible.)

Did you buy anything from the list? Are you a disabled entrepreneur? Leave a comment and let us know!

The Fine Print: This post isn’t sponsored. Words I Wheel By and CEED assume no responsibility for any issues with sellers or orders. Please don’t republish any part of this gift guide in print or online. If you would like to share the gift guide via any other publication, please write a little blurb and include the link directly back to this post. You don’t have to let me know if you do this, but I’d love if you did so I can personally express my appreciation. Thank you and happy holidays!

Tell Your Story: Pitching Tips from an Editor

A lined paper background with words in a typewriter font that read "Tell your story: pitching tips from an editor." There is a small illustration of a yellow pencil in the bottom left corner. In the bottom right corner it says wordsiwheelby.com

As an editor and a writer, I’ve experienced the pitching process from the inside, out and the outside, in. I know what it’s like to keep clicking refresh on my email, waiting, wishing, and hoping an editor will accept my pitch. I also know what it’s like to open my inbox and feel buried under a pile of pitches from writers eager to receive a response. While getting from pitched to published is by no means an exact science, I’ve picked up some good practices through my work on both sides of the equation. I’ll share these insights along with all the good vibes you need to get your next piece accepted to your goal outlet.

Shoot for the moon.

You know how the cliché goes: even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars. This is something I learned the hard way. I pitched several outlets with the same piece, sold it to the first outlet that accepted it, and then heard back from a major newspaper and a major mainstream website the next day. Of course, I was still happy to have the piece published, but I realized that it’s okay to set the bar high when you’re pitching. If you know your writing is solid, go for your dream publications first, and then give them a bit to see if they respond to your pitch before following up or moving on. And when you do pitch multiple outlets, be sure to note that in your emails; it’s only fair for editors to know, and it can work in your favor by creating a sense of urgency for an editor to snap up your piece.

Be reactive.

Sometimes, there’s just no time to waste. If you have a unique take on breaking news and no one else is talking about it from your angle, PITCH NOW. Do not wait a week. Do not even wait a day. Everything is old news mere hours after it hits the internet, if not sooner, so get to it!

That said, even when you pitch quickly, be careful that it doesn’t come across as an obvious rush job. It might even be useful to have some basic ideas about a broader topic written down, so that when something newsworthy happens that’s connected to your expertise, you’re at the ready to shape a thoughtful pitch. And once you’re prepared to contact an editor, be sure to clearly indicate that your pitch is time sensitive. I find that using “TIMELY” as the first word of my subject line helps alert editors to the need to respond quickly.

Know the outlet.

I know you might be tempted to go on a pitching spree in the hopes that you’ll grab the attention of some editor, somewhere. This is a terrible idea for two reasons: you’re wasting editors’ time, and you’re wasting your own time. Pitch strategically and be confident that your writing will be a good fit for an outlet instead of sending off a bunch of emails. Editors want to see that you’re familiar with where you hope to be published. You can even add a sentence to your pitch email explaining why you believe a certain publication is the right home for what you have to say.

Know the pitching guidelines.

Not every outlet provides guidelines for pitching, but many provide exact instructions or specifications. For example, some outlets want you to paste your article draft in the body of the email, some want it in an attachment or Google Doc, and some don’t even want a full draft without an idea pitch first. So, take some time to do your research for guidelines, which can often be found on a publication’s website. And then, actually follow them.

Honestly, when I receive a pitch that clearly ignores guidelines, I’m more likely to overlook it. Pitching guidelines aren’t suggestions; they exist to help editors do their jobs more efficiently. Plus, they’re an indicator for editors as to how the process of working with a writer might be, so following them makes you look good.

Sell yourself.

In the vast majority of cases, pitching is personal. There’s usually a reason why you’re interested in or qualified to be writing on the topic of your pitch, so give yourself an edge by sharing a bit about that with editors. If you have direct experience with the topic you’re planning to write on, or expertise to share, make that known. That’s not to say you need to disclose deeply personal information (unless your pitch actually happens to be about something deeply personal), but it does help to position yourself as someone who knows what they’re talking about. Show the editor you’re the best writer for the piece, especially if it’s related to a particularly hot topic. But keep it short — a sentence or two, or a couple writing samples or social media links should do the trick.

A simple way to direct editors to examples of your work is collating your clips, bio, and contact information on a website, which you can then link to in your email signature. This way, you can easily point editors to your website for insight into the quality of your writing. Plus, maintaining an updated website bolsters your status as a professional writer.

Be professional.

It should go without saying that professionalism is important when pitching an editor, but it’s worth the reminder. I’ve received pitches that were one or two casual lines, pitches filled with mistakes, pitches that started with “hey!” For many editors, this signals a total lack of effort and is generally grounds for rejection. I personally recognize that things like grammar and sentence structure aren’t necessarily indicators of the quality of a person’s overall message, so I prioritize words over form. But this unfortunately isn’t the case for most outlets.

I also think it’s worth noting that when I develop a working relationship with a writer, I’m totally fine with a more informal tone in our communication. But this preference differs depending on the editor, so it’s best to gauge each situation on an individual basis.

Also, use an email address that indicates you take your work seriously, rather than emails like hottieonwheelz4eva@aol.com or dogluvr69@hotmail.com. Besides, it’s quick and free to make a professional account that’s simply YourName@gmail.com (or Your.Name, YourNameWrites…), so there are no excuses!

Be patient.

Unfortunately, the waiting game is all part of the process. And the hard reality is that sometimes, you just won’t get a response. Don’t swear off pitching for life if this happens to you. Becoming a published writer can take time, and when you finally get that byline you’re working toward, all that perseverance will absolutely feel worth it.

The Best Chair Exercise Videos

A photo of pink, green, and blue plastic chairs, stacked. Next to the image is text that reads "The Best Chair Exercise Videos"

Years ago, as I was growing into a stronger sense of disability identity and gaining a deeper understanding of ableism, I read an article that scared me out of my mind. Dr. James Levine, a Mayo Clinic endocrinologist, sounded the alarm on sitting: “There’s a glob of information that sitting is killing us…You’re basically sitting yourself into a coffin.” I know the science is real about how sitting too much poses health risks, but I’m tired of being told my wheelchair is just a ticket to an early grave. Articles on potential health problems caused by sitting almost always focus on solutions suited to people without mobility limitations. Rarely do I see detailed fitness resources for people who sit on the regular (like me), so I’m going to share a round up of my favorite free chair exercise videos.

Keep in mind that just because the exercises are done a certain way in these videos, nothing is set in stone. Adapt as needed. Also, note that some of these require inexpensive exercise equipment like resistance bands or dumbbells. And these videos aren’t just for wheelchair users. Seated exercise can be ideal for people at any fitness level. Especially now that we’re in the midst of a pandemic and going to the gym isn’t an option, I hope these videos help you start or shake up your exercise routine. 

Most importantly, be gentle with yourself. Don’t pressure yourself to exercise. Do what feels right for you and your body.

(Disclaimer: I’ll be honest…some of the disability-related language in these videos isn’t great, but I’m trying to include a wide range of options.)

1) If you want a good kick in the butt, Caroline Jordan is your girl. Her upbeat attitude makes me feel like I have a personal trainer in my living room. Click here for her full playlist of chair workouts.

2) Pahla Bowers is super down-to-earth and relatable, which makes her workouts enjoyable, even though they’re tiring. Click here for her full playlist of chair workouts.

3) SparkPeople’s videos are short and sweet, and Coach Nicole is really easy to follow.
Seated Cardio Workout: Burn Calories Exercising from a Chair
Seated Abs Workout: Chair Exercises for Your Core
Seated Upper Body Toning Workout: Chair Strength Training Exercises
Resistance Band Workout

4) KymNonStop is a barrel of energy and her running commentary keeps me entertained while I’m working out.
Intense Seated Workout
Seated Cardio Boxing Workout
Cardio & Core Seated Workout
Seated Circuit Workout
Challenging Seated Workout

5) HASfit offers videos that demonstrate workouts for varied abilities, including some that show seated and standing variations of the same exercises.
Chair Exercises Sitting Down Workout
Standing & Seated Exercise

6) Chair Workouts with Donovan Green are power-packed and totally energizing. Click here for his full playlist of chair workouts.

7) Jessica Smith’s chair exercise videos make you feel like you’re on a gym date with a friend.
Chair Workout I + II (seated cardio, strength, fat burning low impact exercise)
Chair Stretch (quick stretch, seated exercise)
Seated Exercises for Abs, Legs, Arms

8) Fuzion Fitness with Alexis is great for anyone looking for a slightly more relaxed workout. Plenty of good vibes in the background music.
Chair Workout #1
Chair Workout #2

9) Fair warning: Paul Eugene’s videos can come across as overly enthusiastic, but they’re secretly kind of fun.
Turbo Chair Workout
Sit and Get Fit

10) Lucy Wyndham-Read’s video style is helpful because she puts a description of each set of reps on the screen and also gives you previews of what moves are coming up next. Click here for her full playlist of chair workouts.

11) If you’re in the mood for a good 1980’s workout routine, Lisa Ericson has you covered.
Seated Aerobic Workout

12) Adapt to Perform’s YouTube channel is a goldmine of workout videos from Ben Clark, who is a wheelchair user. Click here to check out his channel.

Any good chair exercise videos that I missed in this list? Or do you have other ways that you like to adapt exercise routines? Share so we can keep moving!

The Americans with Disabilities Act just turned 28 and I have some thoughts about it.

Faded photo of American flag in the background. Text says: 28 years of the Americans with Disabilities Act: where are we now? Below text is a timeline. At the beginning of the timeline it says 7/26/90. At the end it says 7/26/18.

Every year, when the anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) rolls around, I find myself wondering how much further the Disability Rights movement has come in the years since the elder President Bush signed it into law.

These days, activists seem to be playing a game of whack-a-mole, trying to smack down each move the current administration makes to pull civil and human rights from the grasp of the disability community.

But as satisfying as it may be to direct so much righteous anger toward the people in power, I’ve had to admit to myself that the Trump regime is far from the main responsible party for the access barriers and discrimination disabled people encounter daily. Sure, it’s arguably worse overall as of late, and the government could and should be making efforts to fix issues instead of contributing to them. The reality, though, is that the disability community has been fighting the good fight for years, and no political party, corporation, or public system has fully risen to the occasion.

Yes, we’ve made so much progress. I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that. And I’ve heard my generation called out time and again for taking that progress for granted, for not knowing how good we have it. I know I’ve got it pretty good. I’m full of endless admiration and gratitude toward the activists who got us to where we are today. But in so many ways, this world is exactly the same as it was 28 years ago when President Bush called for “the shameful walls of exclusion [to] finally come tumbling down.” Those walls are still up in full force, and try though we do, we cannot simply legislate them away.

Because that’s what the ADA was intended to do. It was intended to put an end to the stigma and the obstacles and the exclusion. It was a law meant to be on our side.

But where were the mighty protections of the ADA when a broken elevator trapped me underground on a subway platform in Union Square and there were no nearby wheelchair accessible stops? It wasn’t the ADA that lifted me and my wheelchair up the stairs; it was six NYC firefighters.

And where were the protections of the ADA when, for at least the 15th time, a hotel gave away the wheelchair accessible room I reserved? It wasn’t the ADA that fixed the problem; it was my advocacy and fury. The same advocacy and fury that, when unleashed en masse, led to the passage of the ADA 28 years ago. I thought the point of the ADA was to relieve this unending need to fight.

Where were the protections of the ADA when I couldn’t find an accessible parking spot for the zillionth time while out and about running errands?

And where have the protections of the ADA been every time I’ve had stares and comments and insults about my disability rip through me? Where has the spirit of the ADA been within society? The spirit of inclusion, equality, humanity? Truth be told, I don’t think it’s sunk in yet, nearly three decades later.

So here we are, in a world that is technically post-ADA, but feels so very stagnant – and in many ways, so very regressive. For this, we can decisively point fingers at current legislators on both sides of the aisle who lent support to the grossly misnamed “ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017.” There’s no doubt people (namely business-owners and lawmakers) are working as tirelessly right now to dismantle disability rights as activists are to maintain and expand them. But the odds are doubly stacked against the disability community as we’re fighting to hang on to rights that haven’t been fully acknowledged in the first place.

You’re probably thinking I’ve just written the pessimistic activist’s manifesto. I get it. No one wants to hear a bitter disabled person’s laments – especially not on the one day of the year I should literally be celebrating 28 years of civil rights. But here’s the thing: activism is cyclical and often leaves us feeling defeated, and it’s 100% okay to recognize that truth. In fact, I’d say it’s actually healthy to be honest about what we’re up against. You know why? Because it stokes the fires of passion and fury that keep us going when the going gets tough. And the going will continue to be tough in the years to come, to be sure. But I can say with a full heart and sincere optimism that the disability community I’ve come to know and love is empowered and ready to continue walking and rolling through the flames.

Start Your Own Website

Without a doubt, the most common question I’m asked about Words I Wheel By is “how did you get started?” I think there’s a common misconception that starting a blog or creating a website is a difficult process, but it doesn’t have to be! If you want to share your words and your passions, I’m 100% behind you. Here’s the path I followed:

I started out by making a free WordPress.com blog: emilyladau.wordpress.com. This is a great option for beginners, because you can decide if blogging is something you’d like to do long-term before making a financial investment. Plus, doing it this way, you won’t have to worry about coding, designs, or any major maintenance on the back-end of your site.

Red arrow points to free tier of WordPress.com service

Once I realized I was serious about maintaining a website to publish my writing, I decided to buy a domain name (in my case, the URL wordsiwheelby.com). If you have a domain name in mind, I recommend buying it now, even if you’re not ready to use it. The internet moves fast, and someone else could snap up your great URL idea if they haven’t already. Most domain names are pretty inexpensive. I pay just over $10 a year for mine. And be sure to use a reputable company! I use Namecheap.

Domain Name Search. Text in search box reads "YourSuperCoolOriginalDomainHere.com"

In order to use my domain name, I needed to invest in hosting. In simple terms: using a free platform like WordPress.com means they host your site for you on their servers and handle all the technical aspects of setting it up, so they control all the files that make up your site. When you purchase hosting, you have control over your website.

In the interest of saving money, I jumped on a deal with a hosting platform I’d never heard of without doing any research about self-hosting or which companies are legitimate. DO NOT DO THIS! I only ended up wasting money, along with lots and lots of time dealing with nearly non-existent “customer service.”

But I get that it’s sensible to avoid spending too much when you’re just starting out. The good news is that there are plenty of very reputable hosting services that won’t require you to empty your bank account. Luckily, I realized I should start using a better service relatively early on in my hosting adventures.

Finally, I registered with a web hosting company.

I still wanted to use WordPress so I could transfer over the posts I’d already written. I chose a host that allowed me to do that. There was definitely a learning curve for site management, but it’s up to you how much work you want to put in to set-up and design. You can edit, tweak, and customize your website to your heart’s content!

Since then, I’ve kept right on writing. And now, it’s your turn to get started.

Want to get in touch with your artsy side? One of the fun parts of having a website is being able to design your own graphics to accompany posts and pages, which you can do whether you’ve got a free site or you self-host. For making custom graphics, I use PicMonkey or Canva – not as intense as Photoshop, but still offers lots of ways to get creative.

Disclaimers: Keep in mind, I’m not a professional web designer or developer. These are the steps that successfully worked for me, and I hope this answers some of your questions on how to start your own website.

Is the Restroom Accessible? That’s Up in the Air

A background image of blue, red, and white mini wooden airplanes. The text reads "Is the restroom accessible? That's up in the air."

When you’re getting ready to go on a flight, what’s on your last-minute to-do list? Mine looks a little something like this:

  • Make sure I packed enough underwear
  • Charge my Kindle
  • Start limiting the amount of liquid I drink

Does that last one seem a little strange to you? Well, for wheelchair users who are unable to get up and walk (like yours truly), limiting what we drink before flight is often the norm, because there’s simply no way for us to access the restrooms aboard a plane.

But bathrooms are something most people take for granted, and so they drink to their hearts’ content before and during a fight. Most people simply can’t imagine not having access to a place to relieve themselves wherever they go. And for that reason, I’m not all that surprised by a report that a Delta flight from New York City to Seattle had to go hundreds of miles out of its way to make an emergency pit stop just because the plane’s toilets were broken and people had to go right now.

Let me tell you something: I just took a flight from New York City to Seattle a few months ago. Heck, I’ve flown from New York City to Israel. And you know what I had to do on those flights, and every other flight I’ve ever been on? Hold it. I’ve gone without peeing for upwards of 14 hours so I could travel.

On the flights where I’ve found myself needing to use the restroom in spite of my valiant efforts to avoid drinking anything, the only solution was to meditate and deal with it. Seriously. No way would a pilot divert a flight because I needed to “find relief of built-up pressures.”

Once, during a flight home from Minneapolis, I had the misfortune of experiencing motion sickness. Fair warning: what I’m about to say may not be fun to read if you’re easily made to feel queasy.

I asked the flight attendant for a motion sickness bag, but she didn’t take my request seriously and took her sweet time getting it. Since I couldn’t get up to go to the restroom, I got sick all over myself. And then, you know what happened? My dignity took a nosedive and I had to change out of my vomit covered clothes in the middle of the airplane while the flight attendant who didn’t get me the paper bag in time held up a blanket to try to give me a modicum of privacy.

Why am I telling you all this? To highlight what it’s like to be disabled in a world designed by people who don’t take you into account.

I spend my life (not an exaggeration) strategizing every move, big or small. From researching if I’ll be able to get into the new restaurant a friend suggests for dinner, to deciding if I should stay on a long sidewalk in the hopes there’s a curb cut at the other end, to figuring out when I’ll next be near a restroom I can actually use­­––everything requires planning.

Of course, it’s possible that people on the Delta flight had other types of disabilities, chronic conditions, or age-related bladder or bowel issues, so yes, I get why the plane landed, but the world sure doesn’t accommodate me with emergency landings.

But there are laws to make things accessible, you might say. True. The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed over 27 years ago to prohibit discrimination and provide access for disabled people in all areas of public life, but even with amendments to update the law, inaccessibility is still everywhere. The Air Carrier Access Act (which significantly fewer people know exists, including, seemingly, airline personnel) was passed nearly 32 years ago, with the intent of ensuring the disability community has access to air travel. Yet, though it’s since been amended, the law still allows for aircraft with only one aisle to have inaccessible restrooms. These types of planes, known as narrow-body planes, are used by commercial airlines pretty darn frequently.

Even so, I need to travel for work. I have to go places in order to go about my day. I have the right to be an active member of my community.

I could wrap up with a broad, sweeping call to action to improve upon accessibility everywhere, from storefronts to airplanes, but I believe this kind of change won’t happen without recognition of just how easy it is to take access for granted.

I admit that I roll my eyes when people who break their leg or have surgery that temporarily impacts their mobility tell me they “get” what I “go through” every day, but there’s still a lesson to be learned from these comments: the ability to access wherever you please doesn’t matter to people, until one day it does. Anyone can become disabled at any time.

That may sound intimidating, but think about it: if you became disabled tomorrow, wouldn’t you want to live in a world where you had access to basic things like restrooms anywhere you go? People don’t think about the possibility of not being able to use the restroom until access to this basic need is taken away from them, just like the situation on the Delta flight.

It shouldn’t have to be this way. Full bladders should not inhibit full participation in society for the disability community.