I’m making a commitment this year to only do my holiday shopping from makers, artists, and businesses run by people who have disabilities. And as October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month I decided to start my holiday planning early by compiling a list of spots to shop.
So why am I buying from this population specifically? On average, people with disabilities find themselves underemployed, which basically means they are forced into working jobs that are sub-par by some standard be it hours, pay, appropriate for their level of education or ability to be promoted. The poverty rate for working-age people with disabilities was 34.5% in 2013 compared with 12.2% for those without disabilities. (American Progress). A 1934 Labor Law, still in effect in many states, allows states to pay certain people with disabilities as low as $3.34 an hour! (NPR). And even though there are laws protecting against it, many people with disabilities still struggle to find workplaces that are willing to accommodate their needs. That is why many people with disabilities have chosen (or been forced) to go out on their own and build an income on their terms.
So this holiday, I want to focus my buying on people with disabilities. Here is a non-exhaustive list of people that I have found (send me more and I will update it!) Even if you don’t have the cash to support them, give them a follow!
Laura Makes Things: Artist Laura Babiuk (@laura_makes_things) creates beautiful cards, needlepoints, and other colorful and festive creations.
Unstrung Studios: Disabled OT turned full-time Artist, Megan (@unstrungstudios) creates things that meet at the intersection of science, nature, and art.
Troy Made It: Pottery made by Troy, a young man with Down Syndrome. Be aware, his stuff sells out quickly! (@troymadeit)
Andy Merideth: Beautiful black and white photo prints taken by Andy, an artist with Down Syndrome (@andymeredithphotography)
Alyssa K Silva: Here you will find gorgeous cards and prints created by @alyssaksilva
Gateway Arts: Located in Brookline, MA, Gateway Arts is a collaborative of artists with disabilities. In addition to employment, artists receive a 50% commission on all sales. (@gateway.arts)
John Bramblit - By looking at his incredibly colorful paintings you would never imagine that John went blind when he was in his 20s. He sells prints and original work. (@bramblitt)
Art By Jessica Jewitt - Jessica Jewitt (@artbyjessicajewett) creates Incredibly intricate sketches and portraits available in print form.
Geoffrey’s River Bend Gallery: Geoffrey Mikol is a professional photographer that owns River Bend Gallery with his family, in historic Galena, Illinois. As a person born with Down syndrome, Geoffrey sells his photography in many forms such as prints, puzzles, calendars, and note cards.
Grace Place Art: Beautiful colorful paintings created by Grace (@graceplaceart)
Clothing, Bags, Homeware:
Fever Dream Boutique: Emily (@fever.dream.boutique) creates vintage clothing and lingerie. PS - an extra shoutout goes out to Emily for sharing many of the names on this list. ?? Make sure to give her a follow.
Home Row Fiber Co: Fiber Alchemist Rochelle (@homerowfiberco) creates colorful bags and fiber creations.
John’s Crazy Socks: Have some fun this holiday season with crazy socks created by this father and son duo. (@johnscrazysocks)
Dance Happy Designs: Totes, bins, planters, and pouches — all handcrafted by three awesome friends celebrating differences. (@dance.happy.designs)
Culture’s Closet: A clothing line built for “Curvy Cuties” created by entrepreneur and mom living with Lupus, Qiana Allen.
DaBombs By Morgan: Morgan Tibbens created and sells her own line of bath bombs, soaps, and scrubs in tons of different scents. (MorganDaBombGirl)
Juniper Pine Leather: Gorgeous leather creations made by Ashley Howard (@pistolashly)
KillerBangz: “Killr merch for the rule breakers, rebels n misfits!” Here you will find creative jewelry to fit any mood. (@killrbangz)
Garden24: You’ve certainly seen Morgan Harper Nichols’s Work before if you’ve wandered into Target. But this autistic artist has a beuatiful line of products she sells via her own site. @morganharpernichols)
Jacob’s Rugs: Doormats and t-shirts created by Jacob, and advocate for the Down Syndrome Community (@this_is_jacobs_rugs)
Allie Art: Bright-colored jewelry and accessories created by Allie Guard from Cincinnati. (@allieartdesigns)
In Her Summer Dress: Cyndi creates beautiful earth-inspired Jewelry (@anoracrescent)
Aspire Accessories: A collective of artisans with autism and intellectual disabilities based in Houston, TX. (@aspireaccessories)
Top Shelf Baskets - Curated baskets for any occasion by (@topshelfbaskets)
Candidly Kind - Cozy clothing made by artist, model, and Down Syndrome advocate Grace Key. (@candidlykind)
Collettey’s Cookies: Collette, a young woman with Down Syndrome has perfected her cookie recipe, so much so, that she has built her life and business around it. (@colletteyscookies)
Sweet Heat Jam: Culinary artist and entrepreneur, Nolan has created a line of jams with a kick. (@sweetheattx)
Unseen Bean: Gerry Leary, founder of the Unseen Bean, has been blind since he was born. But his lack of vision does not stop him from roasting coffee. While most will not be close enough to try a fresh brew, he does sell his coffee online. (@unseenbeancoffee)
Gabi’s Grounds: More coffee options! However, this one comes with a signed note from the founder Gabi! (@gabisgrounds)
Books & Music:
The Pretty One by Keah Brown: Creator of the viral #DisabledAndCute hashtag describes her life growing up with cerebral palsy. (@keah_maria)
Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist by Judy Heumann adds to her Crip Camp story by helping the reader understand what really went on during the disability rights movement. (@theheumannperspective)
The Kiss Quotient by Ellen Hoang - A romance novel where the main character and the author both have autism.
Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century: Edited by Disability Rights advocate Alice Wong, you’ll hear from many members of the disabled community on their lived experiences. (@disability_visibility)
Born To Sparkle: A children’s book written by Megan Bombarrs, who has Down Syndrome, is all about achieving your dreams. (@meganbomgaars)
Swanyne C.O.P.D. - He is the first person with a trach to record 14 albums. Hear his music here. (@swaynecopd)
Gracie’s Doggy Delights: Gracie's Doggie Delights is operated by a young woman with Down Syndrome who loves dogs. An owner of three rescue miniature schnauzers, Gracie loves to give them treats and now sells their favorites online. (@gdogdelights)
Hen & Goose: You’ll love these fun and festive collars for your furry friends (Harry Potter collar, anyone?) created by a husband and wife who founded the company when they were not physically able to do other work. (@hen_and_goose)
Doggy Delights By Allison: Another option for delicious dog treats created by Chef Allison (@doggy_delightsbyallison)
If you have other people you think should be on this list, leave a note in the comment section and I will add them to the list. One note, I only added artists and businesses that currently have products in stock.
This is the question that I am on a mission to understand in 2020.
As I turn 33 this week, I’ve taken some time to reflect on what the last decade has brought me. If you had told me all the amazing and different things I would have done over this last decade of adulthood I would have thought you were lying. At 18 when I graduated from high school I had a very specific life plan. I would go to school for education and become a special ed teacher and that is what I would do for the rest of my life. I knew that I wanted to serve this population because I had been volunteering at an overnight camp for people with disabilities since I was 12 and I thought that being a special ed teacher was the way to do it.
I did become a teacher. But soon realized that there were parts of the job that I loved, but other parts that made it really challenging. I designed some technology for my classroom and turned that into a startup that I ran for four years. I literally had to google the term startup a few months into running one because I had no idea what I was doing. But we did ok. We got the technology into thousands of schools and had a good four year run. When it was clear that we could go no further with that idea I joined a media company, EdSurge, and after running their community moved into my last role as Director of Marketing. Marketing was never something that I wanted to do. But I realized that I did not understand it well in my first company and I needed to know it because the best marketer is the one who gets their message heard. After the 2016 election I realized that we needed more people who understood marketing to champion the causes that I believed were good for the world.
This last December I left that job to pursue something that has been on my heart, probably since I was twelve: Camp Linda. By 2021 I want to build a year-round space for people with disabilities and those who love them. In the summer it would function as a camp, during the year an accessible and inclusive place for families to bring their kids, a retreat space for caregivers or groups focused on a specific population.
The name Camp Linda has a dual meaning. First, the word linda in Spanish means beautiful. No one is more beautiful than when they feel included. That beauty shines from within. Having experienced 20 years at Camp Jabberwocky the beauty that shines from every soul in that place is magical. In that way, calling ourselves Camp Beautiful feels like a nod to the mission we want to build.
I also chose the name Camp Linda after the first woman who showed me that beauty and taught me about living life with a disability - my mom, Linda Levitt. She was unparalleled at creating community and fun. She was notorious for taking an ordinary day and making it feel extraordinary. When I was six, she was diagnosed with ALS and our family quickly had to learn what it meant to live with a disability. Although she passed away a few years later, her message of beauty regardless of circumstance led me to want to expand the ways that I professionally serve this community and even with 20 years of experience I know I’m just getting started.
But over this next year my goal is to learn. When you build a product they stress the importance of user research. But what does it mean to create spaces and products that are actually inclusive? Living in San Francisco, surrounded by people who are building things left and right, I am stunned by how the voices and needs of people with disabilities are at best forgotten or at worst ignored. Take the $41 million dollar library that was just constructed in Hunter’s Point NY. The project took over 15 years to complete and debuted with one major flaw: it was entirely inaccessible.
As we dream and build this inclusive space I want to learn from as many people as I can. I want to help share their stories publicly so we can all learn from their experiences, ideas, and needs and we can all work to understand and create a more inclusive world in everything that we do. My marketing background can help amplify these voices so that more people can learn and understand and transfer that into making their work and lives more inclusive.
For the next few months I plan to talk to as many people as I can and share their stories out via our Facebook and Instagram feeds and our email updates. This summer the goal is to hit the road and visit as many camps and spaces that are already doing amazing work and sharing their stories. The more we can shine a light on these organizations and stories the more awareness and inclusiveness we can create. I don’t see these as looking at competitors as is often discussed in Silicon Valley. It feels more like sharing the awesome work of your fellow teammates. It is estimated that of the 327 million people that live in the US, 50 million of them have a disability and that doesn’t include more hidden disabilities that go unreported. It also does not represent all the caregivers who support them. There are definitely more people who could use services than there are organizations to serve them.
The other goal of our travels is to find the community that we would like to put down roots and build camp. Right now we know it will not likely be in the Bay Area but it is up in the air where the best location will be. I am excited to explore all the possible communities we could make a home as we meet and share stories.
As we build this movement I will need help. Here are a few ways you can help:
This idea is so big and kind of daunting, but also really exciting. By announcing it like this it always sets you up to publically and catastrophically fail. But I am willing to take that risk because the reward of creating a space like this is so great. I am grateful to each of you that took the time to even read this far. Thank you for being invested (or curious) enough in my life to spend a few moments of your day hearing me out. Please know how much that means to me. <3
Molly Levitt Lazarus
Sharing my journey of understanding what it means to create inclusive spaces. Applying all that knowledge to develop Camp Linda alongside the population we are building for.