I Am Going UP on the Portland Aerial Tram! Ability Guidebook

I’m thrilled to be able to start posting the original sets of Ability Guidebooks focused on my home city of Portland. This was the beginning of the whole project and where they saw their first amazing successes helping people who had difficulties getting out into public.


I have partnered up with Portland State University to have students make more books for our community.  I’ll be sure to let you know when the student written books are up online!

But for today, I’m proud to say, we are going UP on the Portland Aerial Tram!

I Am Going Up On The Portland Aerial Tram!

It’s Time To Visit The Supreme Court!

supremecourtpicThis book is all about perseverance! In 2014 Mike and I were in D.C. for the White House Honoring Ceremony.  It was an amazing week and we took every spare minute to meet with elected officials during the visit. We had a few minutes in between meeting Senator Merkley and Senator Baldwin and we decided we had time to make a book!

It was pouring down rain as we ran from the Hart Senate Building to the Supreme Court. There was over four inches of standing water in the street!  We splashed through, raced into the Supreme Court and quickly squished our way throught the building taking pictures as fast as I could.

Needless to say, the pictures turned out pretty terrible and I didn’t have the shots I needed to make a book.

Nine months later I was awarded the NEA National Award for Teaching Excellence and Mike and I found ourselves back in D.C.  I had my chance to get those pictures I needed to complete a Supreme Court Ability Guidebook! Again, the weather was none to cooperative. February snows kept us from our photo mission.

Last October I had the honor of being part of Kevin Jennings book tour for his book “One Teacher In Ten In the New Millennium.” He had accepted my essay “Teacher of the Year” for publication and I was able to travel to D.C. and L.A. for book readings. During that trip I was finally able to get the last pictures I needed at the Supreme Court.

So, finally, at last, with great happiness I present

Ability Guidebook I Am Going To The Supreme Court

Why I Spent A Saturday Making a Map

When I write an Ability Guidebook I do my best to take all of my own pictures.  But the one thing I am always lacking is maps.  Most maps are copyrighted and the ones that have been generously shared online, often don’t have the information I need.

Maps are an important way for people with autism to get an idea of where they are going on an upcoming journey. I know my books are better when they contain a map.

In April I needed a map of the Acropolis and found several online maps that I could publish, but, oddly enough, none of them had the restrooms marked on them. They were a mix of ancient architecture and modern viewpoints but they lacked the information my book needed.  I could have doctored up somebody else’s map but that didn’t seem right. And so I spent a Saturday creating a map of the Acropolis.

Screen Shot 2016-05-08 at 12.36.46 PM

Now I’m the first to acknowledge I am not a graphic artist.   But sometimes need pushes us to work outside of our comfort zone.  I needed a map with dark bold lines (for our friend’s with visual issues) that was simple in that it contained only the necessary information. That map didn’t exist and so now it does.

That last sentence is important to me. “That map didn’t exist and so now it does.”  That is how I feel about my books.  They are supports for people with autism and other neuro-diverse people. Some of those people need a support like this to get out into the world. That support didn’t exist so now it does.

What I’m doing didn’t exist so now it does.

That’s how I’m contributing. That’s how I’m leaving a mark. I’m setting an example, doing some of the work and trying to inspire others to jump in and contribute. This week Dr. Florian Sohn translated “I Am Going to the Parthenon” into German. That support didn’t exist for German speakers so now it does.

And that is why I spent a Saturday drawing a map of the Acropolis.  That’s why I spent this Saturday drawing a map of the Pantheon. That’s why I will probably spend next Saturday drawing a map of the Roman Forum. Because I want change and I’m willing to work to make it happen.


An Exciting Day! We Have Gone German! Ich besuche das Parthenon!

Untitled design-11This is a very exciting day today! My dear friend Dr. Florian Sohn of Passau, Germany has translated “I Am Going To The Parthenon!” into German!!!  I have known Florian since 1990. I had just been robbed and was having a meltdown in the Copenhagen train station. This young West German from Passau helped me calm down and we’ve been friends ever since.


Florian is no longer a 19 year-old West German, he’s now a something-something year-old German Doctor who flies a plane and still has a heart of gold.

Florian has opened some doors for people in Germany who have autism. These books have a single purpose. Open a door for somebody. Help them get out into the real world. I’ve seen estimations that there are over 200,000 people with autism within the three major German-speaking countries (Switzerland, Austria and Germany). That means there are 200,000 families who dream of vacations and visiting amazing places like the Parthenon. Add those to the 800,000 people in English-speaking countries who have autism and think of their family vacations. Why can’t the Parthenon be within their grasp?

In a perfect world the airports would all have a book, and the metro would have a book and there would be supports like this for every step of the way. But this is the start. There is a book for the Portland International Airport http://www.mrbsclassroom.com/uncategorized/39/ so I am doing what I can.

And today, with Dr Florian’s help, we’ve Start den Ball ins Rollen. (See, I can speak German when I need to!)

Ability Guidebook_ I Am Going To The Parthenon! GERMAN

I Am Going To The Arch Of Constantine! A new Ability Guidebook for people with autism and neuro-diversity

Untitled design-10One of things I believe most firmly  in is that our kids with special needs have got to get out into the real world and participate more. I realized with my own students that some people need different supports than others.  Some of my students with autism needed to know in advance what was going to happen.  If they knew in advance where they were going and what was expected of them, then they were successful.  That is why I created these Ability Guidebooks.

But not every person with autism is the same and no two outings are the same. Sometimes a teacher or parent needs to try some smaller, easier outings to get the ball rolling. That is why I sometimes make Guidebooks for outings that are hardly more than driving by in the car. “I Am Going To Willamette Falls”, for instance, is not much more than an explaination on  how to safely get out of your car at the viewpoint to look at the falls. Visiting Portlandia is similar.

This Guidebook to visit the Arch of Constantine is one of those low-impact outings.  You could read this book and drive by the Arch for your first attempt, the second you could get out and take a picture from the road and on a third you can park and take a walk around the Arch. The goal is a successful visit.  That might take a few attempts with some people. But each visit is a step in the right direction and one victory gives you a foundation to build on.

The next outing, say to the Colisseum, would build on the skills learned from the first book.  First, the student understands the formula (first the book, then a visit) and each outing following that formula will become easier and easier.  With each success the student has learned that they can go new places. Each new place is a victory and the stepping stone to the next destination. As their confidence grows, the needs for the books diminishes. Before you know it, going places is as simple as getting in the car.

I am very please to announce, “I Am Going to the Arch of Constantine!”

If you speak Italian (or any other language and can translate, I’d love to hear from you!)

Ability Guidebook_ I Am Going To The Arch of Constantine!

New Ability Guidebook! The Colosseum in Rome, Italy!

Untitled design-9I am always excited when I have a new Ability Guidebook finished but this book is extra exciting!  It brings me great pride to announce that I have added my fourth country to the Ability Guidebooks series!

These books began as a support for my students with autism here in Oregon. By making these for my own city, I felt I was doing my part to make my own part of the world more welcoming to people with special needs.  Then on a visit to my mom’s house I made books for Oregon City and that enlarged my project from my home city to a bigger picture.

It is one of the reasons I was named Oregon Teacher of the Year and one of the factors in me being named a Global Fellow by the NEA Foundation. Being a Global Fellow has made me look at an even bigger picture and I made a goal of creating a book for every city that I visit. This included Cusco, Peru when I travelled there as part of my Global Fellowship and then on to Greece and now Italy.

I am super pleased to announce “I Am Going To The Colosseum!”

Buon Giorno!

Ability Guidebook_ I Am Going To The Colosseum!

(If you can translate this book into Italian or any other language, I would love to hear from you!)

I Had A Dream…

Back in college I competed in public speaking for Oregon State University. I loved the art of crafting speeches. I loved using words to create pictures in people’s minds. In January of my senior year, just a few months before graduation, my speech partner and I qualified for nationals.  We were the first on the west coast in our event to qualify for nationals on points. We had every intention of winning nationals.  The day we qualified, the coach for USC offered us full scholarships for our Masters Degrees, contingent upon us going to nationals.

Driving home that very same night a 17 year-old kid was seeing how fast his new Dodge Charger would go.  The police estimate that he was going 70-85 when he hit me.

I did not go to nationals that year. In fact, it was nine months before I could even open my mouth again. I barely was able to finish college, and I don’t believe I ever gave a public speech again until I was named Teacher of the Year in 2014.

That summer of 14 I had the honor of speaking at the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial in Washington, D.C. It was the evening of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act and I am unable to tell you how it felt to stand in that spot and speak out for LGBT youth and for kids with special needs. It was a small affair, but one that had great impact on me.  My only regret was that the event came as a surprise and I did not have a chance to write a proper speech. The kind of speech where you labor over every word and sentence until you have crafted poetry and prose and speech all wrapped up inside each other.  I was honored to speak on the National Mall but lamented that my words could have been more beautiful, more impactful, more insightful…

But a dream is coming true. On July 8th I have been asked to give a speech at the Save Our Schools Rally in Washington, D.C.  For 5-8 minutes I will have the absolute honor to stand on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and speak out for teachers, schools, for kids with special needs and for LGBT youth.

I get the opportunity to write a speech that I hope will rise to the occassion of where it is spoken. I want to think of the people who have stood there before me. I want to live up to the words that so many Americans have shared on what I consider to be hallowed ground.

And I weigh again the wonder that is life.  I think of 23 year old me seeing those headlights suddenly appearing behind my car. I remember the pain of my jaw being put back together, and my ribs being put back in my sternum.  I think back to that Oregon kid who had just qualified for nationals, who had just been given their future in the form a scholarship to USC for a Masters. And I think of the tires screaming and the metal crashing as that future was blinked out in an instant.  I mourned for that lost future for a long time but fate gave me a different one that lead me towards the classroom and a husband and a present that I never in a million years would have dreamed up for myself.

That was the first time my voice was robbed from me. The second came when Multnomah Education Service District gave me orders that I was not allowed to say I was gay in public. They threatened me, told me I could not speak to LGBT kids because “meeting with those students has no value to the district”, fired me, unfired me, tried to fire me again and did their best to destroy my career.  But their actions to silence me reminded me of a time when my voice was stolen. I refused to be silent and I fought for my right to speak.  And because of those obscene actions by my district, my voice grew. The story got out. I stood my ground.

On July 8th I will stand on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. I will give a speech that comes from my heart. I will stand up for gay kids and special needs kids and anyone who  is bullied.  I will fight for education and I will speak up for teachers and I am going to relish every single syllable that comes out of my mouth.

You see, I had a dream, and it went away for a while. But it came back to me tenfold and I am eternally grateful.

I hope to see you in Washington, D.C.