*Intro music plays, Lara begins*
Lara: Hi everyone! Welcome to the Blooming Minds Miami Podcast! Blooming Minds Miami is a Miami-Dade based, student-led Mental Health Advocacy Initiative. You can find us on our website, bloomingmindsmiami.wixsite.com/website, our Instagram, @bloomingmindsmiami, and on Spotify, at Blooming Minds Miami. I’m Lara, co-founder of Blooming Minds Miami.
Caro: And I’m Caro, also co-founder of Blooming Minds Miami. And today we’re going to be discussing disabilities and their effect on mental health, with an incredible guest, Ms. Kat Magnoli!
Lara: But before we get to that, we’d like to give you all a brief overview on disabilities, and their impact on mental health and access to care.
Caro: One in four adults in the United States have a disability. Disabilities affect people in various different ways, but often affect the day-to-day lives of the people living with them, whether this is through difficulty moving, seeing, remembering, or other impairments. However, the most common form of disability in the United States is ambulatory disabilities, or those that affect movement. According to the CDC, a recent study found that adults with disabilities are more likely to report experiencing mental distress, and around 33% of adults with disabilities in the United States have reported frequent mental distress, which the CDC defines as 14 or more reported mentally unhealthy days in a span of 30 days.
Lara: Although the Americans with Disabilities act was passed over 30 years ago, individuals with disabilities still experience various forms of discrimination and barriers to attaining proper mental and general healthcare, insurance, employment, housing, and more. These issues—along with stigma and ableism which often surrounds disabilities— often lead to an even further decline of mental health, and with lack of proper access due to communication, transportation, mobility, and financial related barriers, people with disabilities often cannot receive the proper mental healthcare. Additionally, The National Alliance on Mental Illness mentions that some practitioners have an attitude that disabilities need to be “fixed” and that those with disabilities can’t function as full members of society. These incorrect attitudes can result in individuals hearing that their mental health struggles are “expected” because of their situation, and therapeutic interventions are sometimes even dismissed, as it is believed that individuals with disabilities won’t benefit.
Caro: For these reasons and more, it is extremely important that we educate ourselves and others on the struggles, stigmas, and misconceptions of disabilities; along with advocating for accessible and inclusive mental healthcare. It is also extremely important that individuals with disabilities understand that their mental health matters, and mental healthcare is available. At the end of this podcast, we will be listing various mental health resources for individuals with disabilities. And now, we are delighted to introduce our wonderful guest, Ms. Kat Magnoli!
Lara: Born with a birth defect that affected her spine, Katherine Magnoli, has been living an active life for over 36 years. She has also overcome many obstacles making her a prime public speaker, and has spoken in hundreds of events to children and adults of all ages.
Katherine’s traits do not stop there; she likes to push herself to new limits and over the last 10 years has developed many forms of advocacy. In addition, Katherine has other literary accomplishments such as; being published in Chicken Soup for the Soul’s 2015 Publication of Think Possible along with several other disability magazines such as PushLiving and Audacity Magazine.
She began her decade-long dream of running her nonprofit, aptly titled KatGirl and Friends Inc. The organization helps promote inclusion through literature and public speaking. Katherine’s dream role in advocacy is being the host of an all-inclusive tv show that centers around disability education.
And now, Katherine, we’d love to hear a little more about you!
Kat: Wow, that was quite a beginning. Thank you, guys! First off, I am not half as amazing as the hosts of this show. I’ve told you guys this a million times. When I was your age, the only thing I cared about was boys. The fact that you’re actually out other educating people about mental health and wellness is such a beautiful thing and I am just so proud to be on the podcast, so thank you for having me.
Lara: Thank you.
Caro: Thank you so much for being here with us today, and now, we’re going to get started with the questions!
Lara: So, the first question: What kind of support systems do you wish that schools had had for students like you, during times in which you were struggling with bullying?
Kat: Well, I really think that there should have been more education about disability history. There are so many incredible people within the disability community that, unless you’re in it, you don’t ever hear about. And even celebrities that are super famous that you may not know have disabilities, ranging from ADHD… Which is what… I don’t know if you guys know him since you’re so young, but Michael Jordan, who is a legendary basketball player, won six championships [and] lives his life with ADHD. And that is incredible to me, that he is able to succeed in his field of athleticism while living with that. And then there are other famous people such as the kid, I think his name is Daniel Radcliffe, that did the Harry Potter movies, he has motor skill issues where he can’t even tie his own shoe by himself but he’s a superstar both in theaters and in movies. And I feel like that should be brought to the forefront to educate children so it kind of breaks down that barrier of ‘Ok well, this person has a disability but I enjoy watching them do their things and that’s incredible.’
On the other side, also, there are historical figures that have disabilities that we only hear about what they did but we don’t hear about how they did it. For example, Harriet Tubman had epilepsy, which is a seizure disorder, and she was able to lead the underground railroad and free a bunch of slaves. And I think that that should be the top of the list of what’s taught when teaching that era of history because it brings it to a whole different perspective when you find that out. Not to mention, FDR, who was the longest-running president, had polio, and it was at a time where he was so ashamed of his disability that whenever he made speeches, he would make sure he was in a standing position. But honestly, I would have loved to have seen him in his wheelchair or with his cane because I think that would have made his presidency so much more powerful and probably change the course of history if people would’ve known from the beginning that he had that condition.
Caro: Thank you so much for your answer. I do feel like that would definitely have been very inspirational for kids. Our next question has to do with bullying. How do you feel that bullying affected your mental health as a child, and in turn, how did this affect your performance in school and other aspects of your life?
Kat: Ok, so I have to kind of go back to the beginning of my childhood where I lived a very safe and accepted life. I was surrounded by family that, even though I’m the only person with a disability, they never treated me any differently. I also went to a school for children with disabilities, where I saw people who were like me. And so, I never really saw myself as different until I went into the public school district, where I was the only person with a physical disability in a very small town where being different is literally the worst possible thing you could be and I faced a lot of ostracizing and a lot of criticism and name-calling and just really horrible, negative things that I had to grow up with.
And, at the time… At first, it brought a lot of confusion to me cause I didn’t understand why that was happening. And then, as I got older, probably when I reached about middle school and high school. That’s when I started to really internalize it all, and I started to be like ‘Well if nobody wants to be my friend then there must be something weird about me’ and I started to dislike myself and I started to dislike anybody that resembled me. So, I distanced myself from the disability community for very long. And then, luckily, at the age of, which was very damaging to me because I hungered to be accepted so I put myself in situations that weren’t very good for me and I would allow whoever “wanted” to be my friend to take advantage of me in any way because I thought that that was what would make me be accepted. So, it was very.. it was a bad situation for a while.
And then, luckily, at the age of 25, I had the opportunity to volunteer at a school for children with disabilities in the learning sector, such as the autism spectrum and so forth. And I got to really understand myself in a way that I hadn’t in so long because I saw these kids who were so incredible and I was able to see them go through similar acts of bullying that I had gone through and it really helped me heal and accept myself and that’s when I started my journey as an advocate, which I don’t think would have happened if it wasn’t for those kids, so I am beyond grateful for them.
Lara: Thank you so much for that answer. I love that story and it’s just incredible that you were able to overcome that and building off that question, as a child, and even now, how were you able to overcome the struggles you experienced with bullying and discrimination?
Kat: Like I said, I internalized a lot of it, and that’s where I kind of went into writing and journaling all my thoughts because I felt like that was the way I could really kind of… what’s the word… It’s off the tip of my tongue I can’t think of it. But like, kind of just document my feelings day to day, and just allow myself an outlet. So writing was always a big passion of mine since I was very very little, even before I got bullied. I’ve been writing since I was four years old and it’s just always been probably my favorite pastime, to be honest with you. I still, to his day, get up two hours before my mom just so I can journal about whatever my thoughts are that day. So, it’s a habit I’ve had for as long as I can remember.
Caro: Thank you very much for that answer. I feel like writing’s a great way of expressing your feelings and emotions. I think like that’s really healthy and can be promoted. On a different question, what do you believe that schools can do to encourage the understanding of students with disabilities?
Kat: Like I said in my first answer, I think the main thing that schools need to do is get rid of disability awareness month and make it disability history month and really educate children, with and without disabilities about all the pheromonal people who have been able to overcome their obstacles and really excel in their field, whether it’s politicians, or athletes, or actors, or even incredible disability advocates who have changed the course of this country by making laws such as the ADA and 504 and really things that help include us. There are people that, probably most people without someone with a disability in their life haven’t’ even heard of like Judith Heumann or Jim bre. These are amazing people that everyone should know about and I feel like it’s the school district's obligation to teach children from kindergarten up about these people so they can really have an understanding of ‘Wow, these people have a disability but look what they can do.’
Lara: Thank you so much for that answer and I think that disability history month would be an amazing thing to implement in all schools and all ages. I hope to see that happen in the future. The next question: What is some advice that you have for students who resonate with your story?
Kat: I think the biggest advice that I have is to just find what it is that you love to do and do it all the time. And I know that that sounds really cheesy and cliché, but it’s honestly what helped me. Like I said, I’ve been writing since I was 4 and that has helped me just get through so many things in my life. It’s helped me be more centered, be more understanding of myself and the world around me and so, I’m not telling everybody to go and write, but if your passion is art, then do art all the time. Don’t let anybody stop you or tell you that you can’t because you have a disability or because you’re in a different race or because you have a different religion. Whatever the case is, do what you love and do it all the time because it will really help your mental health and it will help you deal with whatever it is that is going on around you.
Caro: Thank you so much for the answer. Also, I wanted to ask… Can you tell us more about the Katgirl books?
Kat: So, Katgirl is a creation that I developed about 12 years ago at this point. It was right after I had worked with the kids with autism and I really just felt so strongly about helping people, mainly children, understand disability. And I knew I had to do it in a very fun and entertaining way, so I developed a character in a wheelchair how is actually a superhero and her name is Katgirl. And she just is a very bright light in the world because she helps people who don’t understand disability to see it in a different way and see it in a powerful way and in turn she helps those with a disability to look at that character, or even look at me sometimes, and say ‘Well if she can do it, I can do it.’ And I think if I can have that impact on both ends, I think that that’s beautiful and that’s what her intent is. So, what Katgirl does is she helps children who are being bullied like I said, but she doesn’t just focus on disability, but she focuses on everybody. There’s Katgirl books that deal with racism, there’s Katgirl books that deal with bullying of children who are overweight. So, it’s a wide spectrum of stories because I feel like, if you’re going to be an advocate you can’t just limit yourself to one form of advocacy. You have to really want to create inclusion for everybody.
Lara: Yeah, you’re totally right about the advocacy thing and Katgirl is almost as incredible as you! So, that leads us into our final question: Who have been the most inspirational and influential figures in your life?
Kat: Definitely my parents have been the most influential. My father was just a jack of all trades, he spoke like 7 languages, he was on the radio, he played guitar, he did campaigns for politicians in Brazil. His accomplishments far surpass mine, to say the least. And my mother is, without a doubt, the most emotionally strong and stable person I think I have ever known in my life. She’s dealt with so many hardships and so much drama throughout my life just dealing with my medical issues that she’s had to be by my side for. Not to mention that I’m the youngest of seven and they all have their stuff and she’s basically been a single mom for the last 21 years since my dad passed away. So, she raised seven kids basically on her own and she’s just incredible. So, definitely, my parents are top of the list for my influences, and hey, who wouldn’t want to be a jack of all trades with a heart of gold and a lot of strength. I mean, that’s what I want to do. If I could be a perfect mix of them that’d be great.
And then on an advocacy tip, I would say it would have to be a woman named Joni Eareckson, I think is her name, and she is incredible. I read her book when I was 8 years old. It was given to me by my first-grade teacher named Ms. Ianomi and it’s the story of this woman who lived completely able-bodied till the age of 17, and then she became paralyzed from the neck down. It’s just her story of perseverance and just how she’s really overcame so many obstacles. So, I really think that if I ever met her I’d probably fangirl like so hard. And I’ve heard stories that she lives in Florida, so if anyone that’s hearing this knows her, please send her my ways because I will have a heart attack. She’s so cool. She paints, she rides horses, she has a podcast, she’s amazing. So if you don’t know her, look her up ‘cause she’s the coolest lady ever.
Caro: Thank you so much! Your parents sound like amazing people.
Kat: They are.
Caro: And you’re really cool, too, by the way. Don’t think that…
Kat: Why thank you.
Caro: Well, I think that’s it for the questions, Kat. Thank you so much for being here with us today, and we loved speaking with you. As we said before, it’s always a pleasure. You can learn more about Kat and her organization on Katgirlandfriends.com.
Kat: Thank you, guys! Have a nice day!
Lara: Thank you, you too! Once again, thank you for being here Kat, have a great rest of your day!
Kat: Ok, bye-bye!
Caro: Well, that was a wonderful and productive conversation with Kat, and the points she brought up really opened our eyes.
Lara: Yeah, I totally agree, and I really love the points that she brought up regarding having a disability history month, along with her points on disability visibility. And I honestly just love speaking with Kat. She’s absolutely amazing.
Caro: Disability visibility rhymes.
Lara: It does rhyme.
*laughs and outro music plays*
Lara: And now as promised, here are some mental health and general resources both for individuals with disabilities and for the general population. We will also be uploading a blog post on our website, bloomingmindsmiami.wixsite.com/website, with a transcript of our interview with Kat Magnoli, along with a list of these resources with links and further details.
And now, here are the resources:
The Special Olympics Inclusive Health and Strong Mindfulness Programs: https://resources.specialolympics.org/health/strong-minds
Two programs offered by the special Olympics for Special Olympics athletes and families. The Inclusive Health program focuses on improving the physical and social-emotional well-being of people with ID by increasing inclusion in health care, wellness, and health systems for Special Olympics athletes and others with intellectual disabilities. The Strong Mindfulness Program offers free 1 hour sessions on mindfulness for individuals with disabilities and their families.
National Health Law Program: https://healthlaw.org/
Provides information on medicare and other programs that work to assist people with disabilities and their health.
The Arc: https://thearc.org/
A community-based organization advocating for and with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. They work with policy and advocacy for disability rights, and also offer employment services and additional resources for individuals with disabilities.
SAMHSA behavioral health treatment services locator: https://findtreatment.samhsa.gov/
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS): https://www.cms.gov/
For immediate mental health emergencies:
National suicide prevention lifeline- 800-273-8255
Crisis text line- text HOME to 741741
Disaster distress helpline- 1-800-985-5990