UOD’s Disability Awareness Book Club

Join Understanding Our Differences for our Disability Awareness Book Club. It generally meets the first Monday of each month at Newton Free Library, 7:00 pm in Meeting Room A.

The purpose of the club is to engage in thought provoking discussion centered on books with a disability theme: fiction that portrays a character with a disability; nonfiction about living with a disability, and biographies, autobiographies or memoirs about living with a disability.

For more information or to RSVP, please contact our Program Director, Jenni Acosta via email. We welcome you to join these lively and thoughtful discussions. You may even come away with a new take on a book you’ve already read for another book club.

Upcoming Meeting Dates and Titles of Books:

Monday, May 6, 2019, at 7pm in Room A

Nonfiction, Have Dog Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey, by Stephen Kuusisto

Have Dog

Monday, June 3, 2019, at 7pm in Room A

Fiction, Census, by Jesse Ball


Books are available through the library or you can support UOD by purchasing through Amazon Smile!

Past Titles (2018-2019 academic year)

Monday, October 1, 2018, at 7pm in Room A

Nonfiction, Nujeen: One Girl’s Incredible Journey from War-Torn Syria in a Wheelchair, by Nujeen Mustafa with Christina Lamb

book cover that shows a young Syrian woman, Nujeen Mustafa, smiling







Monday, November 5, 2018, at 7pm in Room A

Fiction, The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, by Jonathan Evison

Revised Fundamentals

Monday, December 3, 2018, at 7pm in Room A

Nonfiction, The Short Bus: A Journey Beyond Normal, by Jonathan Mooney

Short Bus

Monday, January 7, 2019, at 7pm in Room A

Nonfiction, The Hands of My Father, by Myron Uhlberg

Hands of My Father

Monday, February 4, 2019, at 7pm in Room A

Fiction, The Kiss Quotient, by Helen Hoang

Kiss Quotient

Monday, March 25, 2019, at 7pm in the Trustees Room

Nonfiction, Too Late to Die Young: Nearly True Tales from a Life, by Harriet McBride Johnson

Too Late

Monday, April 1, 2019, at 7pm in Room A

Fiction, So Lucky: A Novel, by Nicola Griffith

So Lucky

Past Titles (March 2015-Spring 2018)





About UOD – A Radio Interview

UOD Executive Director Rebecca Lubens was interviewed recently about Understanding Our Differences on WNTN Radio 1550 AM, Newton’s radio station. The interview was conducted by host Paul Roberts on his show 1550 Today, WNTN’s weekly public affairs program featuring local news and issues.

Click below to listen to the interview podcast, which describes the history, mission and activities of Understanding Our Differences:



Kids Making A Difference

My Great Story
Recently 5th graders at Newton’s Memorial Spaulding School had the chance to meet some real-life video stars – Trent and Megan Briggs.  The students were learning about our Intellectual Disabilities unit, which features a special video called “My Great Story.” It is about the action Trent took to help eliminate the R-word from our vocabulary, on behalf of his sister, Megan, who has Down syndrome.

Trent and Megan visited the school in person, and shared their story. As a 9-year-old, Trent wrote to the Scholastic Children’s Dictionary, asking them to change the definition of Down syndrome to remove the R-word – and they did!

Students were incredibly enthusiastic to meet this brother and sister in person, and were captivated by Trent’s successful advocacy and Megan’s hip-hop dancing. At the end of their talk, students gathered around special “End the R-Word” posters and signed their names.

What a great lesson in kids making a difference.

To view “My Great Story,” part of UOD’s Intellectual Disabilities unit, click here.


Andrew Solomon Speaks About the Importance of UOD

Far from the tree banner

Acclaimed author Andrew Solomon spoke in Newton on Monday, June 17, 2013, about his book, Far from the Tree. It is a magnificent work about extraordinary families of individuals affected by cognitive, physical or psychological differences. This thought-provoking book affirms the values of empathy and acceptance for people of all abilities, and its themes fit extremely well with UOD’s mission.

We at Understanding Our Differences were thrilled that during his talk, Andrew directly addressed and endorsed the value of our program.


Boston Marathon Runner Supported UOD

Matthew Stafford is a Newton resident and parent of two children in the Newton Public Schools who ran the Boston Marathon 2015 on behalf of Understanding Our Differences. Matt has seen first hand the positive impact that UOD has had on the students and the school community.

Here is what Matt has to say about UOD, “I am glad to have this chance to help UOD in their mission to bring their message to children all over. I am grateful that my children benefit from the impact of UOD on the culture of inclusion where they learn.”

Matt’s successfully raised over $10,000 for Understanding Our Differences. Click here to make an online donation through Matt’s fundraising page on CrowdRise.



Family Book Event A Success

Understanding Our Differences’ 3rd Annual Family Book Event on October 21, 2014 was a great success.  This year our guest Rob Buyea, author of Because of Mr. Terupt, was welcomed by an enthusiastic crowd of nearly 300 children, parents and teachers.

This special author conversation and book signing was moderated by Edgar B. Herwick III, of the WGBH radio show The Curiosity Desk.

Because of Mr. Terupt is a middle grade novel that explores classroom dynamics and the incredible impact that a teacher can have on his pupils. Mr. Terupt, the teacher, is especially wise about how much students with and without disabilities can learn from getting to know each other.

If you have ideas for a book and author for our Family Book Event in fall of 2015, please email us with your suggestion.

For our previous Family Book Events, Understanding Our Differences brought the following authors to Newton:
Fall 2012 – R.J. Palacio, author of Wonder
Fall 2013 – Sharon Draper, author of Out of My Mind



Successful Spring Benefit Held April 12th

Celebrating Our Differences held a successful and meaningful Spring Benefit on Sunday, April 12, 2015, at Community Rowing in Brighton, MA from 2:30 – 5:00 p.m.

We honored leaders in the field of Intellectual Disabilities, to coincide with our curriculum on that topic. Our esteemed honorees were:

· Jo Ann Simons, MSW, President & CEO, Cardinal Cushing Centers

· Mark Kelly, M.Ed., Director of Special Needs, City of Newton

· David Tynes, M.Ed., Physical Education Teacher, Horace Mann School, Newton; Director, The Cambridge Program



Congratulations to Youth Award Winner, UOD Diabetes Speaker

Congratulations to Hannah Gonzalez, speaker for UOD’s Diabetes unit and Newton middle school student, for this week winning the Irene Bickelman Junior Youth Award. UOD nominated her to win this award, “presented to an individual in elementary school through eighth grade who has earned the respect of his peers by demonstrating qualities such as leadership, citizenship, and good human values.” The Newton Parks and Recreation Commission and the Newton Health and Human Services Youth Commission annually present this and several other city-wide Youth Services Awards at a ceremony at City Hall.

Hannah has done an incredible job as a Diabetes unit speaker, educating students across Newton about the condition. We truly appreciate her knowledge, dedication and enthusiasm. (She is pictured here with UOD Operations Director Deborah Glickman.)


Hannah was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in October of 2011. She is very outgoing and does not let diabetes interfere with the rest of her life. Hannah loves playing soccer and laughing with her friends and siblings. Her hope for her future is to become a dolphin trainer. She got very excited when she heard of the dolphin trainer, Robyn Cox, who also has type 1 diabetes! Hannah hopes to educate as many kids as possible about type 1 diabetes.

HOW TO: Making Honorary or Memorial Donations

Thank you for your interest in making an online honorary or memorial donation to Understanding Our Differences. We use PayPal to process charitable donations. To make your gift, first click on the large blue Donate button on the Giving page or home page.

After completing the requested PayPal information, click on the “Review Donation & Continue” button.  On the next screen, click on the “Add special instructions to the seller” link, and, in the box that appears, please type in the following information:

State what type of donation you are making, whether In Honor Of or In Memory Of. If you are making an In Honor Of donation, please include the honoree’s name and address. If you are making a Memorial Donation, please include the honoree’s name, and the name and address of a family member to be notified.

When you have typed this information in the box, click on the “Donate $ USD” button at the bottom of the page. Your donation will be complete and UOD will be notified of your intentions for your gift.



Speaker Shares Her Disability Experience with Students

Editor’s note: Becky Curran is a speaker for our Physical Disabilities unit. She writes here about her first  experience speaking on behalf of Understanding Our Differences. Becky blogs at http://beckymotivates.tumblr.com.

Visiting Downey School
By Becky Curran

I wanted to share my experience while speaking in front of a few second grade classes today at Downey School in Westwood, MA. This speaking experience was booked through Understanding Our Differences.

When it was time to head to the library for storytelling, I started off by asking the students if they’ve ever seen a little person before me. Surprisingly, more than half of the students raised their hands. I then started reading a book called “Thinking Big” (http://amzn.to/YYN4cL) that was read to all of the students in my elementary school classes. “Thinking Big” is the story and mindset of eight-year-old Jaime Osborn. Jaime is a dwarf, just like me. While I was reading the story to the students, I inserted some of my relatable life experiences at Jamie’s age. When the book mentioned Jaime’s scars on her legs, I showed them mine.

After I finished reading the book, I opened up the room to questions. The students were so sharp. Most of the students were curious about how I got my clothes and shoes. Then they asked how I drive. I explained the concept of pedal extensions and how I don’t need anything like a booster seat to see over the windshield since my torso is the same height as an average height person my age.

After I answered a few questions, I wanted to have a chance to get to know each and every one of the students in the room. I gave them each the opportunity to tell me their names and what they want to be when they grow up. I stressed the point that it’s okay if you don’t know and it’s also okay if it changes over time, since school will teach them what they’re good at. I know that when I was their age, I wanted to be a doctor. Then I realized how much time I would have to spend in school and I ended up changing my concentration towards marketing.

The point of this exercise was not only for me to learn about them, but for them to realize that if they work hard towards it, they can do anything. In addition, they shouldn’t judge anyone who may look different with similar occupational desires. Anything is possible for anyone.

One of the last questions was if I could stand up without using my hands, like Jaime in the book, since we’re both double-jointed. I hadn’t practiced doing it in a long time, but luckily it was a success.

I really enjoyed spending time with the students today and I hope to speak to more elementary school students in the future. It’s a fun environment full of students with great imaginations and open minds. Thank you, Downey School and Understanding Our Differences for making today a reality!

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