10 Minutes With: The Able Fables
Meet Dr. Nicole Kmieciak, whose project and movement called The Able Fables advocates for inclusion, celebrates ability over disability and gives parents tools to talk about the beauty of diversity with young children. The Able Fables is a series of children's picture books, written by Nicole, the first to be released in November this year.
Below, she tells the story about what inspired her to start The Able Fables, shares some insight into the books that she's already written and talks about the overarching messages she hopes her work will help instil in children at an early age so they will grow up and be able to impact the world to make it a more inclusive place in every aspect of life.
MTEAM: Tell us a bit about yourself.
DR. NICOLE KMIECIAK: My name is Nicole. I am originally from Illinois, but live in Nashville, TN. I received my doctorate in occupational therapy, and work in behavior/mental health. I have a big, beautiful family, and enjoy spending time with them whenever I can. Otherwise, you can find me exploring new cities on the weekend, camera in hand, in search of tacos! I also love fishing with my dad, thrift shopping, and being out on the water.
MTEAM: You started a movement that you’ve called the Able Fables with the tagline “We’re all able”. What do you hope to accomplish?
DR. NK: Ha, tough question! I am a bit of a ‘gigantic dreamer’ thus the name of our first book, Gary’s Gigantic Dream. I’ll do my best to summarize what I hope to accomplish with our inclusive movement & children’s picture book series! I hope to:
1. Increase children's sense of self worth, understanding their value in this world.
2. Decrease stigma of mental, psychosocial, and physical disabilities, reducing bullying.
3. Allowing children of all abilities to see themselves as main characters in the earliest form of media.
4. Facilitate conversation about inclusion between parents and their children.
5. Cultivate friendships that value and flourish off differences.
6. Create a more inclusive community.
7. One day build a universally designed playground!
MTEAM: When did you start Able Fables and why?
DR. NK: I started writing for The Able Fables when I was in my last year of my OTD (Occupational Therapy Doctorate) program. That would have been 2016-2017. The first book came to me while I was studying in my favorite coffee shop, Eighth & Roast. And when I say it came to me, it was literally as if God wrote it. I had no plan, not even a background in writing. It effortlessly flowed from my pen to paper in 30 minutes. That is why I like to think of The Able Fables as “a God thing.” However, when I became determined to make The Able Fables an inclusive movement & book series, my motivation was crystal clear: LACK OF ACCESS AND USABILITY!
One day I took a power wheelchair to a local coffee shop with a classmate for our assistive technology class. Our case studies were ALS and Duchenne's Muscular Dystrophy. We were to use the chair within the space & measure accessibility. Here’s what happened: The parking space was incorrect, no room for the ramp. The sidewalk was too narrow. A wheelchair would not be able to turn to enter the front door, and even if the sidewalk was correct, the door was too narrow, and the threshold was too high. We could not even get in.
I cried. To me us not being able to enter was the same as saying “you are not welcome here.” I am not a wheelchair user. I do not know how it feels to be turned away from a business because it is not useable. I am able to park, enter, eat, access the bar, use the bathroom, but a lot of people cannot, and that is NOT OKAY.
I spent months studying and completing research on universal design in the community (parks, restaurants, hotels, etc). A change needs to be made, and I have the power to do something about it! So, I am writing children’s books, because moms read books and so do dads. Brothers read books, and so do sisters, and babysitters, and teachers, and grandparents, and aunts & uncles. What a great way to educate people of all ages!
MTEAM: Tell us the story behind the name The Able Fables!
DR. NK: I had already written the first book (which is actually the second in the series). When I wrote the first book, it was just going to be a stand alone book. I had no intention of a series, but, one morning I was making coffee, thinking about what baby names I liked, no joke. One of the names I liked was Mabel, and I thought to myself, (I have no idea why) “What rhymes with Mabel?” I guess I wanted to see if there was another similar name I liked better. So I started with A: Able, Bable, Cable, Dable, Eable (not a word), Fable.. Immediately, I went to my journal and wrote down The Able Fables, and thanked God baby names were on my mind that morning. Now I knew I had to write a series called The Able Fables!
MTEAM: You don’t have books for sale quite yet, but you will soon! Can you tell us about the ones you’ve written already? How many?
DR. NK: I have five books completed for the series, multiple more in progress! I am waiting to finish the others until I get a few out. What is the series about? I’ll fill you in! Gary, our main character & storyteller gets fitted for a manual wheelchair. After receiving his new chair he is thrilled with his newfound independence; he can now access his environment in a whole new way! He is able! And he is inspired to tell stories of other children & their abilities. He narrates the books that follow. I don’t want to give too much away, but I will say another character uses a power wheelchair, one has a limb difference, & another has anxiety and low self esteem.
I also have 3 others books written that have the same themes of inclusion and diversity, but are not part of The Able Fables series!
MTEAM: How do The Able Fables stand out from other children’s picture books?
DR. NK: We stand out in a few ways!
Our main character has a disability and several of the characters in the following books also have disabilities. They may be hidden or visible. This population is underrepresented in all forms of media and advertising.
Our focus is on ABILITY, not disability. This means you won’t find our books saying, “This is Jenny, Jenny has Spina Bifida, you should be nice to Jenny.” Each character has his/her own ability story, with little mention of the disability itself, because we are strength-based and believe we’re all able!
At the end of each book, we will be featuring real kiddos that share a similarity with the main character. Maybe they used the same type of adaptive equipment, maybe they have the same diagnosis, maybe they play the same sport or have the same interests!
Each book will provide parents with discussion prompts if they with to talk with their child about inclusion & celebrating differences.
MTEAM: When will the books be released? How are you fundraising to print them? What has the process been like so far?
DR. NK: Our first book is on track for the end of November 2018, fingers crossed. As for the following books, that is all to be determined by God’s timing! We’ll see what happens! I have been fundraising by selling t-shirts through Bonfire.com, and have raised $4,000 in six months. We have plenty of designs available; if you would like to check them out you can visit us on Facebook or Instagram. The link to all of our shirts is in our bio! You can also go to Bonfire.com & search The Able Fables.
MTEAM: You said you’d like a portion of your profits to be donated to an Able Fables playground/playgrounds. Why playgrounds?
DR. NK: Yes! Once our first book is out, we will be able to determine the exact percentage. I have a dream to open a universally designed park! I have a theory that lack of education and exposure causes not only a lack of knowledge, but discomfort. I believe that if all kinds of children grow up around all kinds of children, those children will grow up aware and comfortable. Those children will grow up with friends who are of different races, socioeconomic statuses, and abilities. Then when those children become teachers they will teach for all children. When those children become architects they will design for all people. When those children become business owners their spaces will be useful by all people. I believe universally designed parks, playgrounds, museums, and spaces will expose children and parents, increasing their knowledge and comfort level, empowering them to change the world.
MTEAM: On your website, you offer a monthly download called “Color Me Inclusion™”. Tell us what this is all about? Can anyone submit artwork?
DR. NK: I do! Color Me Inclusion™ is another way to expose children and parents to inclusion at an early age! The themes for our coloring pages are inclusion, ability, and friendship. Anyone, any age, any ability can donate a coloring page. If you are interested, contact us through our website at www.theablefables.com.
MTEAM: Do you think we can change the way the world sees disability?
DR. NK: I wholeheartedly believe we, as a community, can change the way we view disability! It’s already happening. Target and Tommy Hilfiger offer clothing for all abilities! Also, check out some of my favorite organizations: Changing The Face of Beauty and The Lucky Fin Project. You can watch the video below to get a glimpse into how we can flip our perspective when it comes to the word ‘disability’.
MTEAM: Share a few of the simpler ways that the world could be changed by individuals or small groups of people to become a more inclusive place.
DR. NK: 12 things you can do to be more inclusive:
If you see a person with a disability, instead of staring, say hello, how are you today? Spark a conversation.
Expose young children to diversity through picture books.
Talk to your children about the strength and beauty of diversity at an early age.
Support non-profits working toward social change.
Volunteer somewhere out of your comfort zone.
Perform random acts of kindness.
Educate yourself on person first language (i.e. Someone experiencing homelessness, a child with autism, a boy with Down syndrome).
If you’ve created a product, seek feedback from multiple users.
If you own a business, form a user focus group to assess accessibility and usability of your space.
Empower others from underrepresented groups.
Choose love over judgment.