Internet video series shines God’s light on special kids

(See Chris's videos by clicking here.)

By Dave Myers

Southwest Kansas Catholic

Hidden in the billions of bytes of information flowing from the Internet every micro-second is a video series dedicated to the celebration of the uniqueness of all human life. 

“Hey, everyone. Welcome to SBSK, the Youtube channel where you’ll meet friends who live with many different conditions.

“While watching these videos you’ll notice one thing. Although humans are incredibly diverse, we all have so much in common. So, without further hesitation, let’s meet today’s friend.”

These are the words of Chris Ulmer, a 20-something special education teacher who has devoted himself to travelling the globe and talking with people who are facing severe physical and/or intellectual disabilities.

He not only tells their story, but, like a modern-day Mr. Rogers, he makes clear that those he interviews are special, that they are worthy of friendship and respect.

The two- to 20-minute videos are not always easy to watch. At least not at first.

Avery is a teenage girl with cerebral palsy.

“What’s the most difficult thing about being you?” Chris asks.

Avery thinks for a moment, smiles wide and responds, “I don’t have any [difficulties].”

“A lot of people say she’s an angel, and I actually believe that,” her father says.

Another smile from his daughter who is squeezed up next to him. “I never say a mean thing,” she says.

“Why not?” Chris asks from off camera.

“Because, I’m a nice person!”

“I think a misconception is that she can’t talk, or talks very little,” Avery’s sister says as she takes a place next to her. “When she first meets them, she’s pretty shy. But then you get sassy once you get to know them, don’t you?”

“Yeah!”

“Do you sometimes feel shy?” Chris asks.

“Yeah.”

“Do you feel shy because you want them to like you?”

“Yeah,” she responds.

“Are you scared they may not like you?”

After a moment’s thought, she responds, “No” and laughs.

Ulmer’s vocation has taken him all over the world, meeting with people of all levels of disability. Many are non-verbal, and communicate with a look, movement or sound. Yet it’s impossible not to see their affection for the young man, who makes clear that he is there not just to put a face on these special people, but to be their friend.

And it is by way of that relationship that you can clearly see God at work.  

“I was a special education teacher and had the same seven students for three years,” he said in a video question and answer interview. “In our third year, we started a blog. I wanted the community to learn about my students to better understand them, include them and have them be a part of our life in southeast Florida.”

For six months, the young teacher filmed lessons and interviewed his students.

“I thought that would be it. It wasn’t my goal to become a vlogger [video logger]. After six months we had 100,000 followers. People started emailing me and asking if I could come and interview them.”

He decided to publish a book: Special Books by Special Kids (SBSK), but after being turned down by 50 publishers, Ulmer decided to devote full time to his video series.

Today he has filmed more than 1,000 videos--190 on Youtube, and more than 600 on their original Facebook channel. He has travelled across the globe, and has been featured on an Australian version of 60-Minutes. 

One common question he asks his interviewees (or their parent), is, How do you want people to act around you?

The same answer comes again and again: “Just smile. Say hi.”

The philosophy behind the video series is that everyone has the ability to change someone’s life. It may be the life of the person he’s interviewing, but it will most certainly be those who are fortunate enough to tune in.

To see his videos, go to Youtube.com and type Chris Ulmer in the search box. On Facebook, type in Special Books by Special Kids.