Special Books by Special Kids (SBSK) is a non-profit organization co-founded and run by Chris Ulmer, a prior special education teacher. A special piece of the non-profit is it’s YouTube channel, where Ulmer interviews kids and adults in the disability/neurodiversity community. Sometimes the interviews are lighthearted and silly and sometimes they’re more serious, but they’re always incredibly interesting and empowering for the featured guest. Ulmer knows exactly how to hand his platform over to whoever he’s talking to, and let them tell their story how they want to tell it.
SBSK is a wonderful example of using the internet for good. There’s so much negativity, violence, and hatred on the internet it’s like a breath of fresh air to find pockets of pure good. Ulmer posts his interviews to YouTube, where they get hundreds of thousands to millions of views.
He started this project when he was a special-ed teacher. He had his students write stories about themselves, showing what life was like from their perspective and planned to publish a book. When no publishers were interested, he started recording videos he could share from his own channel instead. Eventually he started meeting and interviewing people who weren’t his students, and started his non-profit in 2016. Ulmer describes SBSK as an:
organization that seeks to normalize the diversity of the human condition under the pillars of honesty, respect, mindfulness, positivity and collaboration. This multi-media movement supports the acceptance and celebration of all members of the neurodiverse/disability community regardless of diagnosis, age, race, religion, income, sexual orientation, gender or gender expression.Chris Ulmer
The videos always illuminate how resilient, unique and creative people are, even under the most difficult circumstances. For some of the featured guests, these videos are how they reach out, share who they are, and even make friends. The interviewee and their families are able to connect with viewers in the comment section. They can get to know other people who can relate to them, or answer questions from people who want to understand them better. They also get to see all the comments of support and know that they are accepted and appreciated. The comment section was very important to Ulmer’s vision for his non-profit. This is why it was such a hard blow when YouTube disabled their comment section in 2019.
YouTube’s Struggle to Protect Children on their Website
Throughout it’s existence YouTube has struggled to find a functional way of keeping children safe on their website. In 2017, creepy (and sometimes sexual) videos of “off brand” Peppa Pig’s, Elsa’s, and Spiderman’s directed toward children. These inappropriate videos would slip through the YouTube algorithm and end up in the recommended sections of age-appropriate videos.
In 2019 they struggled with criticism over the fact that they were not properly moderating predatory comments on videos that featured children.
After both of these controversies YouTube decided to start disabling comments altogether on certain channels that featured children, even if the content didn’t exploit the children in any way at all. Unfortunately, SBSK was one of the channels that was flagged as being at “high risk for predatory comments,” and had their extremely positive, beneficial comments section disabled.
SBSK Continues to Spread Positivity Amidst Unwarranted Censorship
Ulmer is hoping YouTube will reverse there decision, and has started a petition to convince YouTube to reinstate SBSK’s comment section. Luckily, for the time being, Ulmer has figured out how to use a different YouTube feature to allow viewers to connect with the interviewees. YouTubers can make posts, similar to Facebook statuses, that show up in subscription boxes. Comments are not disabled for SBSK for these type of posts. Ulmer creates “Appreciation Threads” to accompany videos, where the comments truly are positive, supportive, and appreciative.