Talos Anniversary

On March 6th 2021, Talos Foundation was born – except we didn’t know it would be born that day. 

My husband and I were taking our son, Alexander Talos Schaus, to a sports class for children with special needs at the Sheung Wan Civic Center. As we were waiting in the hallway for access to the area where the class was to take place, Alex indicated he needed to use the toilet.  Since the only toilet on that floor was a disabled toilet and it was locked, I approached the NGO office that was located next to the toilet and asked for access.  I was told that my son could not use it because he wasn’t disabled and not a member of the NGO.  I explained that regardless, my son was disabled (I showed his disability card) and asked for access to the bathroom – the staff continued to deny him access and during the argument, Alex urinated in his pants.

I was so angry about the dehumanizing situation and when I returned home that rainy day, I spent the afternoon calling friends in the legal community to see if we had a legal case and drafting a letter to anyone in government that would read it.  It was an angry letter, meant to spur the reader into action.  I never sent that letter.

Instead, as fate would have it, a few days later I was sent to a quarantine camp as I was a close contact of a confirmed COVID case.  The camp was surrounded by barbed wires, there was no WIFI and the mattresses were about 2 inches thick.  It was straight out of a dystopian movie.  That time was scary, and I was angry again.  I spent my two weeks in the detention facility working but more importantly, exploring my creative side in my free time – I took up opera singing, creative writing and sketching.  I had time to think, to process. 

I thought deeply about the situation with Alex and I wanted to do something about it. 

I thought back to a few years ago when I took my own father (who is now in late stage Alzheimer’s) to New York City for a Broadway show. He made some comments during the show that were loud and we had to leave the show.  Then as we were walking down Broadway, he made a comment to a couple that wasn’t appropriate, and I thought they would punch my father.  I turned around, told them he had Alzheimer’s, and they were immediately disarmed and then thanked me for being a good daughter.  In that instant, awareness immediately disarmed a potentially angry incident.  I went home and designed some business cards and badges for my dad to wear that said, “My name is Jim and I have Alzheimer’s. Thank you for your patience.”  My mom would use them all the time when he was out with her and they worked so well.

How could I do something similar in Hong Kong where people mainly speak Chinese (and I don’t’ speak Chinese) and where talking about disabilities and mental health is taboo?  Alex faced similar misunderstandings in Hong Kong on a daily basis – on the train when he’d jump to self-regulate, or tap on the back of a seat, or hum.  People would regularly approach me, ask me to control my child, or make rude comments about how my child was an “animal” or “naughty.”  There had to be a way to disarm the situation gracefully in English and Chinese.

Armed with this idea, I started to sketch out some ideas of a symbol that could capture intellectual disabilities (similar to what is used for disabled toilets) but would be universally accepted without language barriers, that would disarm people who didn’t understand (like the man who didn’t let Alex use the toilet).  I asked friends in the special needs community, and after a few weeks, I sent the idea to a designer. I then had the symbol and the statement, “Special Needs: Kindness and Compassion” printed on lanyards and stickers and posted the idea on a few Facebook groups to gauge interest.  I thought 50-100 parents would be interested. 

Within several days, the post had thousands of views and I was approached by hundreds of parents, supporters and business owners who wanted to help support the idea.  I knew then that the idea had legs and we could actually make a difference. 

The idea has caught on, and we now have over 20 distribution sites in Hong Kong and are developing new products.  I regularly receive notes from families who thank Talos for the products and how they help reduce the stress and anxiety of bringing their child out for a meal or on the public transport, and how they help avoid confrontations simply by pointing to the symbol. 

In 2022, we will launch community education programs and have already launched our neurodiversity corporate training program in several large companies. We are very excited about making an impact, even small, in the community. 

I’m so grateful to the Hong Kong community for embracing this simple idea, and I hope that it can help effect change in people’s attitudes towards people with special needs, invisible disabilities and intellectual disabilities. 

Channel that anger (don’t reject it) and change the world, one step at a time.