Can’t keep a good man down

Kelly Petryszyn

Michael Moore’s 54-inch cane was tapping in a zig-zag pattern across Risman Plaza on a sunny September afternoon. Dressed in a striped shirt, blue jeans and Velcro shoes, the Kent State University student moved swiftly. His white eyeballs glowed beneath the sun. A smile spread across his face, just like every other day.

A few minutes later, the smile was gone.

Members of the ROTC program saw Michael approaching a rock climbing wall they had set up for the Black Squirrel Festival. Conscious the wall was obstructing Michael’s path, the members led him around it.

Michael asked if he could climb the wall, the answer was no.

This was the first time I ever saw Michael get mad.

“Is it because I’m blind?” he automatically fired back.

Michael felt it was discrimination.

“Blind people can do it just as much as anyone else could,” he said. The only difference is that someone needs to show him where the wall is and then he can start climbing. He has climbed the wall before – and made it all the way to the top.

It doesn’t happen often, Michael said, but it bothers him when people hold him back because of his disability. He thinks they are ignorant of the fact that he can do the same things as everyone else.

And he can.

But, being Michael isn’t easy.

I know.

One afternoon, he grabbed me by the hand and told me to close my eyes. I was temporarily without sight and Michael was my guide to the university.

The second my eyes shut I could feel the stares. I could hear the footsteps scatter as I approached. I could picture them all whispering.

It must have been a sight.  My eyes were tightly closed. My right hand was clinging to his arm.  My left hand was out in front of me, reaching for whatever I could feel.  Every so often my feet would get tangled in Michael’s rapidly moving cane as it tapped on the pavement in front of us.

I felt my cheeks color red as I fumbled to feel my surroundings. I listened to the sounds of the path beneath our feet as Michael instructed. But my senses failed me after I entered Smith Hall and slammed into a wall. Defeated, I turned around and stumbled to find the exit.

I wanted to give up. My frustration had reached its peak. I let it get to me.

But, Michael doesn’t give up. He spends every day of his life with his eyes closed.

To him, being blind isn’t a disability.

If Michael smacked into a wall, it would most likely be intentional. His father and a mobility and orientation specialist, Judy Harpley, he have helped him memorize the entire campus —all 866 acres of it. Every step, turn and elevation is etched into his brain. He describes to the people walking aside him that he will hit this garbage can, turn right and then listen for the sound of a bus engine – that means to continue walking straight. He has mastered the university so well that he enjoys taking walks on his free time. If people he knows are headed to a building, Michael will go out of his way to guide them.

Michael can’t see the screen, but he loves to surf the Internet. He just needs the screen reading system JAWS to scroll through Web pages in Braille display on his PACmate, which he describes as “a blind man’s PDA.” He enjoys listening to audio books, as well. Michael even listened to the entire MP3 version of the Bible in about half a year.

For 5 years, he lived on his own in Leebrick Hall. During his stay, he would pull all-nighters writing papers. He perfected the art of microwave cooking in a dorm room, too. Throughout his stay, he enjoyed holing up in his dorm room, which he dubbed “Mike’s Place.”

While he was staying there, he met a friend, Sharetta Buckner. Over time, she has become inspired by Michael’s abilities.

“Some of the things he does amazes me,” she said. “He needs no assistance from anyone.”

Every time Sharetta sees Michael he makes her feel better about herself. His enthusiasm brightens her day.

“I just love everybody. That’s what it is – I love everybody,” he said. He tries to talk to people everywhere he goes.

One day, Michael caught a university staff member’s eye so she introduced herself. Michael playfully asked, “How old are you? 21?”

“No I’m 54,” the staff member responded, noticeably blushing.

Michael ended the conversation with an enthusiastic “Goodbye!” He then grabbed Kathy, engulfed her in a tight hug and placed a wet kiss on her cheek. A loud smack sounded. She walked away, mumbling something about how she can’t tell her husband about that.

He hugs and kisses every girl he talks to.

Anyone who knows him will tell you Michael is a funny guy. He used to be serious when he was younger, but Michael has learned to have “more of a sense of humor about his disability,” he said.

If he runs into an object when he is walking, he will joke and say “Yes! That felt good.”

He has become comfortable with his disability.

It has taken work, but his parents whom he “loves to death” encourage Michael to push past his disability.

“Being in a sighted world we take everything for granted,” his father Boyd Moore said.  His parents did everything they could to ensure Michael is independent.

His mother, Aggie Moore, didn’t hesitate to put him to work. Growing up, he did the dishes, took out the trash and was even a barn hand on the family farm in Garrettsville, Ohio. It didn’t matter if he was blind she just wanted him to learn how to do everyday tasks. He learned this from stimulation by sound and the senses other than sight.

Sometimes he wanted to give up. He struggled with learning to do tasks that come easy to a person with sight, such as making change. But, he stuck with it and is thankful he did.

“He even said to me,’ Thank God you taught me to do different things and I know how to do it’” Aggie said.

She said he can do anything he puts his mind to. He may do it slower or differently, but he can get it done as long as someone shows him how to do it.

The behavior of his visually impaired peers Michael motivated him to become independent.

Michael participated in a personal adjustment training program for a few weeks in June and July 2003 and August 2004 at the Cleveland Sight Center. The program helps blind students learn independent living; however, Michael noticed the other students weren’t on the same level of independence as him.  He would see a lot of the students sitting around and not interacting with each other. Some of Michael’s friends can’t even feed themselves.

Michael’s parents wanted more for him. They used these students as an example of what to avoid and a reason why independence is important.

Jeanne Colosetti, Michael’s special education teacher at James A. Garfield high school, has worked with many disabled students. She said the more they can be independent the better off they are.

His personality will help him achieve this. Jeanne said Michael’s chatter, which she describes as the “gift of gab,” makes everyone feel comfortable.

Students, who aren’t encouraged to live independently, end up being dependent and essentially helpless for the remainder of their life, she said. It is important to strive for independence.

She has hope.

She believes Michael has what it takes to make it in the world.

Michael views his disability as a part of him that makes him different, just like the next person is different. He believes that God made him unique to fulfill a purpose.

He feels that his purpose is helping those without sight see the world.

This past summer, Michael volunteered at the Western Reserve Independent Living Center in Warren, Ohio, to help other visually impaired people navigate adaptive technology. He still communicates with a few people he met there.

Michael believes in independence so much that he gave a speech on the topic to visually impaired kids at Lawndale Elementary School in Akron, Ohio. He spoke about college and using technology for the visually impaired. His speech also touched on the importance of a positive attitude. At the end of his speech, Michael led the children on a walk around the neighborhood.

Harpley, who teaches the children orientation and mobility weekly, said they loved Michael. The children still ask if he’s coming back – and he gave the speech in 2007.

“Michael is ultimately what the kids want to become when they get older – an independent visually impaired person,” Harpley said.

After college, Michael wants to help other people with visual impairments. He aspires to teach other people how to use the assisted technology he uses such as JAWS or a PACmate.

He feels technology opens up another sphere of opportunities for the visually impaired.

“Technology is how we connect to the outside world,” Michael said. Technology allows blind people to do things that sighted people can do like online shopping, e-mail, listening to music and even Facebook. He wants other visually impaired people to learn how to use technology so they can do these things and more.

“People are a lot of the times showing me stuff and now it’s my turn to show them,” he said.