Help allows abilities to shineImagine a public speaker without a voice, a graphic artist without use of hands and a shy homebody reaching beyond learning disabilities to advocate on behalf of people with disabilities worse than his own.
By: Shelley Nelson, Superior Telegram
Imagine a public speaker without a voice, a graphic artist without use of hands and a shy homebody reaching beyond learning disabilities to advocate on behalf of people with disabilities worse than his own.
For the Class of 2010 at Northwestern High School, that’s not hard to imagine at all.
Michigan natives Daniel Perry, Kim Rosario and David Taylor of Detroit showed the high school’s next graduating class that anything is possible Friday afternoon when they spoke to the senior class at the school in Maple.
In spite of their challenges, all three focus on their abilities to overcome limitations.
Perry rolled to the front of the class in an electric wheelchair, leaning to one side, to share a message that combined lessons learned the hard way and overcoming the disability that resulted from drinking and driving.
“Like most of you, I had a pretty normal childhood,” Perry said with the help of a Dyna Writer, an assistive device that allows him to verbalize his thoughts. “I played a lot of basketball … when I was in high school, I was the class clown. I wasn’t paying attention to my studies. I only wanted to be there to hang out with my friends, look at the girls and play on the school basketball team.”
At age 19, he said he was at a friend’s house drinking and smoking marijuana when he decided to get behind the wheel to drive home.
“At some point I lost control of the car and hit a telephone pole,” Perry said. “In that one second my life was changed forever.”
For 11 months, his mother Wanda Perry sat by his bedside hoping for a miracle.
“Thankfully, no one else was injured,” she said. Today, she is proud to see how far her son has come and to see him using his experience to help others.
“It is my sincere desire to help others learn from my mistake,” he said as a computerized voice emitted from a machine similar in size to a small laptop computer.
“I woke up to find out I couldn’t talk, walk or use my arms or legs,” Daniel Perry said. Through intensive therapy, he said he’s learning to live with his disabilities, but he remains hopeful he will walk again someday. Still, he said he’s happy with how far he’s come in the last few years.
He said his therapist at Visions Unlimited in Michigan recommended he share his message about drinking and driving.
“Learn from me,” he urged students. “I want you to learn from the mistake I made.”
Growing up in Detroit, Taylor said he didn’t have a lot of friends; his struggles with reading distanced him from other kids and left him feeling more comfortable at home.
Eventually, he started to skip school and hang out with the wrong crowds.
Faced with a decision about whether he would graduate at age 18 or 26, he wanted to graduate with his class.
He picked 18.
Having friends made life better for him.
While it didn’t come easy, Taylor said, “I actually wanted to learn … It’s hard, but I’m working hard to achieve that goal.”
It was in trying to achieve that goal, he found his niche as a caretaker and advocate for people with disabilities worse than his own.
“Then I had to get a job,” Taylor said. “I just never sat down to see what I wanted to do with my life.”
In addition to speaking engagements, service on panels for people with disabilities, Taylor has become a caretaker for Rosario.
Born a month late, Rosario said doctors never gave his parents much hope and suggested he should be institutionalized.
Rosario was born with a condition called arthrogyrposis. The condition severely limits joint movement, limits muscle growth and causes weakness.
“I could probably sit down with your grandparents and talk to them; I have a lot in common with them,” the 21-year-old said, eliciting laughter from the crowd.
Shaking hands, unbuttoning shirt sleeves and even showing his tattoos requires help, but that doesn’t diminish his spirit.
Rosario describes himself as a daredevil and a rebel – he served 93 detentions during his senior year in high school.
“I’m pretty much the only disabled skateboarder in America,” he said.
Growing up in a family of “metal heads” Rosario said it was his love of tattoos that led to his career choice as a graphic designer. Working with the tattoo artist who gave him his first tattoo, Rosario started his own business.
While he does some of his design work using a computer and a mouse that allows him to design with the limited use of his hands and feet, he’s also learned to draw with his mouth.
Cullen Larson of Northwestern High School asked Rosario to artistically sketch his name. Rosario was ready for the challenge.
“It’s spectacular,” Larson said when Rosario finished the sketch. “I probably couldn’t do this with my hands. He’s actually a riot too. He’s not only artistic, but he’s a comedian too. I don’t even know what to say.”