A 25-year-old man born with cerebral palsy, whose first doctors predicted his abilities would keep him from talking, shared his story on Monday with students and educators at Glendale Community College about overcoming his life’s multitude of obstacles.
Mike Berkson has little control of his arms and legs, and was born with an identical, able-bodied twin.
At age 12, Berkson met Tim Wambach, who was hired to work as his personal aid.
For the past several years, the two men have taken their story of friendship on the road in a performance called “Handicap This!” to share Mike’s personal challenges that he meets with humor.
From his electric wheelchair, Berkson told a crowd of about 50 people that none of his muscles work the way they should.
“In other words, I’m … ,” he said, finishing the sentence by dropping an F bomb and igniting laughter from the audience.
Other humorous stories recalled stares from strangers, bathroom fiascos — (“He peed on me,” Wambach said) — and one teacher’s unreasonable expectation that Berkson raise his hand in class.
“I’ll work on that,” Berkson remembers telling his teacher. “But first, I have to perfect the walking.”
Even with his sense of humor, Berkson didn’t shy away from honestly telling the crowd that his physical dependence on others and little control over his own body has led him to see only one escape from the ongoing frustration of it.
“There are times I can’t imagine spending another minute in this chair. I’m trapped. I’m a prisoner. I look for a way out. The only way I can get out would be taking my own life,” he said, adding that in those moments, he thinks about his parents, brother, and Wambach.
“If I could,” he said, “I wouldn’t want to. I have more reasons to survive than I do to surrender.”
Glendale Community College student Jerry O’Brien played a large role in bringing the show to the school, and said it was “groundbreaking” to bring it to campus.
He is a photography student on campus, uses a wheelchair to get around and is tuned into the disabled student community. Overall, he was pleased to see so many able-bodied people in attendance.
“It’s not just heard by the disabled student that already knows a lot about this stuff. If it was just for the students with disabilities, we’d be preaching to the choir,” he said. “It’s opening people’s eyes. It’s about letting them know we’re all the same. We just have different obstacles that we need to overcome.”
For more information, visit handicapthis.com.
Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.