Honorary Roll Model: Mike Berkson

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I realized as I was on Facebook the other day reading a post by another disabled blogger, that it has been a while since I have inducted anyone into the group of Honorary Roll Models. I apologize for dropping the ball on this, because it really is unfair for me to keep all of the inspiring, amazing people rolling their way through life all to myself. So to atone for this crime I have committed against you, today I am going to introduce you to one of the funniest, most motivating people I have ever come across. He has been featured in publications like “The Huffington Post,” “The Chicago Tribune,” The Boston Globe,” and “San Francisco Chronicle.” He has become a highly respected and sought after professional speaker giving more than 50 talks last year all over the country. This incredible individual and co-founder of “Handicap This” who is working to “make minds handicap accessible” is Mike Berkson.

Scott Drotar Handicap This
“Handicap This” is Mike and Tim’s one-act play about what it is like to live with a disability.

Mike, and his able-bodied, twin brother, David, were born in 1989. Due to complications during their birth, Mike was briefly oxygen deprived and ended up being diagnosed with cerebral palsy. This neuromuscular disorder effects the muscles of the entire body, making the body very rigid, stiff, and difficult to control. Much the same way my doctors told my parents all of the things I would never be able to do when I was diagnosed, Mike’s parents were told not to expect too much from him, and that he would most likely never even speak. He has proved them all wrong though by not only being able to talk, but by being one of the two lead actors/speakers in his show, “Handicap This.” The other co-founder of “Handicap This,” and Mike’s friend for over a decade, is Tim Wambach. When Mike was only 12 years old, Tim (who was 27 at the time) was hired to assist him in getting around and going to school and such. The pair bonded over time, and they have been nearly inseparable ever since. Their friendship, and the understanding that they have gained about life from each other, is what drove them to start their work educating people about what it is like to live with a disability.

In the Spring of 2005, Tim wrote the book, “Keep on Keeping on,” (later retitled, “How We Roll”) about his relationship with Mike. In an attempt to increase awareness for the disabled, in August of the same year Tim ran from Orlando, Florida, to Chicago, Illinois, in 30 days. This enormous undertaking worked, because it got people’s attention. After holding a few fundraising events and gaining more and more momentum over the next 2 years, in August of 2007 the “Keep on Keeping on Foundation” was created. This foundation is dedicated to assisting individuals with physical disabilities and to motivating and educating others about how to make a difference in their communities. They accomplish this by being an advocate for disabled people through their speaking events and also by assisting families with the financial stresses of caring for a disabled child. “Keep on Keeping on” now boasts over 50 year-round volunteers, and since its creation in 2007 it has helped over 80 families pay for things like medical equipment, doctors visits, and home modifications.

Scott Drotar Mike Berkson
Mike has cerebral palsy, but it has not stopped him from making a difference.

After the creation and success of their “Keep on Keeping on Foundation,” Mike and Tim were being asked to speak at events to raise awareness for people with disabilities. Due to Mike’s quick wit and their willingness to be honest and politically incorrect (they use the word “gimp” frequently), they found that even though their message was an important, serious one, that they could make their audience laugh too. This realization is what led these two friends to create their stage show, “Handicap This,” and in 2010 they debuted their one-act play. The show is biographical in nature, and it covers numerous experiences that Mike and Tim have had together and what they have learned from each other. The show is designed to motivate, educate, and inspire others (sound familiar?). The stories they tell range from the humorous, like when they act out the time Tim first tried to feed a gooey, messy selection from Taco Bell to a spastic, 12 year old Mike, to the serious, like the time Mike talked of having suicidal thoughts to Tim, but they all work to open the minds of the audience. In addition to reaching as many people as possible with their message, the duo hopes to play on Broadway by 2016, and honestly, I would not be surprised if they do.

Mike is a person I greatly respect and admire as a speaker and even more so as a person. His dedication to helping other disabled people and advocating for their rights is something I aspire to achieve through Roll Models. You can find out more about Mike, Tim, “Keep on Keeping on,” and “Handicap This” at www.handicapthis.com. You can also follow him on Twitter and Facebook. I highly recommend his website, as it has a lot of entertaining, educational videos. If you ever get a chance to hear him speak, like I hope to soon, I would not pass it up. Due to all of the work he has done to help the disabled, as well as for his amazing spirit and outlook on life, I am proud to announce that Mike Berkson as the newest Honorary Roll Model.

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