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March 19, 2004 - Image 32

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2004-03-19

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Cover Story

NEW GUY on page 31

`All parents want their child to be healthy and capa-
ble of interacting and shaping the world around them.
So when Micah was born [needing early help, like
physical and speech therapy] , the fear for his future was
a constant concern."
Micah's mom, who has a master's in social work,
became an expert. She's now a national speaker, author
and Trainer on strengthening the partnership between
parents and professionals, inclusive education and
other related disability issues.
Micah's parents came. to the realization that every
new relationship — whether going to school or meet-
ing a friend — was not just about Micah learning a
new skill. It was also about another person becoming
conscious of respecting and including Micah in their
world," his father said.
Micah's younger sister Emma, 15, remembers trying
to change her brother when she was in second grade.
She wanted to "make him the fifth grader he was sup-
posed to be" — the older brother who didn't stutter or
who could help her with her homework. But that did-
n't happen.
Over the years, she says, she learned compassion
from her brother, how to be patient and to smile.
"There's nothing easy about being a brother or sister
Micah with his family, father Rich Feldman, mother
to anyone," Emma says. "But I love lots of things we
Janice Fialka, and sister Emma, 15.
share, like playing basketball and soccer, talking politics
or just making each other laugh."
Workmen's Circle-Arbeter Ring in Oak Park, Feldman
Protective of Micah, she's also aware of how people
says. Micah's project included videotaped interviews
unconsciously use the "r" word — retarded — that
with three Jewish politicians: U.S. Rep. Sander Levin,
implies a put down, she says. It pains her that anyone, D-Mich.; Manette Miller, Wayne State University
would pass judgment on her brother before meeting
board member; and then-state Rep. David Gubow.
At Berkley High, another triumph surprised every-
Working with these difficulties, however, have yield-
one. Though Micah could run only a block, he wanted
ed great triumphs for Micah and his community.
to join the cross-country team.
A major achievement was Micah's bar mitzvah at
"Because the coaches worked with Micah and set

clear goals, and his classmates were so supportive and
cheered him on, Micah ran a two-mile run in 23 min-
utes and earned a varsity letter in cross country,"
Feldman says.
Another special event, Micah says, was being nomi-
nated to the homecoming court in his senior year. The
triumph was also a victory for inclusion, says Fialka.
Michael Boyd, the senior who nominated Micah, has
known him since second grade. "Michael will always
have a different view of people with special needs or
who are different," Fialka says, "because of his relation-
ship with Micah."
Micah's relationship to his peers continues to grow,
along with the skills he learns from them.
One skill he had to learn quickly was how to take
the bus to college, an hour-long ride with a transfer in
Pontiac. A friend traveled with Micah a few times,
showing him the route until he was ready to travel
Once at school, depending on the day, Micah works
at the campus day care center, exercises with a trainer at
the gym, and takes three classes. For the classes to be
most effective, Micah asked students in his class, his
peers, to study with him. Two volunteered from his
sociology class. They meet with Micah an hour before
class twice a week to review their notes together.
One result of their meetings, says OU Sociology
Professor Linda Morrison, is that Micah does as well as
the other students on quizzes, which he takes voluntari- .
ly and are given to him orally (he does not read or
write well).
"Micah's more friendly than most students," says
Nicole Bertrand of Troy, one of Micah's peer volun-
teers. "I was surprised how open other students are
talking to him. I never witnessed that before [with spe-
cial education students]," she says.

‘The Ride Of My Life'

Micah takes his presentation on the road to schools and conferences.


peaking to 90 students in a
lecture hall can be intimidat-
ing to anybody, especially for
a special-needs student.
But Micah Fialka-Feldman accepted
Professor Linda Morrison's invitation
last September to give his 10-minute
PowerPoint presentation to her sociolo-
gy class at Oakland University.
The school is the site of a pilot pro-
gram started in January that allows
Micah and two others who have cogni-
tive disabilities to take OU classes.
"Things don't come easy at first,"
Micah says. But I keep trying. I just
tell myself I can do it."
His mother, Janice Fialka, who intro-
duced him to the class, admits.she was
nervous for her son. But he pushed on.
"Hi, my name's Micah," he began. "I



want to tell you a story about my life
and why I'm here on the Oakland
University campus."
The students laugh at his jokes.
He shows 36 slides that include pic-
tures of his family and highlights of his
life, including these awards and recent
• Winner of "Yes I Can" Award,
February 2004, from the Michigan
Council of Exceptional Children in
Grand Rapids, noting his achievements
of self-advocacy and as a spokesperson
for people with disabilities.
• Selected board member in 2003 of
KASA (Kids As Self-Advocates), a
national youth advocacy group that
does training and legislative action for
people with disabilities.
• Selected as one of 77 youths from
around the country to attend the 2002
National Youth Leadership Forum in
Washington, D.C.

"I can't read, but here are tools that
help me," Micah says, and he shows a
picture of a computer he uses that he
can talk into instead of typing.
You can hear a pin drop.
When he's finished, the students
burst into applause.
Micah ended with a request for peo-
ple who would show him around cam-
pus. A dozen students responded.
"They thought the presentation ter-
rific," Morrison says.
Fialka wondered aloud why they
responded. "Micah is just being honest
— no slick repackaging or trying to be
someone he's not. Micah is Micah."
Micah's dream of going to college
started at Berkley High School when
his peers were talking about it, says
Sharon Berke, his special education case
worker there. "Micah thought it was a
normal thing for him to do, too."
He said he wanted to go to the

University of Michigan like his father
and grandfather.
But unlike most students, Micah
couldn't apply to just any school. First
his parents and other supporters of
inclusion had to create a program for
him to attend. The closest one was in
If not for a special program begun at
Oakland University, Micah faced being
segregated for the first time in his life,
and would.go to work with only dis-
abled people. "Though there are won-
derful programs for these students,"
says Berke, "for Micah, it was impor-
tant to be around his peers, people he
grew up with."
In high school, Micah was in gener-
al-education classes with support from
para-educators and teen peers who
aided him in his studies.
As his dream to go to college grew
stronger, Berke says, "We had to pre-
pare Micah and work on his self-advo-
cacy skills — to learn to speak up and
say what he needed in his new classes."

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