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June 4, 2014

Obama names Berkley native to disabilities committee

By Joshua Gordon
C & G Staff Writer

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Obama names Berkley native to disabilities committee
Micah Fialka-Feldman, 29, of Berkley, smiles on the Syracuse University campus where he is a teaching assistant and is working on earning his nondegree certificate in disability studies. Fialka-Feldman was recently named to the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities.

BERKLEY — Micah Fialka-Feldman has an intellectual disability. The Berkley native doesn’t try to hide it or use it as an excuse.

Fialka-Feldman’s disability does not define him; however, it is a tool he uses to help others who must overcome similar odds each day.

The 29-year-old has graduated high school, he has attended two colleges and he currently is serving as a teaching assistant at Syracuse University.

It is Fialka-Feldman’s constant success in overcoming the odds and his desire to always be included that earned him an appointment to the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities this month, an appointment made by President Barack Obama himself.

“I was happy that I got picked, and I was very happy to get picked by President Obama,” Fialka-Feldman said. “I think I can give advice to young people and people with disabilities, that I can share my thoughts and ideas on this committee. I am very happy, and it is a great honor.”

PCPID was established in 1966 by President Lyndon B. Johnson to work for an inclusive community for people with intellectual disabilities. The committee is made up of 34 members, 19 of whom are citizens like Fialka-Feldman.

MJ Karimi, with the United States Department of Health and Human Services, of which PCPID is a part of, said it is estimated that between 7 and 8 million Americans, or 3 percent of the general population, experience intellectual disabilities. Nearly 30 million people are directly affected by a person with intellectual disabilities in their lifetime, she added.

“I think people can have a chance to succeed if people don’t doubt them,” Fialka-Feldman said. “They should have a chance to live in the dorms and be who they are, and if people want to go to college or dream to go to college, they should able to go to college.”

College and dorm rooms hold a special place in Fialka-Feldman’s heart.

In 2003, after graduating from Berkley High School, Fialka-Feldman enrolled in the Options program at Oakland University and started taking three classes and participating in university activities. However, taking a bus each day to campus was tiring, and Fialka-Feldman wanted a chance to get the full college experience by staying in a dorm room.

While he initially was accepted to move into a dorm, Fialka-Feldman and his family were eventually notified he could not move in, as the university had changed its policy and feared for his safety.

Fialka-Feldman spent two years in a legal battle with the university, but on Jan. 4, 2010, he won the battle and moved into a dorm.

“I think I was trying to get the full college experience, and living in the dorm was part of that,” he said. “It was really nice, as I had the chance to do more things than I did before I lived in the dorm. I got to go to basketball games and see more friends than I could before.”

For the past two years, Fialka-Feldman has been a teaching assistant in the Department of Disability Studies and the School of Education at Syracuse. He also is taking classes to earn his nondegree certificate in disability studies and serving as a peer mentor.

His father, Richard Feldman, said seeing his son overcome so much is an inspiration to him and everyone.

“Micah is a leader and pioneer because of his resilience,” he said. “He has been given opportunities to reach his potential as a full human being. This is the dream of all parents — that their children reach their potential as human beings. We reach our potential because of our individual choices and the creation of community.

“His journey is not only about Micah the individual, but more importantly, the bringing together of high expectations and opportunities.”

As part of the PCPID, Fialka-Feldman will meet at least twice a year with the committee to discuss ways to improve life for people with intellectual disabilities. The recommendations and discussions that take place during those meetings are then reported back to President Obama.

Having taught Fialka-Feldman at BHS, Sharon Berke said her former student has broken down so many barriers that it makes him the perfect person for the committee.

“We all think of Micah as a former Berkley student, but perhaps we should also think of him as a teacher,” she said. “Micah has taught us the importance of keeping the bar high for all students. He taught us that self-determination can take you farther than a GPA, ACT or IQ score.

“Micah is an example of why it is so important not to make assumptions about people, about students.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Joshua Gordon at jgordon@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1077.