SWAG on 6: High School Senior Uses Disability to Educate Classmates on Acceptence

A wheelchair and cerebral palsy can’t prevent Michael Hadler from being a big man on campus at Flanagan High School in Pembroke Pines. His classmates just voted him one of their “Senior Superlatives.”

“I thought, wow, they really respect me for who I am,” Michael said.

This is who Michael Hadler is: the leader of his school’s Best Buddies club, a branch of an organization dedicated to ending the isolation of people with developmental disabilities.

“Seeing that people with disabilities can do as much as non-people with disabilities and that they can intermingle and enjoy life together,” Michael said, explaining the club’s mission.

Michael is a roving ambassador. He gives speeches at different high schools, and sometimes reads his poetry. He’s also a member of his school’s poetry club.

“You know how there’s a lot of bad stuff going on, i can make the world seem a little bit better through my poetry,” Michael said. “Poetry gives kids confidence to engage their feelings to the outside world.”

His creative writing teacher, Kristy Modia, has had Michael in her class for three years. She calls him a “beacon of light” in the classroom, saying he’s always involved in the conversation, and that he always makes everyone else feel good about their work. Modia says Michael is tearing down perceptions of the disabled.

“i think he shocks everybody, so even at the poetry jam last year, he decided to perform and every single person had tears in their eyes,” Modia said.

Michael read one of his poems to us.

“It’s called beyond the chair. Don’t just look at the chair and feel sorrow, look beyond the chair and you might be surprised, I’m just like you,” Michael said, reciting his own work.

“He’s bigger than life, his personality is more than anything you could ever ask for from anyone,” said one of his friends, Cheyenne Ferrin.

Michael says he has a goal while he’s in high school.

“I’m hoping to inspire people to love a little bit more,” he said. “We need more love, we have too much hate.”

There’s never a shortage of students willing to help Michael wheel around campus, but the truth it, he helps them just as much. His friends say he inspires them to be better people, and to appreciate life.

“If you’re in a class with Michael or if you’re in the same room, it’s not possible to be in a bad mood, he brightens your mood,” said Emily Dolce, who has known Michael since the second grade.

“Look beyond the chair and see my positive attitude with everything I do,” Michael said, as he continue to read his poem.

That positive attitude rubs off on everyone. Michael is getting good grades, taking honors and AP courses, and he wants to study history in college, with a goal of possibly becoming a history professor or a motivational speaker. This is young man clearly not defined by a disorder, in fact, Michael likes to think he’s putting a new spin on what it means to be disabled.

“I don’t have a disability,” he said. “I have a different ability, so I just use my different ability to help people, to be kind to people.”

Michael continued to read his poem. This is how “Look Beyond the Chair” ends:

“Don’t just look at the wheelchair, make sure you look at me, because I am more than just a wheelchair, thank you!” Michael said, with an emphatic, triumphant flourish. 

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