Thursday, March 26, 2015

Rochester man shows that people with disabilities can live normal lives

Michael Johnston, who has a developmental disability and lives in a Rochester home with two other men, stands between two of his caregivers, Christina Fields (left) and Amanda Atkins. Photo by Jerry Wolffe
Michael Johnston, an energetic young man who loves people and is generous with hugs and sharing smiles, is living a life many would envy.
He loves his job at the Kroger store in Rochester where he works 16 hours a week doing maintenance.
Johnston also likes going to the malls and spends time in his room at the Rochester home where he lives with two other men who have developmental disabilities.
“I like working at Kroger’s,” Johnston said. “I work from 8 a.m. to noon Tuesday through Friday and can spend the money on the things I like.”
He has a job coach at the grocery store where he works near Silver Bell and Adams. He cleans bathrooms, a worker rest area and vacuums in the store. He hardly ever calls in sick and has worked at Kroger’s for seven years.
Johnston has been living in the Rochester home for 14 years and previous to that at a home in Ortonville for four years since he was born with a cognitive impairment.
March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month and Mary Malone, a Macomb-Oakland Regional Center’s support coordinator, suggested Johnston’s life illustrates how things have changed for the better for those born with disabilities who used to be placed in state institutions instead of living in the community with proper supports.
“I like movies,” Johnston said. He said he has a 32-inch TV, boom box with a CD player and old-fashioned tape player in his bedroom and is a country music fan. He named Tim McGraw, Reba McEntire and Toby Keith as his favorite artists.
“I am a pretty happy guy,” Johnston said as he reached to give a hug during an interview. “I love going into the community. I like to visit and help others.”
He has “one-on-one” with a caregiver when he can go and do whatever he likes. Often, he said he visits Wal-Mart or visits Yates Cider Mill.
“He’s very friendly,” said Malone. “He loves to give hugs. He always makes people feel good and gives compliments. When someone is having a bad day, he helps lift his or her spirit with his sense or humor or inquisitiveness,” she said.
“Other people tell me I’m funny,” said Johnston who smiled when he spoke of attending a recent dance.
After work, Johnston takes a nap since he wakes up at 6:30 a.m. to get to work on time. After work, he showers and helps prepare dinner.
“He’s known for his neatness and being organized,” said Malone as Johnston tidied up some scattered paperclips on a desk.
“Some day, somehow it’s going to happen that people with disabilities are going to be able to work,” Johnston said. “Just because you have a disability and use a wheelchair, you can work and have friends and enjoy things.”’

Jerry Wolffe is the writer-in-residence, advocate-at-large at the Macomb-Oakland Regional Center. He can be reached at 586-263-8950.