Wisconsin NSCIA member Mike Mohr is a shining example of what each of us can accomplish when we refuse to let our disabilities define who we are.
Mohr, 31, who helped spearhead the creation of Madison-SCI, NSCIA’s chapter in Madison, Wisconsin, was spinal cord injured in a diving accident at age 15 while attending high school in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.
“Being young and in a naturally transitional phase of life definitely helped me cope with my injury and adapt to the challenges ahead,” says Mohr.
Living with C4-5 quadriplegia, Mohr can move his arms a bit, but has very little finger dexterity. He requires assistance with many daily tasks, from tying his shoes to getting in and out of bed.
Mohr explains, “For a 15 year-old who was beginning to get his first taste of independence, it was a tough situation.”
Support from his family and a few close friends made the transition easier, as did his time in rehab at the Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital in Milwaukee–where he got to know other inpatients and community members with SCI who smoothed his adjustment to injury.
“The people I met in rehab were instrumental in my recovery. They showed me that living with a spinal cord injury didn’t mean you couldn’t achieve your goals and do what you wanted to in life,” he says.
When he left rehab, Mohr returned to a newly constructed, wheelchair accessible home. His parents also made sure he had access to an adapted vehicle to get around town.
“In many ways my situation was extremely fortunate. My parents were an outstanding source of support, emotionally and financially. They really provided everything I needed to live with my injury,” he says.
Mohr’s mother Kathy was his main caregiver the first few years post-injury. They learned to manage many new challenges together. Mohr credits her with strengthening his confidence to go away to college.
He went on to graduate high school and attended college two hours from home at the University of Wisconsin-Madison—close enough to home if there was an emergency but far enough away where he could venture out on his own and learn what he was capable of.
“It was difficult moving away to college. But it was time to start living my own life. Although my situation was complicated, I was excited to do it. I initially had live-in caregivers to help me with daily personal care needs, which made the transition easier,” adds Mohr.
Mohr received a BA in History with honors before moving on to the University of Wisconsin Law School. He now lives on his own and works as an associate for the Perkins Coie law firm in Madison focusing on patent and general commercial litigation. Mohr says his firm has been accommodating to his personal needs.
But Mohr doesn’t consider what he’s accomplished as “unique” or “spectacular”.
“I don’t see my story as inspiring. Like many people with disabilities, I wanted to do interesting things with my life and I have taken advantage of the opportunities presented to me,” he says.
Away from the courtroom, Mohr helps NSCIA’s Madison, Wisconsin Chapter introduce the local disability community to new resources, social events, and adapted recreational activities. The chapter also offers peer mentoring support to individuals coping with new spinal cord injuries.
“Our group has grown quite a bit over the years, due in large part to the energy of Monica Kamal, our program coordinator,” he notes. “She and I started the group several years back, but she has been the driving force behind it.” The group has only recently pursued incorporation, status as a not-for-profit organization, and chapter membership with NSCIA.
Mohr will be attending United Spinal’s Roll on Capitol Hill for the first time this year. His main aim is to further the general awareness of spinal cord injuries and related issues/diseases.
Mohr believes people with disabilities should not have to fear losing their benefits when pursuing employment opportunities. “Many feel they can’t afford what they have to give up in order to pursue a rewarding career. It’s contrary to America’s values and stifles initiative.”
Mohr is also an advocate for greater accessibility for people with disabilities within their communities and for the “visitability movement”––which encourages all newly built (and existing) homes include accessibility features.
“Inviting people to your home is a major component to the development of lasting relationships. But many people don’t think about accessibility unless it affects them directly.” Mohr points out. “I’d like to think that increased awareness of the visibility option would be beneficial to all members of the community.”