Long Island native Michael Kalberer has a knack for connecting with everyone around him, despite being born with cerebral palsy (CP), a disorder that affects a person’s ability to move and maintain balance. The condition can also cause vision loss. At the age of 12, Michael noticed issues with his depth perception and visual field, which resulted in a diagnosis that he was legally blind. At 33 years old, he was finally diagnosed, specifically, with Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA).
Although Michael’s childhood had more obstacles than most, he recalls growing up like “any typical kid.” He attended a K-12 school for those with disabilities, which he enjoyed, and loved spending time with his friends and family, especially his brother, Scott.
“My parents raised me as an individual with a disability, and not a disabled individual,” says Michael. “Being raised as an individual with a disability did not change my parent’s expectations of me or my aspirations for the future.”
After high school, Michael attended Hofstra University for his undergraduate degree in psychology and speech communications. Although the transition from high school to college was more difficult than Michael imagined, he prevailed and then went on to earn his master’s degree in social work from Adelphi University. Each of these degrees was earned with academic honors.
Now 40 years old, Michael’s extroverted personality has helped him to become a motivational speaker, communications etiquette specialist, tutor and mentor.
“My disabilities do not stop me from communicating and enjoying life,” says Michael. “I’m fortunate enough to have such a supportive family to help me live a full life, despite the fact that I live with LCA and CP.”
In 2014, Michael was putting together a community luncheon for those with disabilities when he heard about the Foundation Fighting Blindness through an attendee. He then got involved with many of the Foundation’s New York events, including the New York VisionWalk and is co-captain of “Team Visionary,” which has raised more than $14,000 over the last 4 years.
Through Michael’s involvement with the Foundation, he enrolled in www.MyRetinaTracker.org, the organization’s secure, global patient registry, and was genetically tested. Michael learned his LCA was caused by mutations in the gene CEP290. Through My Retina Tracker, he was notified he’s a candidate for a clinical trial that ProQR is running for a treatment for those with a specific mutation in CEP290.
“I love everything about the Foundation. Everything from building relationships with the medical community to building social connections,” says Michael. “It’s all helped me get to this point. I am so close to going into the ProQR trial.”
Michael says that restoring his vision will give him a “tremendous gift.”
“I am happy with the life I have while working for what I want,” says Michael. “I view life from a position of strength rather than one of deficient. In learning more about my vision loss, I have taken control of it rather than have it control me. And I want others with disabilities to know it’s OK to have someone help you and to be comfortable with who you are. If you’re comfortable and truly accept yourself, other people will be more comfortable around you too.”
To learn more about Michael’s motivational speaking, visit his website at: https://www.michaeljkalbererpresents.com/