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Introducing Mike Yale

Editor's Note: Editor’s Note: Since this article, AEBC members Mike Yale and his partner Marcia have moved back to Huntsville, Ontario.

Mike Yale has dedicated his life to making things better for marginalized people. "I'm very political," he says. "If I have a defect, it's that I take things too seriously. I probably don't laugh as much as I ought."

Born in Hollywood, California, Yale was blinded in an explosion at age five. When he returned home after a year and 30 surgeries, the doctor told Yale's mother to encourage independence. "He said to let me make mistakes, even if I got hurt, and she did," he says. "My mother was a phenomenal woman."

In one of the first integrated school programs for blind children, Yale learned side by side with sighted classmates, excelling as a public speaker and member of the debating society. He also played classical piano before audiences of up to 5,000 people. In his teen years, his interest shifted from Beethoven to rock 'n’ roll, and today he has a 3,000-record collection to attest to his continuing love of music.

Yale spent the early 1960s at Berkley, majoring in journalism with minors in political science, history and comparative literature. He also became involved in the civil rights and anti-war movements--and found true friendship. "The hippies were the first group who accepted me for who I was despite my blindness and the scars on my face," he says. "I consider myself a hippy to this day."

After college, Yale travelled in Russia and Europe, then decided to leave the United States permanently to protest against the Vietnam War. He moved to Toronto and began studying law at Osgoode Hall. Although he decided not to write the bar exam, Yale says he's used those studies in many ways.

Over the next 20 years, Yale had many different jobs ranging from dairy and pig farmer to radio show host to investigator for provincial and federal human rights commissions. He also wrote a book called No Dogs Allowed about his European travels. The sequel, Golden Reflections, was recently accepted by a small Toronto publisher.

In 1986, Yale and his then-partner bought the Huntsville Pet Shop and ran it for about three years. Ever since, work has been sporadic and typically required a commute to Toronto, like his five years at the provincial information and privacy commission.

"It's tough to get work," he says, noting that the unemployment rate among blind people is 75 percent.

Yale has been very involved in this community. He was Chair of the Accessibility Advisory Committee, served on the library board, and participated in the Visually Impaired Peer Support Group.

"Blindness is a total pain in the butt, but it's not that bad," he says. "Life doesn't end. There's always a way to accommodate your disability."

Since his ex-wife, Doreen, returned to England a year ago, Yale has been living alone with his guide dog, Narella. However, that changed earlier this week when he moved to Toronto to be with the new love of his life. "Marcia brings me such joy," he says.

There's another reason for Yale's move: It will make it easier to continue his work as Co-Chair of the Ontario Disability Support Program Action Coalition. "We are trying to get McGuinty's government to live up to the promise he made to develop a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy," he says.

Yale explains that the provincial disability pension is less than $1,000 a month. "Nobody can live on that," he says. "Even if they raised it to $1,460 a month, it would only put recipients at the poverty line. There's so much wealth in this country, there's got to be a way to make sure everyone has enough to live reasonably."

After 22 years, Yale will miss Huntsville. "I know everyone here and have a whole network of friends," he says.

And he has a message for those staying behind: "Protect the lovely, quaint character of this town. Don't turn it into just another non-descript place on the highway, and don't let the politicians decide everything. Take an interest, get involved and protect what you've got."

Reprinted from the Huntsville Forester, August 27, 2008: www.huntsvilleforester.com

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