ABILITY Magazine Loses One of Its Own
From one office to another I ventured, poking my head through doorways and introducing myself to the people I would spend the next six years working alongside at ABILITY Magazine. With the introductory knowledge that more than 90 percent of the staff possessed a disability of one type or another, I was a little surprised at how typical everyone looked. While I certainly didn’t expect people to be wearing name tags that read “bipolar disorder” or “diabetes,” with the exception of a writer who was deaf and another who had Cerebral Palsy there was little to suggest that disabilities were represented within the office.
Regardless, we were a staff dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for people with all types of physical, intellectual or mental health conditions. One way we approached this topic in each issue was through the positive portrayals of people achieving extraordinary, and even ordinary accomplishments despite their disability. Knowing most of us encountered disability on a daily basis—whether through interactions with other staff or our own experiences—one might assume that we maintained the nearly saint-like attitude that all people can do anything as long as they put their minds to it, right?
Well, I will only speak for myself when I say: I tried.
In reality, I succeeded frequently, but also failed often. Everyday, I found my perceptions were challenged. In many cases, they were perceptions I didn’t even know I had. This was especially true when I met a young man named Steve Mikailoglu, who applied for the position of graphic-design intern.
For some reason, finding an intern for that job always proved more difficult than one might expect. The right applicant had to demonstrate a natural talent for design, a gift for creating original art, and a knack for working dependably within the tight deadlines synonymous with publishing. Candidates possessing all those qualities were rare, to say the least.
In was in August of 2002 that Steve, a recent graduate of Platt College in San Diego, California, applied for an internship. He arrived for his interview right on time, his portfolio and his mother in tow. Only now will I admit that as Steve entered the building, belted snugly into his wheelchair, his head resting in a slightly tilted position, I immediately questioned his capabilities. As I watched his mom fill out the application for him, I wondered: How could a man who has quadriplegia, unable to complete his own forms, meet the exhausting demands of a graphic-design internship?
Fortunately for Steve, it was ABILITY Magazine and we were all eager to identify his skills and levels of ability. Fortunately for me, it was ABILITY Magazine and I had an opportunity to have my own horizons expanded and paradigms shattered. Steve not only went on to prove himself one of the best interns our publication has ever had, but at the end of his term, he secured one of the few, coveted graphic-design posts. His Godgiven talent, keen eye for design and professionalism had set him apart.
Steve’s sister, Selin Martin, remembers one evening she tried to coax her brother away from an article he had taken home to illustrate.
“Is it due tomorrow,” she asked?
“No,” he responded. “It isn’t due for more than a week.” Creating art was not only Steve’s way of paying the bills, it was also his passion.
I never stopped being impressed by his talents and perseverance. In fact, it sometimes became easy to forget the obstacles he faced in accomplishing the simple tasks that many of us take for granted. Steve had become just one of the team.
More than a year after we met, he and I found ourselves in the midst of the tedious stop-and-go traffic Los Angeles is so notorious for. After we’d exchanged the standard pleasantries, and I’d comically tried one too many times to pronounce his last name correctly—Don’t even try it, you’re already wrong!—I finally inquired as to what had caused his quadriplegia. Until that moment it was a question that I “politically correctly” avoided. Steve shared with me his diagnosis of Muscular Dystrophy at the age of seven, and the subsequent progression of his illness; he said it without a hint of self-pity. His family recently shared that it was his fervent faith in God that gave him such profound peace.
On March 3, 2007, Steve passed away at the young age of 27, and the only suffering that lingers is in the hearts of those of us he left behind. For Steve was so much more than an example of what a person with a severe disability can accomplish. Deeply loved and a cherished friend to many, including the staff of this magazine and the nonprofit ABILITY Awareness, he was a witty comedian, patient teacher, trustworthy confidant and supremely generous soul. He was also a beloved son to Jirayr and Irma Mikailoglu, brother to Selin Martin and her husband Jeff, and very proud uncle to his brand-new nephew, Jacob Steve Martin.
Before he passed away, ABILITY Awareness was nearing the completion of an ABILITY House for Selma Smith, a woman who has severe quadriplegia. Steve volunteered many hours on her project, and eagerly anticipated the day her fully accessible, barrier-free home would be dedicated, knowing it represented the beginning of a new life rich in possibility. For those at ABILITY Magazine and ABILITY Awareness, there is a perfect irony that our colleague and friend left this world on the very day that Selma received the keys to her brand new home. Though Steve’s life may be over, his legacy is very much alive.
We miss you Steve, enjoy the chocolate.
by Romney Snyder
former Sr. Production Editor ABILITY Magazine
ABILITY Magazine will create the Steve Mikailoglu Graphic Design Internship Award to be given to qualifying graphic art students in honor of Steve. More information will be posted at ABILITY Magazine’s website.
Also a new fund has been created in his honor by ABILITY Awareness to further its mission to build a world of inclusion for individuals with disabilities.
Donations in Steve’s memory can be made on-line at www.abilityawareness.org or by sending a check payable to: The Steve Mikailoglu Memorial Fund ABILITY Awareness
1440 East First Street, Suite 110 Santa Ana, CA 92701