Limitless vision

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Michael Gray is like any other student; he enjoys watching sports, plays computer games and works hard in his schoolwork—only he does everything while using a power wheelchair and a special touch-screen computer called a DynaVox.

Gray was born with cerebral palsy. As a result, he has little control over his muscles and is nonverbal. He surfs the Internet, does all of his homework and even talks by typing with his nose on his communication board.

“We are limited not by our abilities, but by our vision. This is my philosophy,” Gray said. It is this thinking that continues to drive him to do whatever he sets his mind to.

In high school, Gray made the honor roll every term, took physics as a sophomore and pre-calculus as a junior. Most students who take these courses work through the problems by hand; Gray had to carefully analyze each step in his head to solve each problem.

“The patience and intelligence this must have required is phenomenal,” said Darci Rhoades who worked with Gray at American Fork High School and teaches upper track physics.

His dependence on technology and his ability to work out complicated projects in his head drove him to want to pursue a degree in digital media with an emphasis in Internet technologies.

He loves the independence that this degree would allow him to achieve. He enjoys the process of making websites and he would be able to work from home if needed.

As a freshman, he has already done an internship with Shae Goodwin and Associates. He attended and wrote reports on AFHS football and basketball games that were published on the company’s community sports blog.

The summer after graduating from AFHS, he participated in a Young Entrepreneurs Startup Camp. He and his teammates developed a business plan for a communication device that used modern technology but would be more cost effective. They named their company Milo Communications.

Gray achieved the highest rank in the Boy Scouts of America, the Eagle. He used his communication board to advertise, recruit and coordinate volunteers for a 5K benefit run. The event helped raise money for the early intervention program that helped him and his family as a child.

He received a 3-year scholarship from ChairScholars Foundation, Inc., a non-profit organization focused on helping those with severe physical disabilities attend college.

Despite his physical challenges, Gray has an optimistic view of life.

“I learned to just smile. I have people ask why am I always happy; the truth is, I’m not always happy, but I don’t let it ruin my day,” he said.

“Everyone likes him,” said Krista Nelson, a sophomore in history education and his older sister.

The two siblings are close, though it wasn’t always that way.

When she was about 9 years old, she was jealous that Gray would seemingly get everything he asked for. Their dad put Nelson in a manual wheelchair for the day.

She remembers enjoying it—at first. Like most people with a physical disability, she got lots of looks from “normal” people.

“It was a big realization for me to see what he has to go through,” Nelson said.

Many of those in similar conditions as Gray have mental disabilities so people often assume that he does also. In reality, he is exceptionally smart, it just takes him longer to reply than people are used to.

When Dale Nelson, Krista Nelson’s husband and a sophomore in computer science, first met him, he observed how Gray and his family acted together so that he would be able to better communicate with him.

Dale Nelson quickly learned that the best way to interact with Gray is to treat him like he would anyone else. The difference is that he has to wait for him to type his response.

Gray can say a few words. He loves yes or no questions since he can answer those quickly.

In opportune moments, he chimes in with the word “eight.” One recent instance was when his mom asked his little brother how many dates he had been on during the week. Without missing a beat, Gray said “eight,” which made the entire family laugh.