Before his 1993 racecar accident, Mike Penketh was a pilot for a major airline. After the accident, with both arms amputated below the elbow, he felt lost. Through hard work in rehab, he gained profficiency using his myo-electric prosthetic hands and managed to retain both his driver’s and pilot’s license. His career with the major airline was finished, however.
In 1997, Mike found an article describing the Sacramento-based disability-awareness group, A Touch of Understanding (ATOU), whose mission is: “to encourage acceptance and respect for all individuals.” Its educational programs are designed to enhance understanding of differences, to minimize the discrimination and social isolation often suffered by children and adults with disabilities.
Mike contacted ATOU’s founder, Leslie DeDora, and the world of volunteerism and community involvement opened up for him. For the past 13 years, he has been a speaker for ATOU and has traveled over 100,000 miles doing this volunteer work. He volunteers two days per week during the school year, traveling 100 miles roundtrip each day for presentations.
Mike has shared his story with more than 40,000 students. At every school presentation, he gets to experience the impact of his work. He sees the awe and inquisitive looks on the student’s faces as they listen to his story and watch him remove his myo-electric hands. During the question and answer section of the presentation, the students get to know him and begin to understand his world.
In Mike’s words, “ATOU has given me the opportunity to share my story and my daily life with young students whose minds are open. I hope that after spending time with me, the students see that I’m not just a man with funny prosthetic hands – but I am a person who likes popcorn and loves my dogs, Magy and Joyce."
According to Mike, volunteering with "ATOU has been a lifesaver. It has given me a purpose in my life and I am hopeful that I am helping to change the minds of young people when they meet people with disabilities.”