A Man on a Mission
Mike Hambly is a man on a mission. A farmer, rancher, welder and mechanic, he put his hands and his back into any job that came his way. In 1994, when an auto accident took his sight and left him in a wheelchair, he didn’t slow down, he just changed his perspective.
Today, Mike has a degree in social work and helps people through the maze of programs and regulations involved in accessing the benefits they need. He is also an entrepreneur and businessman. Braille IT is a company Mike started to emboss business cards with braille messaging. There was such demand for services that Mike had to appeal to a top notch design team to develop an automatic braille printing press. He has now added a range of internet, software and adaptive equipment and services for his clients.
As if this weren’t enough, Mike is very active in his community and sits on a diverse range of committees and boards, including the Premier’s Counsel on the Status of Persons With Disabilities, and the Advisory Committee on Accessibility. In 2006, he received an award from the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians.
Mike’s energy, drive and determination also helped him advocate to receive Dogs with Wings’ very first dual purpose service dog. After applying to schools across North America and being told that it couldn’t be done, Mike appealed to Dogs with Wings. Client Services Manager, Elisa Irlam and Trainer, Maria Illes worked hard to find a dog with energy, drive and determination to match his own. DWW Tucker joined Mike in 2003 and changed Mike’s world.
Because veering even slightly in the wrong direction could have Mike’s wheelchair tumbling off a curb, DWW Tucker mostly helped Mike get around inside of buildings. No longer needing his white cane to tap-wheel-tap-wheel, Mike could go from room to room and up and down hallways as needed to get his job done. Mike and DWW Tucker were an inseparable pair until Tucker’s sudden passing in 2009.
Maria and Elisa knew what to look for in Mike’s replacement dog and how to train to both guide Mike in his wheelchair and do service tasks like retrieving items. In April 2010, DWW Finn joined Mike and again made a world of difference. Finn is especially helpful in the woodworking shop where Mike runs his part-time business, Build IT. Says Mike: “Finn loves to pick things up, screwdrivers, two by fours, anything,” who admits to occasionally dropping things on purpose just to make Finn happy.
Dogs with Wings has been an essential part of Mike’s life for 14 years. “The beauty about Dogs with Wings, is that they come to you to train in your own environment; your routes and places you normally go.” He believes strongly that more public education is needed about the benefits and the roles of service dogs and would like to see a satellite office and training center in Southern Alberta someday.
In Mike and Finn’s busy life, sometimes just having man’s best friend nearby makes all the difference. “If you are having a bad day the dog is always there, putting his head on your lap, licking your hand. You would have to be pretty heartless if that doesn’t warm your heart.