Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Tribute to Charlie Miller, May 2, 1952 - December 10, 2011

A Tribute to Charlie Miller, May 2, 1952 - December 10, 2011
By Talley Wells, December 14, 2011
It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Atlanta disability activist Charlie Miller.  Charlie was a hero to the Atlanta Legal Aid Society's Disability Rights Project because he lived a full life in the community with quadriplegia for over forty years.  Everyone who came to know Charlie liked him.  They also felt the strength of his opinions and his will to live independently. 
In 1970, Charlie became quadriplegic after he stopped at a gas station where he was shot by a man who mistook him for someone else.  From that day forward, Charlie was not able to move below his neck.  Despite this limitation, Charlie spent only short stints in the hospitals and nursing homes during his life.  He spent most of his time in his own home.  
After his injury, Charlie went to college at Georgia Tech and Georgia State.  He received a degree from Georgia State in 1989.
A major part of Charlie’s story is the story of his sister Betty Rackley.  After Charlie’s injury, Ms. Rackley left her life in rural Georgia to live near her brother and provide him with assistance.  For most of his life, Ms. Rackley was there to assist Charlie in dressing, bathing, and all aspects of daily life.  Charlie could be cantankerous with his sister and she could give back to him as much as she took, but their bond was one of extraordinary love and devotion.
With the evolution of technology, Charlie was able to use a mouth stick to control his computer.  He was a frequent e-mailer, he loved to surf the web, and he had a voracious appetite for news and information.  Charlie volunteered with veterans, proof reading applications for medical assistance.  He was friends with all of his neighbors, the local police, and the local fire department.
Charlie was one of the first people to obtain an independent living grant through a pilot program at the Shepherd Center in the 1980s.  His independent living grant ultimately became the Independent Care Waiver Program, which has enabled hundreds of men and women with significant physical disabilities to live in the community.  Charlie was an activist who petitioned local leaders to increase services for people with disabilities.
One of Charlie's great frustrations was that he did not get the full amount of attendant care that he needed, particularly in the last years of his life.  His applications to the state Department of Community Health for more hours due to his advancing age and greater needs were turned down and he lost an appeal that went up to the Georgia Court of Appeals.  Despite not getting all of the assistance he needed, Charlie refused to move into a nursing home and insisted that he would rather die in his home than move into a nursing home.
Charlie died on Saturday, December 10th at the age of 59.  He will be missed.  A funeral will be held for Charlie on Saturday, December 17, 2011 in Montezuma, Georgia.