The little two-bedroom apartment that Ronald Ephord shares with his aunt in a scruffy Brownsville neighborhood is clean but sparsely furnished: two mattresses, a small TV, an old sofa and a couple of chairs, all surrounded by bare walls. And these days, it is pretty much Ephord’s entire world.
“My wheelchair broke five or six months ago, and I can’t get around like I want to,” says the 24-year-old Ephord, who has never taken a single step on his own. “I’m really hoping somebody could help me get it fixed.”
Born with hydrocephalus (a crippling fluid buildup on the brain) and cerebral palsy, Ephord cannot walk, and his entire left side is weak nearly to the point of uselessness. But he has carved out a life for himself, graduating from Miami Edison High School in 2010 and then returning for two more years to take extra classes (“I really like math”) when he couldn’t find a job. He was even a Special Olympics champion, playing wheelchair versions of basketball and soccer.
But all that, and pretty much everything else in the world outside Ephord’s apartment, depended on a motorized wheelchair. And Ephord can’t afford the $300 to $400 it would cost to get his fixed.
“Medicaid doesn’t cover the broken part,” confirms Deidre Gilbert, a social worker at Miami-Dade County Disability Services. “We’ve looked for other help, but we just can’t find any funding.”
Ephord has a conventional wheelchair, but pushing himself around with one hand is exhausting. “When my other wheelchair was working, I could go out to the bus, go to the movies, see my friends, apply for jobs,” he says. “Now it’s very hard to leave the apartment unless somebody comes to help me.”
What he misses most are his epic video-game battles at the homes of friends who have a PlayStation 2 system. “He taught himself how to play with his feet, and he’s really good,” says his aunt, Latasha Williams. “I can hardly believe the way he can play that thing.”
A repaired wheelchair would also allow Ephord to resume his job search, and make him a better candidate in a process that often seems like playing on the wrong end of a stacked deck.
“I had a job for a while at Goodwill,” he says. “And I’d like working with computers — I’m really good with computers. But when I go to apply, they don’t want to hire him. They think I’ll hurt myself on the job and it will be on them. I tell them, ‘I can do the work.’ But they don’t want to take the chance.”
There is no plaintive tone in Ephord’s soft, sometimes slightly slurry (another product of the cerebral palsy) voice. He is matter-of-fact about a situation he has faced his whole life. It’s a sharp contrast to the animation that lights his face when he’s asked about one of his few passions that can safely be indulged even when confined to his apartment: the Miami Heat.
He laughs aloud when asked if the Heat will be as good now that LeBron James has returned to Cleveland, then grows earnest. “I don’t know why everybody’s mad at LeBron,” Ephord says. “He said when he came to Miami it was for one reason only: to win a championship ring.
“He did that, he won two rings. He did exactly what he said he was gonna do, and now he’s left. I don’t know why that makes people mad. Everybody has the right to leave.” Consciously or not, Ephord’s eyes have drifted to the broken wheelchair in the corner of his living room — the one that thwarts his own right to leave.
How to help
Wish Book is trying to help hundreds of families in need this year.
▪ To donate, pay securely at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook
▪ To give via your mobile phone, text WISH to 41444
▪ For information, call 305-376-2906 or email wishbook@MiamiHerald.com
▪ Most requested items: laptops and tablets for school, furniture, accessible vans
Read more at Miami Herald.com/wishbook