Daniel Vance - Disabilities

Last week, I featured 55-year-old Peter Winkler of North Hollywood, California, who has fought juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA), spondylitis, and Sjogren’s syndrome-all severe disabling conditions that has affected his joints, spine, and eyes.

He graduated from UCLA and attended Loyola Law School only to lack the necessary grades after three years of the latter. He couldn’t graduate, which made him ineligible for the state bar exam. Severely depressed, unemployed after law school, and with his disabilities severely affecting his entire body, he began drawing government assistance.

But he didn’t quit. In a telephone interview, Winkler said, “In 1988, I discovered I could get a modem, plug it into a telephone line, and be able to access computer bulletin boards. This was before the Internet. So I spent most my time on the computer going to bulletin boards. That year, I wrote my first article about computer bulletin boards and sold it to a magazine for $50. From then on, I started thinking about selling other articles to magazines.”

He would write short non-fiction articles for magazines over the years, yet never break through writing non-fiction books after many tries. It was discouraging. He wanted off government assistance.

Finally, in 2006, Winkler learned Hollywood actor Dennis Hopper (of Easy Rider and Hoosiers fame) had signed a book deal for an autobiography. Winkler thought an “unauthorized” biography would sell and researched the actor using the Academy of Motion Pictures Library and interviews. After Hopper passed away in 2010, Winkler inked a contract with Barricade Books for Dennis Hopper: The Wild Ride of a Hollywood Rebel, which was published September 2011.

Ever try writing a book with JAR? Said Winkler, “My elbows are frozen at a 45-degree angle. I had to type the entire manuscript using a 10-inch plastic chopstick in my right hand to strike the keys one key at a time.”

Of all his disabilities, Sjogren’s syndrome has been most trying. He said, “With me, it affects the tear glands in my eyes. I have inadequate tear production and my eyes easily become irritated and inflamed. The only remedy is artificial lubricant, but because of my arthritic joints (from JRA) I can’t reach my eyes with my hands and have to always have someone with me to put the lubricant in.”

He advised other people with disabilities: “Aim for the stars, but keep your feet on the ground.”

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