The Florio Effect
A long time ago there was an eager, baseball-loving 14-year-old by the name of Robert Florio from Glen Burnie, Md. And then what he calls his “cliché story” happened: He broke his neck in a friend’s swimming pool.
The first couple years were the hardest, re-entering life as a C3-5 quad. “I spent most of my time in my house listening to the kids playing baseball in the front yard where I grew up,” says Florio, now 31. Then he finally found what he needed — something to get passionate about. “It all started with the first mouth stick my teacher gave me at Kennedy Krieger School. His name was Alex Chamber.”
After receiving his first mouth stick and watercolor painting set, he created his first piece — an exact replica of a bonsai tree at home. “From there I was doing paintings of sunsets and tropical islands. Warm places where I could get away and escape.”
Since discovering mouth painting, his life has been transformed. He went on to graduate with a video game degree from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, wanting to design accessible video games, and he’s dabbled in music (playing an electric guitar using a piece of PVC pipe on his thumb). And he has done stand-up comedy — joking about dating and living with your parents when you have a SCI — not your usual comedy routine.
And possibly the best thing about discovering mouth painting is that it has helped him reach financial independence. He has been given a three-year painting contract from the Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists International, commissioned to create 10-11 pieces a year.
“I struggled financially for 17 years. This is an amazing opportunity. I’m not rich,” he says, “but I finally have something