An Opportunity for an Organizational Shift toward Consumer Control At All Levels

Comments at the Disability Network West Michigan September 2014 Board Meeting

From: Darma Canter, Disability Community, Muskegon County

Thank you for giving me a few minutes to address you on the important issue of employment of people with disabilities and the discrimination that keeps too many of us poor and dependent.

A few facts:

  • The employment rate in the US for this population was 33.5% for people with disabilities and 76.3% for people without disabilities.
  • In Michigan the rate of employment 27.6 is for people with disabilities and 73.1 for people without disabilities.
  • According to the Census Bureau’s 2013 American Community Survey, 28.8 percent of non-institutionalized adults aged 21-64 with a disability in the United States live in poverty compared to only 12.3 percent of those without a disability.

These numbers don’t reflect a lack of employability or marketable skills, but they do tell us that people with disabilities are kept in poverty, marginalized and dependent, because they do not get an opportunity to work.

Working at a living wage creates the opportunity to be self-determined. Economic self-sufficiency is what all Americans should be able to strive for.

Because you are searching for a new Executive Director, I believe the Board should take this opportunity for an organizational shift toward more consumer control at all levels. [The previous ED] has left a sound business legacy; from there you can build an organization that reflects the history and philosophy of the Independent Living Movement and honors our founding principle. People with disabilities must exercise power and authority over the programs and services designed to assist them. 

Disability Network West Michigan could be a role model for all the employers in the service area by recruiting, hiring, and promoting people with significant disabilities. As DNWM succeeds, your staff with disabilities will demonstrate their ability to make important contributions to DNWM and the larger business community. It will lead to better job opportunities for them in the market and it will inform other employers about the benefits of hiring people with disabilities.

A note on language contained within the Rehabilitation Act: “significant disabilities”. Not all health conditions are disabilities, not all people with disabilities identify with the disability community / culture, and they all don’t meet the purpose of the Act’s requirement of leaders and staff with significant disabilities. Individuals who see themselves as a people with disabilities, as peers in the disability community, who use various forms of equipment and / or supports for daily living and need accommodations in the work place are the best candidates for leadership and staff at a CIL. Many non-disabled people can learn the things that life naturally teaches people with disabilities, but it is a process that needs a deliberate effort and a work plan.

“Independent Living has a short, but proud history based on strong principles. Chief among those principles is Consumer Control – the belief that people with disabilities must exercise power and authority over the programs and services designed to assist them.” – CyberCIL Arizona

As Justin Dart said, “Lead On!”


Fulfilling the Promise: Overcoming Persistent Barriers to Economic Self-Sufficiency for People with Disabilities, Majority Committee Staff Report, September 18, 2014; United States Senate, COMMITTEE ON HEALTH, EDUCATION, LABOR & PENSIONS, Tom Harkin, Chairman

Policy Brief: Tackling Workplace Discrimination Against People with Disabilities (PDF)

2012 Disability Status Report – United States | © 2014 Cornell University

Promoting Self-Direction and Consumer Control in Home-and Community-Based Service Systems, Independent Living Research Utilization; Third of Three Papers on Unlocking the code of effective Systems Change; Prepared by: Michael J. Kendrick,, Ph.D., Richard E. Petty, M.B.A., Lee Bezanson, J.D.; Darrell L. Jones, M.A. – January 2006

CyberCIL of Arizona; Consumer Control in Independent Living, Chapter 2, Shreve, Spiller, Griffen, Waldron, and Stolzman. Center for Resource Management.


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