By Eleanor Canter
We are from the Campaign for Consumer Control, a project of the Peer Action Alliance. Centers for Independent Living are required by law to be staffed, led, and directed by a majority of persons with significant disabilities. We believe that when Disability Network West Michigan (Muskegon CIL) follows the law by implementing consumer control at the staff and Board levels, we will, together, be able to create a fully functioning Center for Independent Living that that is fully integrated with and able to represent and address the needs of the Muskegon disability community.
Our campaign began five months ago, when we learned that the Executive Director position had been posted. We began educating senior staff and senior board members about the importance of hiring a person with a significant disability for the job. They told us in no uncertain terms to mind our own business and stop attempting to communicate with them.
Since that time, we have attempted to communicate our concerns about consumer control at the CIL. So far, our requests for a meeting to discuss these issues have been rejected and dismissed by the Board.
We speak from experience. Every member of our group has had significant interactions with the CIL over the past decade. We have significant concerns that vary widely, from discriminatory hiring and firing practices, to toxic community partnerships, to the language used by the CIL to describe people with disabilities, to the Charity Model being pursued by senior staff and Board. I often feel overwhelmed by the amount of change that needs to be created at this CIL, but I know that if we rely on our founding principle of consumer control, we can create that change as a community.
A fully functioning Center for Independent Living follows the Rehabilitation Act, treats every member of the disability community with respect, and vests real power and authority in people with disabilities themselves so that we can lead powerful advocacy efforts that create real change in our communities.
We cannot wait another decade for consumer control. Muskegon is desperately in need of a fully functioning Center for Independent Living.
Our advocacy campaign is going continue until we are able to secure a commitment from the Board to address the issue of consumer control at this CIL.
I hope that we will secure a mutual commitment to working on these issues in the very near future.