To: Disability Network West Michigan Board of Directors
From: Eleanor Canter, Advocate
Do you know that people with disabilities, like me, used to be nothing more than poster children for the crusade to eradicate disability? Throughout history, we have been uninvited to the discussions about our own lives. That’s why we have a saying in our community that is very important to us: Nothing About Us Without Us. Centers for Independent Living were created – specifically – not to do charity. They were created to do advocacy. Disability Network West Michigan receives $700,000 in taxpayer money per year to do advocacy. Yet, charity is the only activity the organization involves itself with.
Charity damages our community.
When you excuse the City from its responsibility under the ADA by choosing charity over advocacy, you endanger the efforts of every advocate. What will happen the next time an advocate tries to enforce their rights under the ADA?
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If you didn’t understand before, this is why consumer control is so important. People with disabilities make starkly different decisions for ourselves than non-disabled people make for us. Since the beginning of time, we have fought against well-meaning people, with the best of intentions, who feel that they are qualified to speak for us.
I remind you that having a medical issue is not the same as being a person with a disability. In fact, the Independent Living Model is meant to stand in stark contrast to the Medical Model. Ableism can exist anywhere – even in our own hearts. We do not all have some type of disability when it comes to ensuring consumer control at a Center for Independent Living.
Being a person with a disability, for the purpose of consumer control, means being able to say proudly that you are a member of the disability community and advocating to advance our shared interests from that position. This isn’t about which disabilities are visible. This is about consumer-driven advocacy.
The way that I can tell that this Center for Independent Living is not consumer controlled is that it’s not behaving like a CIL. Consumer controlled CILs don’t feel threatened by the voices of advocates – they embrace them.
If our behavior seems foreign to you, that means change is needed. We are not monsters. We are Independent Living advocates. And we don’t give up – ever.
As always, we stand ready to work with you. I look forward to a renewed commitment to working together in advancement of our mutual interests.