Michigan CILs Scramble to Appropriate Disability Identity as State Regulators Arrive

Michigan CILs are scrambling to demonstrate that their organizations are staffed and directed by a majority of people with significant disabilities.

In response to Peer Action Alliance’s advocacy to bring consumer control to Michigan’s Independent Living Program, state regulators at Michigan Rehabilitation Services have begun an administrative review of Michigan Centers for Independent Living (CILs).

(Head Shot of Tamera Collier) Tamera is an expert in finding solutions and driving positive outcomes. For more than 25 years, she has dedicated her career to designing, developing, and executing cutting-edge programs for people living with mental illness, developmental disabilities, and co-occurring disorders. While state hospitals were closing, Tamera was on the forefront of developing programs. Many were unprecedented in the markets where they were located, including programs for violent offenders with mental illness, autism outpatient services, and integrated physical and behavioral healthcare services for older adults. As an executive leader, Tamera developed high performing business models with proven success, operating at less than 3% margin of a $22 million-plus budget.Right on cue, the non-disabled Executive Director of Muskegon’s CIL – Disability Network West Michiganhas begun identifying as disabled in order to keep her illegitimate paycheck.

Instead of making good faith efforts to recruit, hire, and promote people with significant disabilities as required by law, Michigan CILs have decided to fabricate the illusion of compliance by asking non-disabled individuals to identify any diagnosis that might legitimize them as members of the disability community.

Tamera Collier, Executive Director of Disability Network West Michigan, has repeatedly confirmed to local advocates that she is not a person with a disability.

“This is a tremendous insult to our intelligence,” said local Independent Living Advocate Eleanor Canter. “Are we to understand that she’s had a recent epiphany, seemingly inspired by nothing but an attempt to shield herself from criticism?

The solution to a lack of consumer control isn’t to convince non-disabled people that they are disabled. That solves nothing. The solution is to hire and appoint people with significant disabilities to control our CILs. Disability Network West Michigan has learned to talk the talk but they cannot walk the walk until they begin recruiting, hiring, and promoting people with significant disabilities to lead the organization – as required by law.

“Ms. Collier will be welcomed as a member of the disability community when she begins to work as an ally instead of an adversary. Appropriating disability identity as an excuse to continue excluding people with significant disabilities from our Center for Independent Living will not be tolerated.”

Diagnosis is not the same as disability. The Rehabilitation Act defines significant disability for the purpose of consumer control in Centers for Independent Living:

“This refers to an individual with a severe physical, mental, cognitive or sensory impairment whose ability to function independently in the family or community or whose ability to obtain, maintain, or advance in employment is substantially limited and for whom the delivery of IL services will improve the ability to function, continue functioning, or move toward functioning independently in the family or community or to continue in employment.”

We will know that Muskegon’s CIL is consumer controlled when people with significant disabilities are welcomed into the organization. We demand that Disability Network West Michigan:

  • End discrimination against people with significant disabilities in employment,
  • Allow members of the disability community to apply to sit on the Board of Directors,
  • Post job openings publicly where people with disabilities can find them,
  • Work with Muskegon’s disability community to establish advocacy priorities and address our significant concerns about misuse of state and federal dollars reserved for organizations controlled by local disability communities.

Local advocates pledge to continue the campaign for consumer control until our Center for Independent Living comes into full compliance with the law. We will not be fooled by this pathetic mockery of Independent Living principles.


2 thoughts on “Michigan CILs Scramble to Appropriate Disability Identity as State Regulators Arrive

  1. Yes, the concept of disability has been quite confused these days. Independent living has a position of its own which eliminates a ton of disabled people who do not want not their own organizations as their providers. Now when the non-disabled must become sick the door out is to the left.


  2. Why am I focused on the details? Visible or not, disability is not equivalent to medical diagnosis. The human body has many vulnerabilities, and we all experience illness and ailments of body and mind; that is the human condition. Disability is something else.
    People who have disabilities know it; disability screws up your life; economically, socially, psychologically it significantly alters the way you live. Because the term “disability” is used to deliver monetary benefits and eligibility to services we find ourselves in a difficult position. As a society we have decided to give some financial advantages to people who qualify as disabled, and it would be wonderful if everyone had the supports and services they need no matter where they are on the disability spectrum. But that isn’t possible.
    At least in the present, the society rations its resources to make living with a disability a little easier and enacts laws to protect us from very real discrimination in education, employment, housing, etc. So the question of who is eligible, entitled, to public supports makes it very important to distinguish between mild and significant disabilities. In terms of who is covered under civil rights the definition should be as broad as possible but who is covered with public funded benefits is of necessity much narrower.
    What I observe is there are so many people identifying as disabled (= eligible) the people with the most need for services and supports are being left out while people with lesser needs are being served. Nobody wants this to be a contest of who suffers most or who is most deserving. But here we are.
    Literally thousands of governmental agencies and non-profit organizations are funded with tax-payer dollars to provide disability related services. The fifty year history of Medicaid, Medicare, SSI, and Vocational Rehabilitation programs has demonstrated the public programs will serve the least disabled preferentially because they make the ‘successful-closed-case’ data look like it is a good investment. Yes, serving the people with the most significant need will cost more and have a lower closed case ratio. Like every other attempt we make to level the playing field, funding disability programs has only created more people with disabilities who will get in line for any hand-up (I’m not saying they don’t deserve it). People with independent living disabilities, disabilities that effect their ability for self-care, daily living, and job accommodations to work, will continue to be trapped by system dependence and program requirements.
    We will never change the life experience of the most marginalized unless we commit to focus our efforts.


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