How One State’s Independent Living Program Was Sold to Vocational Rehabilitation.
Sara Grivetti proudly identifies herself as the “collective voice of Michigan’s Centers for Independent Living”.
Ms. Grivetti was trained to be a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor at MSU, which offers a program that partners closely with Michigan’s sheltered workshops. While there, she learned the rehabilitation model well. After college, she worked for MRS until she was given a Center for Independent Living. No one batted an eye when MRS took over its first CIL. After all, most CILs in Michigan are led by non-disabled people. After stacking the Midland CIL’s Board with representatives of Dow Chemical and local rehabilitation agencies, Ms. Grivetti was rewarded with a well-paid position as CEO of Michigan’s association of Centers for Independent Living (Disability Network/Michigan).
Approximately three years ago, Disability Network/Michigan made a bold move. With sanction from Michigan Rehabilitation Services, the Governor appointed Ms. Grivetti to Chair the Statewide Independent Living Council (SILC). SILC staff members who questioned this obvious conflict of interest were fired during meetings that were illegally closed to the public during Ms. Grivetti’s first months as SILC Chair. With her new position as SILC Chair sanctioned by the state, Ms. Grivetti now serves as:
- CEO, Disability Network/Michigan
- Chair, Statewide Independent Living Council
- Member, Michigan Rehabilitation Council
- President, MiSILC Corporation (non-profit used to shield the SILC from regulations applying to state agencies)
From there, she was appointed to sit on numerous committees overseeing implementation of Employment First, ADA25, and other important initiatives that directly affect the lives of Michiganders with significant disabilities. She doesn’t see that as an issue. She has no qualms about occupying leadership positions reserved for Michiganders with significant disabilities and keeps a totally straight face while publicly claiming to represent us.
When RSA (now ILA) was informed, IL Unit Chief Tim Beatty ruled that occupying all of these positions was not necessarily a conflict of interest, since Ms. Grivetti had only recently taken over as Chair of the SILC, and hadn’t yet had the opportunity to act within a framework of conflicted interests. He warned, however, that the multiple roles she assumed could easily become a conflict of interest and that is was important to clearly differentiate when she is working in one capacity vs. another.
“It is incumbent upon the SILC chair, however, to ensure that when he is acting as SILC chair and using federal funds, that those activities are separately tracked and accounted for and to ensure that he uses his SILC time only on allowable SILC activities… Again, it is incumbent upon the SILC chair to ensure that there is no confusion.” – Tim Beatty, Chief, Independent Living Unit, Rehabilitation Services Administration (February 27, 2013)
Since that time, consumers have been documenting the results and providing evidence that Ms. Grivetti does not properly differentiate those roles. Ms. Grivetti:
- Partners with organizations exploiting Michiganders with disabilities while refusing to meet with members of Michigan’s disability community.
- Blocks consumers with experience in Independent Living from nomination to the SILC.
- Uses a non-profit email address to conduct state business and refuses to provide those communications to the SILC, thereby avoiding any responsibility under FOIA.
- Directs state and private funds to her employer, Disability Network/Michigan (which is not required to account for those funds).
- Directs SILC staff time and resources to her employer, Disability Network/Michigan.
- Ensures consumer input does not make it into the Michigan State plan for Independent Living.
- Funnels taxpayer dollars to organizations that lobby in favor of subminimum wage employers.
- Uses SILC resources to defend herself when she violates the civil rights of Michiganders with disabilities.
Michiganders with significant disabilities are without access to functioning Centers for Independent Living. Michigan CILs are run primarily by non-disabled people pursuing a charity model that directly contradicts the interests of the disability community.
At the SILC, consumers who bring up consumer control have been accused of discriminating against non-disabled people. An audible gasp swept over the room when we suggested that autistic people and people with intellectual and developmental disabilities should be included in CIL Boards and staff. Several people actually got up and left the room, so as not to be exposed to Independent Living philosophy.
Independent Living Networks are funded by taxpayer dollars specifically to promote disability rights. What we have in Michigan is much different: Michigan CILs function as the charity wing of Michigan Rehabilitation Services.
Is this what the founders of the Independent Living Movement fought for? We don’t think so. We know that the Independent Living Model – organizations run BY and FOR people with disabilities – works. We have absolute faith in the Independent Living principles established by Ed Roberts, Judy Heumann, Justin Dart, and so many others, which live on in the amazing work Centers for Independent Living are doing across this country outside the state of Michigan.
We believe that when consumer control is implemented in Michigan’s CILs, we will – as a community – effect real disability-led change for Michiganders with disabilities.
Please be sure to like Peer Action Alliance on Facebook to receive further updates about our ongoing efforts to bring the Independent Living Movement to Michigan.