The topic we were asked to address is the connection between disability and poverty. In this state, the connection between disability and poverty is that for every disabled person that stays poor and dependent, someone gets filthy rich.
It’s very important for you to understand the immense power and influence of sheltered workshops in Michigan. Our state government has partnered with the businesses exploiting the disability community. In partnership with Michigan’s sheltered workshops and Michigan Rehabilitation Services, the Governor and Lieutenant Governor have systematically and successfully destroyed and dismantled all consumer-controlled entities in the state.
Taxpayer-funded entities designed to serve the disability community that are no longer functioning include:
- The Michigan Commission for the Blind
- The Statewide Independent Living Council
- The State Rehabilitation Council
- Michigan Protection & Advocacy’s Client Assistance Program, and
- Michigan’s Independent Living Program, which includes 15 Centers for Independent Living funded to the tune of $20 million dollars per year.
What’s going on in the state of Michigan is not normal. Outright corruption in our state government, and I’m speaking specifically about Michigan Rehabilitation Services, coupled with a complete lack of oversight from any federal agency, has created the perfect storm for businesses and their partners in the Governor’s Office to exploit people with disabilities.
Michigan citizens with disabilities are being treated as prey.
I began a campaign to bring consumer control back to Michigan Centers for Independent Living two and a half years ago. In that time, I’ve seen things you would not believe. I’ve been told by my CIL’s Board President that there is no such thing as a disability community and that I do not have the power to create change. I’ve been called “a disgraceful liar… with an axe to grind” by the staff at my Center for Independent Living. In an attempt to suppress free speech and criminalize advocacy, my own Center for Independent Living threatened to sue me (using taxpayer dollars) for speaking my mind.
These are not the actions of legitimate Centers for Independent Living. Michigan Centers for Independent Living are now controlled by vocational rehabilitation. Non-disabled people who are openly hostile to disability rights advocacy control the majority of our CILs.
I believe that consumer control is foundational to the Independent Living Movement.
When the foundation of a house is damaged, the structure will collapse. All of the materials that comprised the house will still be there; but it no longer serves its purpose. The same is true of Michigan Independent Living Program. When consumer control was erased from the IL equation, Michigan CILs began to identify as businesses and partner with the systems oppressing us. A decade later, advocates are no longer welcome in Michigan’s Independent Living Program.
Michigan CILs demonstrate their lack of consumer control repeatedly. They treat their consumers with extreme disrespect, continually violate the Americans with Disabilities Act with discriminatory hiring and firing practices and inaccessible materials and events, and absolutely refuse to acknowledge the right of local disability communities to participate in the design and delivery of independent living services.
In two and a half years, I have been unable to find a single state or federal agency willing to engage with the significant issues that are leaving Michiganders without any access to taxpayer-funded advocacy or independent living services. We are in an extremely vulnerable position – each of us isolated and forced to stand up for ourselves individually. We cannot harness our own power when the mechanisms we use to defend ourselves – developed over decades by the disability community – are stripped from us.
We have NOTHING. We are in desperate need of help. Please use your power, individually and collectively, by asking the Independent Living Administration to provide oversight to Disability Network/Michigan. Bob Williams, Director of the Independent Living Administration, can be contacted at Bob.Williams@acl.hhs.gov.
If you have the opportunity today to meet any representatives from Michigan Protection & Advocacy’s Client Assistance Program or from Michigan Rehabilitation Services, please remind them that Michigan’s Centers for Independent Living belong to the disability community – not to vocational rehabilitation, and not to the business exploiting us.
Consumer / Advocate