The main problem in Michigan’s local disability communities is that our taxpayer-funded Centers for Independent Living have lost all connection to their role as consumer-driven advocacy organizations. One of the most important roles of a Center for Independent Living like Disability Network West Michigan is to bring individuals with disabilities together so that we can engage in collective action.
Our CIL has no opportunities for individuals with disabilities to engage in systems advocacy, which is a legally required activity.
Yet, we’ve been invited here today to give input into a “Common Disability Agenda”. The people I want to have a common agenda with are my peers – other people with disabilities. Centers for Independent Living, Disability Network, and the SILC should not have a common agenda with subminimum wage employers, vocational rehabilitation, and other agencies that exploit people with disabilities. Those agencies and predatory businesses should have ZERO say in the disability community’s advocacy agenda.
What I would like Michigan Centers for Independent Living to do is focus on your own backyard. We need our CILs to be accessible before you go around preaching access to others. We need consumers to be invited to the table in our Independent Living Program before you can legitimately ask other entities to include us. We need you to treat us with respect before you ask others to do the same.
I know that many consumers have indicated that they are not receiving core services from their Centers for Independent Living and that their CILs are not accessible or ADA compliant. Fixing the problems that are within your control needs to be #1 on your agenda. What we have right now is an environment in which the disability community cannot use their First Amendment rights for fear of retaliation from their Center for Independent Living. That’s not right. I’ve been trying to contact Disability Network West Michigan for over two and a half years with no response, except Cease and Desist letters, legal threats, extreme disrespect, and blatant ableism.
I’d like to conclude by asking for an answer as to how consumers can participate in systems advocacy activities at this CIL and when Disability Network West Michigan is willing to meet with us to discuss our concerns.