Michigan CILs and SILC Plan Public Input Session at Subminimum Wage Sheltered Workshop April 6 (Updated)

Update (March 23, 2017): This event has been moved to the Saginaw Intermediate School District (ISD)! 

On April 6, 2017, Michigan’s Centers for Independent Living (CILs) and Statewide Independent Living Council (SILC) – collectively known as Disability Network – will hold a public input event at a sheltered workshop. Input will be used to develop a “Common Disability Agenda”.

No Subminimum Wage - End 14c - Subminimum Wage = DiscriminationThe event will take place at SVRC – a Saginaw business that segregates disabled employees and pays them less than minimum wage. According to the Department of Labor, SVRC pays subminimum wages to 264 disabled employees.

Obviously, this is not an appropriate venue for a public input session. In Independent Living, we don’t ask people to enter segregated environments in order to give public opinion on inclusive communities! Furthermore, the idea that Michiganders with disabilities want our CILs and SILCs to have a common agenda with the businesses financially exploiting the disability community is absurdContinue reading

Comments to the National Council on Disability

Save MI CILs - Oversight Now!February 23, 2017

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.  Continue reading

Fighting for Consumer Control in the Age of Trump

By Darma Canter

After two years of advocating within Michigan’s publicly-funded local and state Independent Living program, I should have been more prepared for the new President, his loose interpretation of history, as well as facts in general, and his presumption of authority. I should have seen the government moving away from the people and public service, and investing power and authority in the service of corporate entities. Still, every day since January 20, I wake up to the unexpected, shocking new reality.

darma-canterI have spent a lot of time, too much time, thinking in the last three months. What is the role of government? What is the fundamental nature of democracy? How are units of government, their programs, policies, practices connected to the people? What is my role and responsibility in a democracy, and what responsibilities does the government have to citizens, to tax payers, and to me?

What is the people’s business? How does the public hold its government accountable to act in the public’s interest? These questions are surprisingly hard to answer. The 2016 election results seem to indicate not everyone agrees on the answers – or even the questions themselves.

Independent Living is a political movement developed by disabled individuals to address the social and environmental policies that limit our freedom to fully engage in the benefits of society. Prior to the 1960s, citizens with disabilities were institutionalized, dependent on charities, and viewed as politically irrelevant. No Medicaid, Medicare, SSI, no right to education or employment, no guaranteed right to participate in government services or activities. There were no public funds for Independent Living in the community because those state dollars went to life-long institutionalization. Literally, the “insane and feeble-minded” were dropped off at the hospital door and left for decades. No one was expected to leave alive.

Fifty years ago, this was the reality of disabled lives in America. Building on the civil rights movements of the 1960s and 70s, the disability community began gathering on college campuses and in cities to build a grassroots political entity focused on changing the long history of discrimination of disabled citizens. Our lives didn’t change overnight, but we are living with the accomplishments of 20 to 30 years of advocacy by and for our peers with disabilities. Our network of CILs across the country was formalized and funded in the amended Rehab Act in the early 1990s, but the IL philosophy of consumer run, self-help centers belonged to the people, and the historical changes produced by collective political action must still belong to the people.

We, the disability community, are on the verge of another shift, but not one of our making, and it may very well be one that undoes the changes we fought for. The systems that many people use to live and to participate as full members of the community, had lots of shortcomings, but I don’t think the new Administration will be reforming systems to our benefit. The new Secretary of Education didn’t know disabled students have the right under federal legislation to a free and appropriate education. The new Attorney General has a troubling history of voting against the ADA. The new Secretary heading up the Medicaid programs has a strong preference for block grants to states with fewer mandates, and we will likely be forced to justify independent living supports economically. I am afraid for myself and my people.

So how will we, the disability community, protect our essential civil rights and health services? 600 CILs across the country can help to gather and inform the 56 million disabled individuals about policy issues and advocacy strategies. But critically, it is the millions of informed voters with disabilities that must manage and shape the programs and policies they rely on. This is a time to act on the issues experienced almost exclusively by the disabled. Centers for Independent Living and their constituents will have to debate what issues and actions they will commit to for years ahead.

Many Centers for Independent Living may want to protect their revenue from state and federal budget cuts, but at what cost? If Michigan CILs and SILC defend the rights of consumers and protect essential community-living supports, they will become pertinent to the disabled. If Michigan’s Independent Living system scrambles to maintain their identity business entities at the expense of the needs of the disability community, they will continue to be irrelevant to the disability community and the IL Movement.

Michigan SILC Declares Itself Exempt from FOIA

Greetings from Michigan Postcard

Greetings from the “Laws Don’t Apply to Us” State!

Consumers have been pointing out that the Michigan Statewide Independent Living Council is operating in open violation of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Open Meetings Act (OMA) for years.

Now we have a direct answer. Let’s unpack the SILC’s absurd arguments about why they do not need to heed input from the community they are funded to represent and why the law simply doesn’t apply to them. Read their (unsigned, undated) arguments in full below.

  • SILC Argument 1: FOIA doesn’t apply to the SILC (no supporting arguments presented).

Reality Check: FOIA absolutely applies to the SILC, as the SILC itself has acknowledged since its inception. The SILC is a public body. The same standards that make it a public entity under the Open Meetings Act (which are acknowledged in their response) make it a public entity under FOIA. Even the Governor’s claim that his staff is exempt from FOIA cannot be rationally applied to the SILC because the SILC is not part of the Governor’s staff. The SILC is actually required to maintain autonomy. If the Michigan SILC is suggesting that they work for the Governor’s Office, the SILC is out of compliance with the requirements of the Rehabilitation Act. The SILC does not work for the Governor.

  • RSA’s Technical Assistance Circular (2014 – PDF) states: “Section 705(a) and its implementing regulation stipulate that the SILC may not be established within a state agency, including the designated state agency (DSA) or designated state unit (DSU), and that the SILC must remain independent of the DSU and all other state agencies (34 CFR 364.21(a)(2)).”

When the Governor issued his most recent SILC Executive Order, consumers immediately raised red flags. The new Executive Order specifically noted placement of the SILC within the Governor’s Office, despite the requirement that the SILC remain autonomous. As Michiganders, it wasn’t hard to see what was going on: the Michigan SILC was establishing itself as another wing of the Governor’s Office in order to exempt itself from FOIA and the OMA. Right on cue, the Michigan SILC immediately closed all meetings to the public (except the four annually required by the Rehabilitation Act) and completely stopped responding to FOIA Requests.

  • SILC Argument 2: The OMA does not apply to committees and subcommittees composed of less than a quorum of the full public body if they “are merely advisory or only capable of making ‘recommendations concerning the exercise of governmental authority.'”

Reality Check: Over the course of the past year, the Michigan SILC administratively re-labeled all of its committees as “advisory”. The SILC then restricted membership on its committees so that a quorum can never be reached (because a quorum would trigger open meetings requirements). The problem is that these committees are not advisory. The committees in question directly participate in the SILC’s policy-making decisions. Re-naming a committee advisory does not make it so.  Continue reading

Disability Network West Michigan to Consumers: Shut Up or We’ll Shut You Up

Sabo PR shared a post on Facebook: Warner, Norcross & Judd shared an article titled "Love Your Lawyer Day”. Sabo PR added the commentary “We can support this”. Image: three white people smile and shake hands.Disability Network West Michigan (Muskegon’s Center for Independent Living) has launched the following campaign to intimidate, threaten, and coerce their own consumers. Taxpayer dollars earmarked for Michigan’s Independent Living Program are being used to directly retaliate against members of the disability community for exercising their First Amendment rights.

This is the second attack on consumers in the months since Disability Network West Michigan engaged Sabo Public Relations firm.

Warner, Norcross & Judd
Attorneys at Law
Joe Sadler: 616-752-2271 / Fax: 616-222-2271 / jsadler@wnj.com

Cease and Desist - Page 1: Transcript available at peeractionalliance.comNovember 1, 2016

Ms. Darma Canter
Peer Action Alliance
Re: Defamatory and Libelous Comments

Dear Ms. Canter,

This firm has been retained by Disability Network of West Michigan (“DNWM”) to pursue legal action against you and your daughter. For more than two years, you have made a variety of false allegations against DNWM and harassed its employees, officers, and directors. This behavior must end, and if you will not end it willingly, we will get a judge to end it for us.

Cease and Desist - Page 2: Transcript available at peeractionalliance.comIn order to avoid a lawsuit, you must immediately stop disparaging and harassing DNWM and those connected to the organization. Examples of the behavior that must cease include:

  • Accusing DNWM of violating the law, specifically open meeting requirements under Michigan or federal law. DNWM has not violated any law and would be happy to prove this in court. Please note that the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), Office of Quality Assurance & Internal Control has found that your allegations are completely false, as the attached report shows. MDHHS’s report investigated your allegation that DNWM violated an open meetings obligation and consumer control requirements by hiring a disproportionate disability make-up of the Board of Directors and staff. After a thorough investigation, MDHHS concluded that your allegations are unsubstantiated. [Editor’s note: referenced MDHHS report not included].
  • Accusing DNWM of misleading regulators to hide violations of the law, or trying “to shield [itself] from oversight and responsibility,” through trickery and deceit.
  • Accusing DNWM employees of fraud, deceit or misconduct. For example, you accused the Executive Director of “identifying as disabled in order to keep her illegitimate paycheck.” This is false and we will happily prove its falsity in court.
  • Accusing DNWM of working to harm the very community it serves by “pursu[ing] the goals of a typical charity and working in direct contradiction to the interests of the disability community.”
  • Accusing DNWM of engaging in “discriminatory hiring and firing practices, including “convinc[ing] non-disabled people they are disabled” instead of complying with consumer control requirements, although MDHHS investigated this allegation and concluded that this was another one of your unsubstantiated claims.
  • Accusing DNWM and Disability Network/Michigan of being involved in a “national scandal” by abusing tax dollars and exploiting the disability community.
  • Sending unwanted emails and letters and making unwanted phone calls to DNWM employees that repeat these false allegations.
  • Disrupting DNWM meetings by screaming, interrupting and otherwise carrying on.
  • Posting and creating content about DNWM on any social media platform, including Facebook and the Peer Action Alliance website, at http://www.peeractionalliance.com.

To be clear, you must immediately stop all similar behaviors, whether on your own behalf, on behalf of other people, or on behalf of organizations […] like Peer Action Alliance.

The things that you have done over the past two years have damaged DNWM’s reputation and harmed its ability to serve its clients. DNWM can, and will recoup these damages from you in a lawsuit.

In order to avoid legal action, immediately remove from the internet all defamatory comments that you have posted and do not make any more false allegations or take any more harassing actions. If the false statements are not removed, or if any more objectionable conduct is observed, expect a summons in the mail.

Very truly yours,

Joe Sadler

Lynnae Ruttledge Calls on Disability Network Capital Area to Lead the Fight to End Subminimum Wages in Michigan!

Lynnae Ruttledge delivered the following video address to Disability Network Capital Area during their 40th Anniversary Celebration. Her message begins at 3:15.

Greetings from the Pacific Northwest! I’m Lynnae Ruttledge and I served as the Executive Director in the early days, when we were the Center for Handicapper Affairs. It was a formative time for us, we were at the disability rights advocacy forefront, we were leaders in the state and we assertively took on tough issues.

The concept and philosophy of independent living is deeply embedded in the disability rights movement, both here in the US and globally. It certainly has been a major thread throughout my career and it continues to ground me today as an international disability policy consultant.

We have made great progress but clearly our work is not done. Attitudinal barriers, environmental barriers and program access barriers still persist. The Disability Network statewide and the Capitol Area can and must be at the forefront of disability rights advocacy.

As we celebrate this 40th anniversary for the Capitol Area Center for Independent Living, now known as the Disability Network Capitol Area, this is an excellent time to take a stand and look forward. I agree with and support the strong advocacy position that the National  Council on Independent Living has taken on one of the most important issues of our time in being absolutely opposed to sub-minimum wages for individuals with disabilities. It’s a disability issue and a civil rights issue. It’s about dignity and respect – the cornerstones of the independent living philosophy.

I am encouraged to hear that progress has been made in Lansing in ending the use of sub-minimum wages locally but I call upon the Disability Network, the Capitol Area Board and our community partners, both locally and statewide, to work together as disability rights leaders to accelerate the progress to end the use of Department of Labor 14(c) certification everywhere and assure that workers with disabilities everywhere enjoy the same wages and benefits as their non-disabled co-workers.

Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts with you. And again, congratulations and cheers for this 40th anniversary celebration.

On Ed Roberts & Creaming in Michigan’s Independent Living Program

Cream. Verb. To advance individuals with the least significant disabilities in order to create the illusion of consumer control without having to do the hard work of affirmative action, workplace accommodation, and confronting ableism in our own spaces.

“Creaming” is a term coined by Ed Roberts, the Father of the Independent Living Movement. Roberts was famously told by vocational rehabilitation (the agency responsible for helping people with disabilities find employment) that he was “too disabled” to work. In response to this blatant discrimination, Ed Roberts started a revolution. He created the first Center for Independent Living, which sparked a nation-wide movement. In Independent Living, people with significant disabilities (consumers) have complete control over the decisions that affect their lives, including the management of Centers for Independent Living – community-based organizations that advance the rights of people with disabilities. Years later, Ed Roberts was appointed Director if California vocational rehabilitation – the very agency that had declared him unemployable.

Upon learning that people with severe disabilities received little treatment from the vocational rehabilitation centers, [Senator Allen] Cranston changed his mind about extending the [Vocational Rehabilitation Act]. He agreed with the disability activists who came before his subcommittee that the practice of “creaming,” that is, rehabilitating the people who were the least impaired and, therefore, stood a greater chance of being employed, constituted a problem. Cranston thought all disabled people should have a right to vocational rehabilitation, which included the right to question the authority of the rehabilitation experts who oversaw the vocational rehabilitation process. Therefore, he helped draft legislation that provided “due process for rehabilitation clients.”  – Crippled Justice: The History of Modern Disability Policy in the Workplace, By Ruth O’Brien

Affirmative Action. Noun. An action or policy favoring those who tend to suffer from discrimination, especially in relation to employment or education; positive discrimination.

All Centers for Independent Living are required to engage in affirmative action to hire, train, and promote people with significant disabilities. Centers for Independent Living are required to go beyond the 7% hiring goal for federal contractors: 51% of CIL staff (and specifically management) must be people with disabilities; 51% of their Boards must be people with significant disabilities. The process of creaming is a way to discriminate against consumers – the very people legislated to control a Center for Independent Living.

Ed Roberts would be rolling over in his grave to see Michigan’s Centers for Independent Living engaging in the very same discriminatory practices he founded the Independent Living Movement to combat.

When you arrive at a Center for Independent Living, you should see a vibrant community  of people with all types of disabilities – volunteers, staff, and management – working together for to advance disability rights in their community. What you see when you arrive at one of Michigan’s Centers for Independent Living is much different: sterile offices filled with Certified Rehabilitation Counselors, Social Workers, former sheltered workshop managers, and clinical therapists. Many of Michigan’s Centers for Independent Living employ a token disabled person to give the appearance of consumer control, but that person quickly learns that they are welcome only as long as they are willing to conform to a culture of open hostility toward advocacy.

Tokenism. Noun. The practice of making only a perfunctory or symbolic effort to do a particular thing, especially by recruiting a small number of people from underrepresented groups in order to give the appearance of equality within a workforce.

For years Disability Network West Michigan has been appointing sheltered workshop managers, group home owners, and vocational rehabilitation counselors to its Board and staff. Board and staff members are asked to identify any minor medical condition that could legitimize their positions. For example, after fourteen months of publicly identifying as non-disabled, the current Executive Director realized that she has dyslexia – after the state informed her that she needs to be disabled to keep her job. By reporting any minor medical condition as a disability to the federal government for the purpose of consumer control, Disability Network West Michigan is committing fraud with taxpayer dollars.

A common refrain among Michigan’s IL leadership is “We all have some type of disability!” That is an insult to Michiganders who experience obstacles, including discrimination, daily. The only time the leaders of Michigan’s Centers for Independent Living are disabled is on the report they submit to the state and federal governments. Their lives are otherwise unchanged.

While the Americans with Disabilities Act covers any citizen experiencing disability-based discrimination, expanding the definition of disability (for the purpose of consumer control in CILs) to cover any health or medical problem is an insult to people with significant disabilities who live with the social, environmental, and legal consequences of disability daily.

Michigan CILs are now working directly for vocational rehabilitation. CIL staffs and Boards are comprised of former and current vocational rehabilitation counselors who engage in the same discriminatory practices Ed Roberts taught us to rebel against. Ed Roberts taught us that we have a right to question the authority of the rehabilitation experts. Yet Michigan’s Centers for Independent Living continue to discriminate, retaliate, and degrade any consumers who question their authority.

We have been told by our own Center for Independent Living that there is no such thing as the disability community; that we do not have the power to create change; and that we have no right to even the most basic information about how Muskegon’s Center for Independent Living operates. What we see in Michigan is the opposite of Independent Living. It’s outrageous that taxpayer dollars continue to flow to organizations that are engaged in activities that directly contradict their mission.

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Peer Action Alliance is a community of people with disabilities and their allies based on peer support, interdependence, and networks of peer led learning. We promote IL philosophy and advocate for consumer control in Centers for Independent Living (CILs) in Michigan. Centers for Independent Living are required by law to be staffed, led, and directed by a majority of persons with significant disabilities. We believe that when Disability Network West Michigan (Muskegon CIL) follows the law by implementing consumer control at the staff and Board levels, we will, together, be able to create a fully functioning Center for Independent Living that that is fully integrated with and able to represent and address the needs of the Muskegon disability community.