Comments on the Michigan Common Disability Agenda

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.

Save MI CILs - Oversight Now!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.  Continue reading


Harm and the Well-Intended Ableist

By Darma Canter

While we listened to 3 of Disability Network West Michigan – Newaygo staff members talk about their work, I heard some things that were interesting and very encouraging about supporting disability rights in court and independent living. We just got the highlights but I’m open to acknowledging good work.

Disability Network West Michigan Open Meeting Notice for the May 23 Board Meeting says "public input welcome"As the Board and audience were mingling, DNWM staff member Ada Linderman approached me and said, “You’re doing so much harm.” She exhaled and continued, “You’re not the disability community.”

I tried to ease into a conversation but she was moving quickly away. I guess Ada and I disagree about what is more harmful to the disability community: consumers speaking for ourselves and our disabled peers, or non-disabled program professionals (with good intentions) assuming they know what people with disabilities need and taking public dollars to give it to them with or without their consent.  Continue reading

Self-evident Truths of Independent Living Philosophy

To have an independent living movement there are only a few principles that are immutable. “I speak for myself.” It summarizes the revolution from dependence to independence. Once our lives were controlled by experts; doctors, teachers, researchers, institutions, but now as a consumers, Disabled people make informed choices about every aspect of life. “I am responsible to make decisions, weigh risks, deal with consequences, fair and fowl, and to measure personal satisfaction in my terms.” Service delivery systems are structured by national policy making the individual served responsible to create service plans that express their personal standards for a meaningful life. There aren’t, in theory, any conditions or qualifiers placed on the inherent right of every individual to design their service plan to meet their specific goals irrespective of their diagnosis or level of disability. “I am empowered by the act of asserting my voice and taking responsibility for my decisions.” No abled-bodied person should speak on my behalf or usurp my voice.

Like many other minorities, people with disabilities often find themselves outsiders to mainstream society. Ignorance and prejudice conspire to segregate and deny us many of the benefits of society. Disability pride and community answer back. “We are a proud people. Disability identity and culture replace internalized stigma. The experience of belonging and the support of peers replace vulnerability with strength.” We value interdependence and accept that we all have things we need and things we can provide; that we are stronger together.

People with sensory disabilities, or intellectual disabilities, physical, or psychiatric disabilities have concerns specific to their type of disability, but we share many more critical social issues as a product of discrimination; low-expectations, environmental barriers, poverty, access to health care, equal opportunity in education and employment, parental rights, even the right to live. “The disability community must fight injustice in every form because no one of us is safe when any one of us is abused, exploited or oppressed.” As individuals we are vulnerable, but as a community we are strong and just.

Appointment of New Executive Director Unveils Widespread Dysfunction and Abuse of Public Funds at Disability Network West Michigan

In October of 2014, advocates learned after considerable effort that Disability Network West Michigan had begun the search for a new Executive Director. We approached DNWM (the Muskegon Center for Independent Living) with educational materials and offered to help them revise the position description to include experience with Independent Living or the disability rights movement. They revised the position description, but then we received several responses letting us know that we are unwelcome to voice our opinion on the matter further, including the following response from John Wahlberg (President at that time):

“Please do not misunderstand my position in your quest for who knows what. No invitation for dialogue was extended beyond the allotted 5 minutes of public comment time at the start of our monthly board meetings.” – John Wahlberg

We prepared to speak at the next Board meeting. The November meeting was closed to the public after we RSVPed, so our first chance to speak came in December 2015. When we finished speaking, the departing Executive Director asked us to leave so that they could hold the meeting privately. We refused and the meeting continued. Our hearts sank when they introduced their new Executive Director.  Continue reading

Six Months In, Still Waiting for An Invitation to the Table

Disability Network West Michigan Board of Directors,

The actions you have taken over the past six months are in direct conflict with the values of the Independent Living Movement. You have shouted us down. You have told us that there is no such thing as a disability community. You have told us that we are not capable of creating change.

You have tried to scare us into compliance. You have tried to exclude us.

We are your consumers. You owe us an apology – and an invitation to the table.

We’re waiting.

Consumer Control Principles in Independent Living


Consumer control in independent living centers means having a governing body comprised of at least 51 percent of its membership with people with disabilities. It means having people with disabilities in key management roles. It means having direct service staff with disabilities who work with consumers to define their own needs, on their own terms, and with their own solutions. It means having people with disabilities in support and clerical staff positions. It means involving volunteers with disabilities in the center’s daily operations. It means that stakeholders in the process — people with disabilities — play significant roles in deciding the issues and methods for advocacy efforts.

The principle of consumer control recognizes that people with disabilities should control their own destiny. It ensures their full control over the direction, composition, and operation of the organization that serves them. The principle of consumer control is translated into organizational policies by the board of directors and operationalized into practice by the management and staff of the center. This translation of consumer control principles into consistent, effective organizational practices results in the exercise of power by consumers over the center and its services, and contributes to its influence in the community it serves.

The practical applications of the consumer control principle must be flexible if services and advocacy efforts are to represent and respond to the varying interests and diversity among consumers in the communities served by the ILC. Across the country, independent living centers reflect wide diversity in practice while adhering to the principle of consumer control.  Continue reading

Illegal Actions Taken by the Disability Network West Michigan Board of Directors (In 2015 Alone)

The six remaining members of the Disability Network West Michigan (Muskegon CIL) Board of Directors have violated their fiduciary duties, their state contract, and state and federal law in the following ways:

  • Refusal to provide 2014 990 (IRS Form for non-profits)
  • Refusal to provide original application for tax exempt status
  • Refusal to provide accurate and honest list of Board members
  • Refusal to comply with Michigan’s Open Meetings Act (Sunshine Law)
  • Refusal to acknowledge obligation under FIOA (despite 98% public funding)

Doctor LOL Cat Says I'm Afraid Its Ableism and Advocacy Is the Only CureWillful misconduct is any action undertaken by a non-profit’s Board after it has been informed that it is operating outside its own bylaws. Disability Network West Michigan:

  • Is operating with less than the required number of Board members (6/9)
  • Does not have the required number of people with significant disabilities on their Board (3/9)
  • Does not have a Board that is cross-disability or community-based, as required by the Rehabilitation Act
  • Does not properly train staff and Board members in Independent Living
  • Does not hold Board meetings that are “generally open to the public” as required by their state contract

Disability Network West Michigan cannot legally sign contracts while in violation of its own bylaws, nor is willful misconduct covered by standard Directors & Officers Liability Insurance.

We ask that supporters of disability rights in Muskegon withhold support to this organization until the Board sees fit to follow the law, reengages the disability community, and commits to building a real Center for Independent Living in Muskegon.  Continue reading