On the Road to Justice – Betrayal

Why .. after spending the last year trying to engage with the City of Muskegon – why did the City Commissioners approve an agreement with Disability Network West Michigan (DNWM) to represent Muskegon residents and visitors with disabilities and to guide the City in meeting the “minimum” requirements in the ADA?

Do you believe corporations are people? Is it possible for a corporation to represent a minority community? Should a non-disabled corporate employee speak for disabled residents? The idea is in conflict with the Independent Living philosophy mandated in DNWN’s federal funding.

Elected officials and public employees often ask why minorities perceive prejudice and discrimination, because in their hearts they believe they are not racist, not sexist, not ableist, not ageist. Even when a person experiencing minority status tells you they experience inequality, you can’t agree with what they are telling you, because you are not an “-ist.” How do you change something you can’t see, feel, hear, touch?

What’s wrong with this picture?

“Muskegon City Commission Worksession Chambers

August 12, 2019, MINUTES (PDF):

Present: Mayor Gawron, Vice-Mayor Hood (arrived 5:36), Commissioners Turnquist, Johnson, and German

Absent: Commissioners Rinsema-Sybenga and Warren

Disability Network of West Michigan – Brad Hastings, Presentation information to the City Commission regarding a proposed cooperation agreement. DNWM will help the City and its customers to meet the minimum requirements of the Construction Coded and the ADA and continue to education and influence toward implementing new best practices that incorporate Universal Design concepts. This will be accomplished by providing training and technical assistance to City staff and its customers. This work is aimed at increasing the inclusiveness and accessibility of our built environment and realizing the ultimate vision of access for all, regardless of ability…”

On the surface this ‘agreement’ sounds like it is a positive for the thousands of disabled residents in Muskegon. But in fact, it is a continuation of the prejudice and discrimination the disability community typically experiences in local government.

  1. DNWM is a corporate actor and Mr. Hastings is NOT a disabled person. He does not experience exclusion or inequality and he is not qualified to represent people who do.
  2. The work itself is important, but is he the most qualified person to do the work? Did the city solicit a proposal from a pre-determined provider, or did they put out a public request for proposals? Was the opportunity to contract with the city fairly offered to qualified people, or did it just go to a corporate representative of the chamber?

Twenty nine years of federal mandates to build disability-friendly cities and yet Muskegon’s central city has been torn down and re-built without the essential accessibility features. Should I be satisfied when the City of Muskegon hires a non-disabled adviser to create disability access? WTF.

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 non-disabled person should speak on my behalf or usurp my voice.  Continue reading

Consumer Control Principles in Independent Living

Summary

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.  Continue reading

Must Watch: Michigan’s Once Proud and Powerful Independent Living Movement

This video contains powerful footage of The EVENT, a Congress of People with Disabilities in Michigan in 1991. This video shows clearly that Michigan’s Independent Living Movement was once a mighty force to be reckoned with.  Continue reading