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.

Independent Living Words of Power: Comments to the ILA

In preparation for the CILs’ administrative move to the the Independent Living Administration at the Administration for Community Living at the Department of Health and Human Services, we wrote expanded definitions of key words used in the Workforce Innovation & Opportunity Act. The advocates who created Centers based on IL philosophy would be disturbed at the current “re-interpretation” of their words by Michigan CILs. Please send your comments to add or edit the definitions.

Language: conveyor of philosophy and culture 

Significant Disability: The Act repeatedly says “significant disability” to distinguish it from the broader term “disability” and focuses the services and resources on the individuals who have historically been the most segregated and least independent. They, people with significant disabilities, are the most qualified to direct and deliver IL services, because their lives depend on the same systems, and they have developed a skill set interacting with systems that will empower others.

Consumer: For the purpose of the Rehab Act Title VII, consumer means a person whose ability to be independent in the community, in their home, or at work, is substantially reduced by a mental, physical, sensory, developmental or other significant disability. Consumers with significant disabilities use equipment or other accommodations that support access and participation at home, the community, and employment. Consumers frequently have personal experience utilizing the publicly-funded systems intended to support the Disabled. Systems are often designed to be person-centered, but too frequently keep the Disabled poor and dependent. This knowledge and experience is necessary for the provision and administration of core services.  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

Channeling of Anger on the Part of the Consumer into Constructive Organizing

Putting Advocacy Rhetoric Into Practice: The Role of the Independent Living Center

By June Isaacson Kailes

This is an except from Putting Advocacy Rhetoric Into Practice: The Role of the Independent Living Center (Word document).

This role is core to the ILC mission and philosophy.  We must militantly guard this dual commitment!”

Introduction

This monograph is intended to reinforce the importance of both individual and system/community advocacy.  Its emphasis will be on systems advocacy with independent living centers (ILCs).  The major areas to be discussed include:  examination of the importance of advocacy, establishment of an effective advocacy approach, development of new consumer leadership, and identification of advocacy questions needing further attention and debate.

It is no secret that the independent living movement is being criticized by disability rights advocates who charge that:

  • The commitment of center board and staff members to advocacy is waning and ILCs are becoming no different than traditional human service agencies.
  • The fervor for changes in “the system” is being crushed by bureaucratic, administrative, and contractual compliance concerns.
  • ILCs have absorbed and quieted many effective advocates and have played a role in draining the disability rights/independent living movement of advocates.

We in the independent living movement need to ask ourselves if these are valid criticisms.  Are we losing sight of a fact pointed out by Peg Nosek, Justin Dart, and Yoshiko Dart that our society still uses, as it “has traditionally used, an extensive and sophisticated program of psychological, physical, and economic threats, punishments, and barriers combined with rewards that force people with disabilities into segregated situations and subservient roles” (Nosek, Dart, and Dart, 1981)?  It remains critical for ILCs as well as others in the disability rights movement to devote a portion of their financial as well as personnel and volunteer resources to consumer and public education and to consumer and class advocacy in order to abolish these disincentives to independent living.  Given these concerns, it is important to start this discussion with a review of the importance of advocacy. Continue reading