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


Blending and Braiding: A Scam to Bypass WIOA Regulations

The State of Michigan is desperate to find a way to continue funding sheltered workshops despite new federal regulations.

In partnership with Michigan’s association of sheltered workshops (MARO), the Michigan Statewide Independent Living Council (SILC), and the Michigan Developmental Disabilities Council have submitted a detailed – and shocking – proposal to the Governor’s Office (PDF).

The authors of this document provided a chart demonstrating how the State can maintain the illusion of compliance while continuing the pipeline of Michiganders with disabilities to subminimum wage “jobs”. This graphic demonstrates how the state can move individuals with disabilities from agency to agency for 90 days, collecting every fee they can – with no identified outcome other than a closed case and “ongoing supports provided by Medicaid”. Translation: they intend to continue misusing Medicaid dollars to fund sheltered workshops, and to co-mingle those dollars with vocational rehabilitation funds, which expressly cannot be used to fund sheltered workshops.

Image: Six Boxes. Each box has an arrow leading to the next box: - Box 1: Person-Centered Plan indicates an Employment Goal (Medicaid) - Box 2: Refer to VR Services (MRS/BSBP) for an Eligibility Determination (Vocational Rehabilitation fund/VR funds) - Box 3: If Eligible for VR services develop Plan for Employment & Support Services (VR funds) - Box 4: Refer to a community organization (CRO/CIL) for skill development, job placement, etc. (Medicaid or VR funds) - Box 5: Individual obtains employment-Support such as job coaching may be needed [VR (90-days) or Medicaid funds] - Box 6: After 90-days VR may close the case Ongoing supports provided by Medicaid

The Medicaid funds in question are to be used only to provide skill building assistance in the community according to the Michigan Medicaid Provider Manual. WIOA expressly forbids the use of any vocational rehabilitation funds to Ability One Contractors and non-integrated entities.

The proposal outlines how the state can “blend and braid” funding streams so that it can continue to collect federal dollars while engaging in activities that are not allowable with those funds. The money gets passed from one organization to the next, until no one can understand its original intent or requirements.

  • Blending is a strategy to obscure the source of funding that has specific requirements. Money is transferred from the state to private non-profits so that it can no longer be tracked by the public. Blending will provide the cover Michigan Rehabilitation Services needs to mislead federal regulators.

The Code of Federal Regulations states:

“For Federal awards of similar purpose activity or instances of approved blended funding, a non-Federal entity may submit performance plans that incorporate funds from multiple Federal awards and account for their combined use based on performance-oriented metrics, provided that such plans are approved in advance by all involved Federal awarding agencies. In these instances, the non-Federal entity must submit a request for waiver of the requirements based on documentation that describes the method of charging costs, relates the charging of costs to the specific activity that is applicable to all fund sources, and is based on quantifiable measures of the activity in relation to time charged.”

  • Braiding is a strategy in which separate funding streams are brought together to pay for more than one funding stream can support, then pulled back apart to report to funders on how the money was spent. Braiding requires strict financial and programmatic oversight to ensure that state and federal tax dollars are spent only on allowable activities. Braiding requires a grantee to act in good faith – with transparency and honesty. It is not to be used to bypass or obscure federal regulations.

Two years ago, a formal partnership between Michigan’s Centers for Independent Living and sheltered workshops was developed behind closed doors by Sara Grivetti, Todd Culver (MARO), and Suzanne Howell (State of Michigan). These parties are so closely connected to sheltered workshops that they are completely flummoxed by the new WIOA Regulations because they believe – whole-heartedly – in sheltered work and their role supporting it.

The intent of Section 511 of WIOA is to limit the use of subminimum wage employment.

Graphic: Don’t be fooled! Community Rehabilitation Organization Equals Subminimum Wage EmployerInstead of a good faith effort to follow the law, Michigan Rehabilitation Services, Michigan Centers for Independent Living (Disability Network), the Michigan SILC, sheltered workshops, and the Governor’s Office are doing everything they can to maintain the status quo.

Blending and braiding employment and Medicaid funds does nothing to benefit Michiganders with disabilities. The financial beneficiaries of this absurd proposal are sheltered workshops and their partners.

One major question remains unanswered: why have sheltered workshops and their partners been given control over implementing Employment First? It’s a huge conflict of interest. Employment First is not being carried out with the transparency necessary to blend and braid funds legally and zero consumer input is being solicited or considered.


  1. Community Rehabilitation Organization (CRO) is a code word for sheltered workshops.
  2. This proposal references “CRO/CILs”. There is no such thing as a CRO/CIL. Centers for Independent Living are not sheltered workshops. CILs and sheltered workshops are radically different organizations. Centers for Independent Living are taxpayer-funded organizations required by law to be led by local disability communities. Real CILs do not support sheltered work or any other forms of disability discrimination or financial exploitation.
  3. Sara Grivetti should disclose conflicts of interest before requesting funds on behalf of the public that benefit her personally and professionally. It is not appropriate for Ms. Grivetti to use her position on the SILC to direct funds to her organization. This has been an ongoing problem for several years.

See also: How Michigan CILs Became Service Providers Chasing Money and Working for Our Oppressors

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.

Consumer-control: IL philosophy is clear: the individual has the right and responsibility to make decisions based on their goals; and individuals with disabilities must have the support to speak and act on their own behalf. Centers are unique because the peer model connotes that the person served is also the person providing services; at all levels of the organization, consumer experiences lead the service priorities and processes.

Community-based: In regard to CILs, “community-based” means the Center is part of the local disability community and works in cooperation with the community to influence both the capacity of individuals with disabilities to lead independent, self-determined lives, as well as, the greater community’s capacity to integrate people with disabilities in all aspects of community life. Centers must demonstrate a commitment to “invest power and authority in the consumer,” which means they are informed by the experiences of the local disability community and collaborate with the community to set goals and priorities. Continue reading

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