Monday, May 13, 2013

Rich life built on efforts of trailblazers

We stand on the shoulders of giants.

Society and the people with disabilities who are no longer excluded from working, buying homes and being free to go when and where we want, owe our gratitude to those who knocked down some of the barriers the disabled faced in America during most of this nation’s history.
I know this because I have met some of those pioneers for civil rights for the disabled.

In my office at the Macomb-Oakland Regional Center, Adam Fuhrman, 31, of Troy, told me of how he is buying a home in his hometown in the Oakland County city.
“I started out in a physical or otherwise health-impaired program in Royal Oak through fourth grade,” said Fuhrman, who was born with cerebral palsy and uses an electric wheelchair. He also is driven to and from work daily by a transportation company.

“I was mainstreamed in the fifth grade in elementary school,” said Fuhrman, who graduated from Oakland University with a Master’s degree in counseling and is the peer mentor coordinator at MORC.
“I was always treated well,” he said. “The kids knew who I was and we did things together.”

Fuhrman is the only child of Janet and Kenneth Fuhrman. His dad works at an auto parts supplier and his mother is a paralegal in Southfield.
He said he provides “encouragement” to others with disabilities. “I tell them ‘You have a lot of valuable skills. You are a very good writer. You connect and interact well with others.'”

Fuhrman does this so others with development disabilities gain self-esteem and create the foundation for a successful life. It ain't easy, but Fuhrman is just such an example.
He was a bit surprised when told that it wasn’t until 1971 that the federal government passed laws requiring children with disabilities to be provided with a public education. For civil rights advocates that was 16 years after Brown vs. The Board of Education which ruled segregating students by race was illegal.

“Of those I teach, they then use their skills, successes and pass them on to others.”
One step at a time, one brick at a time and one page read at a time and we walk around the world, build skyscrapers, and learn the physics of the universe and psychology of the human mind.

When a youth, Fuhrman was goalie in a youth soccer ability league.
As for the future of those with disabilities in America, he said: “I think we are making programs in the area of gaining full citizenship and equal rights.”

“I think the term ‘inclusion’ sounds like they are allowing you to be part of something and they are the gatekeepers whereas full citizenship means everyone has equal standing.”
He said he looked for 18 months for a job after he received his Master’s degree in 2007. Fuhrman said it was through networking that he found a job at MORC, the largest human services nonprofit in Michigan four years ago.

“We’ve made a lot of progress,” he says of the disabled, “but there still is that ‘Hey Buddy’ syndrome” wherein others act condescending to a person with a disability “interacting with me more like I am a child or adolescent instead of an adult because they probably perceive that every individual who uses a wheelchair also has an intellectual disability.”
Eventually, on his shoulders this writer suspects others will take the time to get to know us better because we’re are coming into the mainstream of business, education, and leadership roles in society in a big way.

As for Fuhrman, his next goal is to find a wife.
“…God helped provide me with an education, a good job, and a house. I know he’s going to provide me with a wife someday.”

Jerry Wolffe, the Disability Rights Advocate/Writer in Residence at MORC Inc., can be reached at 586 263 8950.