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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Front door of Michigan's Capitol Building is inaccessible to a person with a mobility disability

By JERRY WOLFFE

On a damp rainy day on May 15, 2014, I had the privilege to be the keynote speaker at “Walk a Mile in My Shoes,” an event held annually at Michigan’s Capitol Building in Lansing to raise awareness of the issues of discrimination, housing, jobs, medical care and receiving an adequate education facing tho two million people in Michigan with disabilities.

One key point I made to the 3,000 in attendance was we “must be our own advocate. We each, if capable, learn the laws so you can wield them as a sword for truth and equality when needed.”
 
I added that when “one becomes fearless -- not afraid of dying, being mocked, shot or stomped -- he or she becomes an unstoppable force for positive social change for those with disabilities.” I have tried to be this since I was born with cerebral palsy in 1946 and avoided being institutionalized because my father refused, told the doctor to get blanked and took me home to raise me to be as normal as possible. I was 2 then and I still remember that dad, Vincent, and his brother, Sylvester, started building parallel bars in our basement so I would learn to walk.
 
I came a long way since then with the grace of God, my dad, mother Carol, wife JoAnn of 37 years, sisters Nancy and Rene and relatives and friends to the point where I am considered among the best advocates in the country. I have had the privilege of telling the stories of triumph and failure, of hopes and dreams, of death and life for those with disabilities with my "Voices of Disabilities" column in The Oakland Press, Macomb Daily and Daily Tribune and occasionally others for at least 15 years.
 
The wall behind me in my office is covered with 30 or so awards I've won for writing and service on behalf of the disabled but the greatest satisfaction is I didn't end up dying in an institution as did my dad's older brother, Alex Wolff, did when I was a child..
 
The Lansing audience loved the speech..
 
However, I had to deliver the speech from the base of the stairs that went to the front door of Michigan's Capitol Building in Lansing because there was no stairlift, ramp or elevator of any kind.
 
There was a mid-point where some of the leaders of the event from most of Michigan's 83 counties could stand under a tent and not get drenched. However, this was impossible for me to get to because of the stairs.
 
So I spoke, occasionally glancing at my notes as a young volunteer from Wayne County got wet while she held an umbrella over my head to keep me from getting wet. However, after five minutes I was soaking wet.
 
All those steps and no way for me to get there told me our lawmakers, who are sinking deeper into a quagmire of self-service and selfishness, don't want to give rights or even listen to those of us with disabilities.
They also are losing faith with Michigan's other 8 million residents for a general lack of success or agreement on even how to fix Michigan's pot-holed riddled roads.
 
I know they must not care or are to isolated from the average Michigan resident because I can't get in the front door of the Capitol to talk to them and even if the building is accessible, why should I go in the back door?

I thought some 600,000 Americans died in the Civil War to stop such segregation and thousand of people with disabilities have died in institutions before they started being moved into their own homes in the community, thanks of efforts by wise people such as those that work at the Macomb-Oakland Regional Center, Community Living Services,
Easter Seals and the 46 Community Mental Health Authorities in the state which provide funding to providers from federal funds dished out to Michigan as well as general state funds.

 
So please listen lawmakers and Gov. Snyder: "I, as a disabled man who has worked at paid taxes for 50 years, want political access to the system so I can change it so my brothers and sisters with disabilities can get the services they need and don't have to die prematurely or live in horrible facilities such as the one in Detroit where a woman with autism was beaten by a caregiver with a mop handle and extension cord until her back was full of welts like those left when Christ was whipped on the day He died for our sins.
 
I and my spiritual kin want to tell you of what we need. We need just 4 percent of that $1.3 billion surplus so the mental health budget that provides services to those with mental illness and developmental disabilities can be made whole and all get the help and care they need to live lives with dignity and independence.
 
How would you feel if the governor and lawmakers said to you and the 10 million people in Michigan: “You aren't worthy enough for us to spend a few thousand to build a stairlift so you can gain political access in the bright sunshine and through the front door of our political system's main building."
 
Your failure to act in this area shows you all to be blind as well as incompetent. You probably never even thought of a wheelchair user trying to get into the Capitol's front door when, on some occasions, you probably trotted up the stairs to gain entrance to the halls of state power, probably wondering how you were going to raise another million or so to run negative television ads to win another term. 

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