Activist: Much to do for Michigan's disabled
Jerry Wolffe has been fighting for rights of those living with disabilities for decades.
"It has given me an ever greater appreciation and sensitivity to — and respect for — what people with disabilities must struggle with every day," said the 56-year-old who will need crutches and wear a boot for a few more weeks.
Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, 76, who suffered major injuries in an auto accident a few years ago, remains in a wheelchair. He too has experienced life changes as a result.
"I am very impressed about our region's effort, both public and private, to accommodate the physically challenged. It's something I probably would not have paid that much attention to before my accident," said Patterson. "I'd give our region an A-plus."
Jerry Wolffe, who was born with cerebral palsy and has used a wheelchair the past 20 years, sees it a bit differently. He has been fighting for rights of those living with disabilities for decades.
Wolffe, 68, has fought for greater accessibility such as passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
"New construction has to comply with ADA Architectural Guidelines so we are doing well in this area as far as access such as getting into buildings, and bathrooms," Wolffe said. "However, older and smaller buildings are doing poorly, pretty much ignoring the laws."
Wolffe teamed up with Richard Bernstein, a Michigan Supreme Court justice who is blind, to work on lawsuits to make the University of Michigan football stadium comply with federal law, as well as Detroit Metropolitan Airport.
"My manual wheelchair is about $3,500," Wolffe said, explaining the costs. "A power wheelchair costs about $15,000 to $20,000. It weighs at least 100 pounds," which also means the need for someone to help get around.
Wolffe, who has been married to wife, JoAnn, since 1976, was a journalist for 45 years at United Press International, the Oakland Press and other publications. He now works as an advocate at Macomb-Oakland Regional Center, a nonprofit that provides services for people with disabilities.
"More than 60% of people with disabilities are unemployed. We need accessible, affordable transportation. We need universal and affordable health care," said Wolffe, calling the Affordable Care Act not affordable. "We need affordable and accessible housing."
Wolffe spoke to a gathering of 3,000 people in front of the Capitol building steps last spring about prospects for the disabled amid declining funding.
"It was then I noticed there was no way a guy who uses a wheelchair could get into the front door of the Capitol building (no ramp)," he said. "This story isn't yet done."
Carol Cain can be reached at 313-222-6732 or firstname.lastname@example.org. She is senior producer/host of "Michigan Matters" airing 11:30 a.m. Sundays on CBS 62. See Sen. Gary Peters, L. Brooks Patterson and Mark Hackel on today's show.