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Monday, March 9, 2015

People with disabilities deserve total access to society

Many took time to tell me about challenges faced by those living with disabilities that most of us could not imagine.

Macomb-Oakland Regional Center's advocate-at-large, writer-in-residence says much still needs to be done so society is accessible to those with disabilities.

My column last Sunday about Jerry Wolffe and his fight for the rights of those with disabilities garnered many similar stories from readers.
Wolffe, an advocate at Macomb-Oakland Regional Center, talked about the battle to make sure those living with disabilities and navigating their way around are afforded the same opportunities as everyone else.
The column also mentioned Gov. Rick Snyder and Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, who are getting around today with assistance after accidents.
Many took time to tell me about challenges faced by those living with disabilities that most of us could not imagine.
Judy Holmes told me about the region's "broken bus system" and its toll.
"My cousin has cerebral palsy, lives in Rochester Hills and worked in Madison Heights. She had to ask her mom to drive her down Rochester Road to Troy to catch a bus to work. This is not the way we provide equally for our tax-paying citizens," Holmes said.
"We — myself included being a wheelchair user — are one of the last populations that is still discriminated against and left behind even today," said Shane Goddell.
With snow piled on some sidewalks in recent weeks, getting around in a wheelchair has been downright daunting.
And experts say the number of Americans with disabilities will only grow.
"The word disability is an ever-expanding term," said Jim Dehem, president and CEO of Community Living Services, which helps people with disabilities find housing and jobs in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties.
"If you are not already experiencing one, you will — it is called aging," he said, adding that elderly people often need greater assistance. "A disability can be short or long term. It can occur at birth, or suddenly tomorrow, or in your golden years."
"We are all TABs — temporarily able-bodied," wrote Tom Watkins, president and CEO of the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority.
"We need to continue to strive to provide appropriate accommodations — policymakers ought to act as though it someday will impact you or someone you love — because it will," he added.
Others say support for disabled people has had ebbs and flows.
"Under the active leadership of (former) Govs. (George) Romney and (William) Milliken, Michigan was one of the first states to enact and implement a barrier-free standards policy for new and remodeled buildings that serve the public," wrote C. Pat Babcock, who ran mental health and other departments for the two leaders.
"Hopefully Gov. Snyder's relatively brief dependence on crutches will result in a more sensitive and enlightened approach to assuring that people with disabilities have the opportunity not only to visit public buildings, but also to use their education and skills to improve our state," Babcock added.
The unemployment rate among those with disabilities is more than 80%.
Trying to ease the problem, Snyder issued a directive last fall asking state agencies to hire more people with disabilities.
There are many other issues to contend with, as Brenda Mezzo, who takes care of her special-needs daughter, told me.
"There are disabled people who essentially cannot leave their house because they are diapered and there are no public facilities that allow for a parent or caregiver to change them," Mezzo wrote.
Bonnie Levitan, who runs the Southeast Michigan Post-Polio Support Group, said, "Many opt out of going to a new venue because they do not know what to expect. Will the bathrooms be accessible?"
"These people are not wallowing in self-pity or making unreasonable demands," Levitan said. "A few minor changes (to make facilities more accessible) would go a long way to make life easier."