By Rebecca Metcalf
Conversations about disabilities often center on fear, pity, victims and stigma. The Disability Network (TDN) aims to change this focus to one of hope, opportunity, expectation and sense of purpose. They are conveniently located in the Dort Mall in Flint. However, their reach goes deep into the community as they offer diverse and inclusive activities in addition to network connections and supports.
According to www.disabled-world.com, 14.4% of Michiganders are disabled. As reported by the Census Bureau, a disability is defined as “a long-lasting sensory, physical, mental or emotional condition or conditions that make it difficult to do functional participatory activities such as seeing, hearing, walking, climbing stairs, learning, remembering, concentrating, dressing, bathing, going outside the home, or working at a job.”
TDN supports youth and adults with disabilities in a variety of ways. Most importantly, it provides the resources to help one advocate for themselves so that lawmakers include them in their vision of a community, and protect them from being denied access to an agency, building or grounds, or information due to a disability.
Disability Network President Luke Zelley gave the example of the Money Follows the Person Act of 2005. “Congressman Dale Kildee came to The Disability Network and met two people (in their 20s and 40s) with disabilities who had to basically escape from their nursing homes in order to move back in the community to live independently. Dale was so moved by their stories that he returned to Washington and co-sponsored the Federal Money Follows the Person Act of 2005, which allows people living in nursing home facilities to transition back into a community setting of their choice with the support needed to live independently,” Zelley said.
It costs 20% less to provide support to people living independently in the community than in nursing homes. Over 90,000 people have moved out of their nursing homes and transitioned back to independent living in the community since the Act, he explained.
TDN’s involvement in the Employment First Executive Order 2015 helped put an end to paying subminimum wages to people with disabilities. The Network influenced Michigan’s Service Animal Laws of 2015, which provided additional protections for people using service animals and businesses that serve them. In addition, the organization helped with Freedom to Work Medicaid, which has allowed thousands of people with disabilities to go to work and keep their healthcare. “This is critical for people with disabilities,” said Zelley.
The Disability Network offers links to community support by providing information on counseling, employment, food pantries, shelters, transportation, financial assistance, housing, clothing, and senior services.
The Disability Network also advocates peer support by connecting people with each other to build personal support networks, as well as providing individual counseling. Further, representatives from The Disability Network visit schools and other community sites to provide mentorship and skill-building for employment to young adults with assistive technology. It also provides programs for financial management, employment and social health.
In an effort to change the conversation around disabilities to one of opportunity, free computer classes are offered. Besides providing skill building for employment, there is wardrobe support. The “Stitches and Soles” program supplies free gently used clothing for interviews and events.
The Disability Network is altering the focus on disabilities to one of hope by offering suicide advice and providing the disabled with a sense of purpose through its inclusive activities. Over the Edge, Flint is a fundraiser with rappelling, where participants can descend down the side of a multi-story building. There are inclusive kayaking meet-ups through iKayak. Volunteer opportunities with Project Uncommon teach skills like problem solving, self-advocacy, goal-setting, professionalism, leadership and teamwork while making a difference in the community.
The Disability Network views independent living not only as a philosophy but as a way of life. It is a movement of people with disabilities who work for self-determination, equal opportunities, and self-respect.
There are many types of disabilities. The Disability Network aims to address all of these. The gift of encouragement, support and self-actualization is priceless. Everyone needs to realize or fulfill their talents and potential. The Disability Network helps the disabled community do just that.
The Disability Network
3600 S. Dort Hwy., Ste. 54
Flint, MI 48507