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CROWN: August 2021 - Equity Office Hosts 'Disability Independence Beyond Workplace Accommodation: Living Your Best Life' Panel

To celebrate Disability Pride Month, the DEI office hosted a panel for MDCR employees to learn about disabilities and living your best life. Cynthia Thornton, the MDCR LGBTQ liaison, facilitated the session with presenters Annie Urasky, Director of the Division on Deaf, DeafBlind and Hard of Hearing; Leslynn Angel, President of United Cerebral Palsy of Metropolitan Detroit; John Sanford, attorney, and director of the Office of Recipient Rights for the Department of Community Health; Duncan Wyeth, former director of the Michigan Commission on Disability Concerns. 

For more than 30 years, John used his legal expertise to fight for the civil rights for persons with disabilities. Duncan was also an adjunct faculty member teaching disability studies at Michigan State University.

Annie opened the panel by emphasizing that her experience does not necessarily reflect all Deaf, DeafBlind or Hard of Hearing individuals. She revealed that she could not have succeeded without the support of her parents who instilled in their children that being Deaf was more than just acceptable. It was perfectly okay. Annie's younger sisters absorbed that idea so well, they asked their parents when they would become Deaf. With her family's steadfast belief in Annie, she was able to defeat other people's prejudices about her. In high school, Annie was a lifeguard for the local city pool, and a colleague questioned Annie's ability to perform her job because she was Deaf, which frustrated her. Annie didn't let that stop her and succeeded at her lifeguarding duties, leading to her coworker apologizing for doubting Annie.

Leslynn focused on the challenges that persons with disabilities still face and the progress the community has made. She commended the City of Detroit for establishing a Disability Affairs Office, housed in the Civil Rights, Inclusion and Opportunity Office. She also praised the city of Troy for recognizing July 26 as a day of Disability Independence, which she believes is a step in the right direction and she hopes other communities will follow suit.

John discussed the concept of TAB - Temporarily Able-Bodied. Anyone at any moment in life one can become disabled. He said, "…When you are working with a person with a disability, you have to believe that they are first a person of worth and value, and that they should be respected. If you are unable to do that, you should not be in civil rights."

Duncan echoed John's sentiments, saying that being disabled is an equal opportunity human experience. The disabled community is a very diverse community, and when discussing diversity, disability has to be part of the conversation. If it were not for Duncan's parents' belief that he could accomplish great things in life, he would have been institutionalized based on his doctor's recommendation. Instead, Duncan went to college and was employed at the State of Michigan for 27 years, where he fought for the rights of people with disabilities.

The main takeaway from the panel discussion was that respect and inclusion go a long way toward equity. Instead of an emphasis on fixing a person's disability, the focus should be on providing equal opportunities, developing skills and providing the resources people with disabilities need to succeed in life. Annie highlighted the fact that without the interactive process of discussing what the person with a disability needs for full access, barriers will continue to exist. The person with the disability knows what accommodation works for them.  Organizations that employ an interactive process to ensure full accessibility play an essential role in making it possible for people with disabilities to live their best life.