The Disability Network of West Michigan is an agency in Muskegon that provides independent living resources for people with disabilities in Muskegon, Oceana, Lake, Newaygo, and Mason counties. Their website goes on to say that "Disability Network West Michigan is committed to inclusion and diversity while being consumer directed and accountable. Our mission is to advocate, educate, empower and provide resources for persons with disabilities. We promote accessible communities, fulfilling our vision of accessibility is an accepted civil right."
Now, all that sounds official and everything but it also might sound like some of the jargon that might have a little bit more meaning than what the words say. Well, the words are pretty specific and all, but there are some thoughts behind them that the average person might not understand when used in the context. Myself included. "Inclusion?" We all want to feel included...right? Does included mean picked for your favorite team on the playground? Does inclusion mean being able to get into the same places everyone else does with ease? For people with disabilities, inclusion means so much more and that is why Disability Network West Michigan brought renown Doctor Mark Salzer, from Temple University to Muskegon on Friday February 14th for some professional development & in-depth conversation.
Inclusiveness means so much more than the idea of a group outing or some of the basic accommodations that are required by law to help those with a disability. Inclusiveness includes an encompassing view of life for people who have a disability and their desire to be part of everything. From spirituality to relationships, work to play and to break down the stereo types of the idea that someone with a physical or mental disability is "too far gone" to want anything more than isolation, solitude and their comforts. According to Dr. Salzer, inclusiveness is not only essential for the over all health of everyone, it's especially important for those who are experiencing a disability.
Disability Network of West Michigan invited in their staff, board members and some from the community to hear Dr. Salzer speak at the Innovation Hub at GVSU in Muskegon. It was a morning filled with information and thought what's perceived as inclusion and what's really the goal. Yes, the required things like sidewalk cuts and accessible bathrooms are part of it, but so should be friendships in any social circle, intimate relationships, spirituality and more. To boil it down to the simplest of thoughts...inclusion isn't a day out in the van with the same group of people while the rest of the world does their thing.
I was able to get a few minutes with Dr. Salzer as the group broke for lunch. He's much better at explaining all of this and his message is so important. Breaking down the traditional idea of "inclusive" is a time that's come.
After the lunch break, it was time for Disability Network to turn the thoughts into action. As I have worked with Disability Network in the past, they are a remarkable resource for individuals, companies and municipalities to work with. They are a pro active organization who will help not only guide you through the in's and out's of the American's With Disabilities Act, but they go over and above to help the people they serve live the fullest and most inclusive life possible. Bringing in Dr. Salzer was a huge step for this organization and our community. If you'd like to learn more about Dr. Salzer's work at Temple University, click on his link below. The Muskegon Channel was very thankful for the chance to be part of this great day of learning.