About

Who are we?

The first part of our mission is “to work alongside persons with disabilities as they seek to lead self-directed lives.” We accomplish this through the provision of an array of services throughout Kent, Mecosta, Ionia, Montcalm, and Osceola counties to individuals with physical, cognitive, mental, and sensory disabilities and their families.

Disability Advocates is unique in that we are who we serve–75% of our board and 56% of our staff are people living with disabilities. This perspective provides us with tremendous knowledge and experience to support our constituents.

The second part of Disability Advocates’ mission is “to advocate for accessible and welcoming communities” which is rooted in a federal and state mandate to work on public policy change. We do this by engaging persons with disabilities and partners to create positive change through advocacy and education at the local, state, and federal levels. We strive to eliminate systemic barriers and enhance programs so that people with disabilities can live the self-directed life they choose. Our community benefits by becoming more accessible, inclusive, and welcoming for all. We have become recognized locally and across the state, specifically for our transit advocacy, education, technical assistance on accessibility, and Universal Design through our Absolutely Accessible Kent program. Evidence of this includes invitations to be part of state-level coalitions and local planning efforts, along with many requests for our staff and volunteers to be part of committees and workgroups that address mobility, transit, and accessibility.

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Why we do what we do

Our community has an increased awareness of the need for accessibility and welcoming of people with disabilities. This awareness stems from the changing perceptions of ability experienced by more active seniors as they age, the increased presence of persons with disabilities participating in the community, and the increased awareness of the barriers that prevent accessibility.

Disability Advocates of Kent County is committed to upholding the intent and spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Michigan Barrier Free Design Rules (as incorporated in the Michigan Construction Code). We believe it is imperative to continue community education and technical assistance to increase the inclusiveness and accessibility of our built environment and create new best practices that incorporate Universal Design concepts. Our ultimate vision is access for all, regardless of ability.

Our History

Disability Advocates of Kent County was founded in 1981 by people with disabilities seeking to help themselves and other people with disabilities gain control over their own lives. We began as the Grand Rapids Center for Independent Living,” a title used by other such emerging efforts around the country. The term “center for independent living” is defined by federal law as a consumer-controlled, community-based, cross-disability, nonresidential private nonprofit agency that is designed and operated within a local community by individuals with disabilities and provides an array of independent living services.

In 2002, we changed our name to Disability Advocates of Kent County to more accurately describe the role we play in our community and to better define our geographic reach. Throughout our history, we have maintained our status as a federally and state-recognized “center for independent living”, as defined in the Rehabilitation Act.

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The Independent Living Philosophy

Disability Advocates of Kent County believes each person has the right to:

Lead a self-directed life

Live independently as one may choose

Make choices and decision that affect their own lives

Contribute to and participate in community activities

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