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MONTHLY HIGHLIGHT | EMPLOYMENT

We hear it every day, “unemployment is at an all-time low”! This is not so true for people with disabilities. Now is the best time for employers to tap into the pool of workers in this population. People with disabilities bring a different perspective and creative spirit to the table. If you are looking to be innovative, problem solve, or have needs that are not being met, it is time to look at us. We possess not only the skills and education but also a dedication and commitment that is driven by passion, excellence and trust.

Impacting the lives of people and veterans with service connected disabilities.

The programs and services we provide include:

  • Peer support, which means that a person with disabilities will work with another person with disabilities who has experienced similar barriers and can offer the perspective that best relates to them.
  • Employment readiness assessments offer an opportunity to experience working in a safe place without fear of failure. Giving the time needed to work through personal and social circumstances to become stable and ready for competitive employment or retraining for the career of their choice. Identifying barriers to employment and creating solutions to those barriers, such as workplace accommodations. Understanding the ADA and your rights and responsibilities as a person with a disability in the workplace. Learning the language to use when talking about your disability with an employer. Resume, career exploration, interviewing skills and more.
  • Independent living supports help people identify barriers to participating and accessing their home and community. We help identify resources that align with the priorities/goals of the person and they choose what fits best for them.

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Trina Edmonson – Workforce Development Manager

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Monthly Highlight | Mission Moment

“We received a referral from Michigan Rehabilitation Services (MRS) for an individual that was homeless. The consumer had been in the system for several years with a history of behaviors that caused many programs to close their doors. 

With our Disability Advocates mission statement in mind, I came alongside this individual, and drawing on my experience in mental health, and listened.

While working with them, an apartment through Dwelling Place became available, but when they discovered it would just one person needing the apartment, they would not rent the two bedroom.  They were frustrated and wanted to give up on everything.  In my office, I communicated that they needed to work with the rules of the programs, and that I would help them with that.  I called Dwelling Place with them present.  I modeled how to negotiate through a problem.  They heard that they were next on the list for an available apartment. 

Within a week they informed me that their housing voucher was expiring in 3 days.  I called to ask for an extension.  I was informed that they had used all of their extensions, but after explaining their story the person asked me to write an email with the same information and they would take it up with their office in Lansing.  I did so, and they received an extension.

Soon thereafter, Dwelling Place and MSHDA worked together, and this person did get an apartment.

During this process, this consumer would call me with status updates, and still does.  And the best part, they are no longer homeless.”

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John Koon, Employment Navigator

Nicole Rodammer, Development Director

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Monthly Highlight | OT Appreciation Month

Picture above: photograph of homemade cookies brought in for our Occupational Therapy department this month.

The month of April was occupational therapy appreciation month! It’s been a busy month for our OT department, but our program manager, Judy Morris, has found some time to talk about what exactly OT does.

The primary services of Occupational Therapy that we provide are home evaluations, adaptive equipment, aging in place classes, hearing aids, ADA paratransit review, and fieldwork supervision. Let’s take a look at what each of these services offers.

Home Evaluations | Evaluation of home for accessibility barriers, need for safety equipment, need of education regarding safety and independence in daily activities.  We work with consumers to develop a plan for modification, equipment, and training. We provide follow up with the consumer to implement that plan. Our goal is that consumers can continue to live in their own homes safely and independently for as long as possible.

Adaptive Equipment Loan Closet | We maintain a loan closet of equipment that has been donated to us, and we are able to purchase items through Kent County Senior Millage and other grant funds.  We have grab bars, bathtub seats, mobility devices and other types of equipment that promotes safety in the home. We have given out over 12,000 pieces of equipment, and we are always looking for donations of good used equipment for our loan closet.

Aging In Place Classes | We have funding through KCSM to teach 4 different aging in place classes in Kent County.  We usually teach 20 classes each year for Safety At Home, Tools You Can Use, Help is Out There, and Benefits.  We also have funding to provide 1 class in assistive technology and Tools You Can Use in the counties of Ionia, Montcalm, Osceola, and Mecosta through MDRC.  These are new this year.

Hearing Aids and Specialized Equipment | This is another service funded by KCSM, we can provide hearing aids, and hearing equipment such a TV ears, vibrating smoke alarms, or light signals for people who are hearing impaired.  We can provide a home evaluation for equipment needs, if they are in need of hearing aids, they are referred to an audiologist for a hearing exam and hearing aids.

ADA Paratransit Review | The OT reviews Go Bus applications to make disability determinations on how the disability prevents that individual from riding the mainline bus. We review applications, interviews, and in-person assessments.

OT and COTA Fieldwork Supervision | Our OT team supervises fieldwork at GVSU, WMU, and GRCC.

Judy adds that our OT program at Disability Advocates is very different from the Medical Model of Home Health OT in that we look at the person and how they function in their environment.  We are not offering to rehabilitate the individual, rather we are adapting their environment to allow them to maximize their independence, and stay living in their own homes for as long as possible.

With our involvement in Community Repair Days over the last 27 years, we have received countless hours of volunteer labor to complete these projects. If you’d like to get involved with our OT department or any of our volunteer opportunities, contact Laura St. Louis at laura.s@dakc.us or call at 616-949-1100 ext 251.


Katey Berry – Marketing and Communications Coordinator

Judy Morris – Occupational Therapy Program Manager

 

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Monthly Highlight | MS Awareness Month

“You have MS.” The diagnosis I received and the reality I had to face when I was just 24 years old.

And then it hit me, “Shit! I have MS”.

I do have MS and there’s a really good chance that you are connected with someone that is affected by the disease as well. A recent study reported there are one million Americans are currently living with Multiple Sclerosis, this number is twice as high as suspected. (National MS Society)

What is MS? Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a potentially disabling autoimmune disease of the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerve (central nervous system).

In MS, the immune system mistakenly attacks the protective sheath (myelin) that covers nerve fibers and causes communication problems between your brain and the rest of your body. Eventually, the disease can cause permanent damage or deterioration of the nerves. Myelin damage is known as lesions or plaques, fill with scar tissue. Multiple Sclerosis means “many scars”.

Nerve

MS can also cause destruction of the entire nerve. The damage from lesions disrupts the transmission of nerve impulses from the central nervous system to the rest of the body causing a variety of symptoms. (Mayo Clinic)

I didn’t know what any of that meant initially, but I was given an analogy that helped me to better understand the disease… Envision an electrical cord. There is a coating that protects the electric cord, in humans myelin sheath acts as the protective coating for our nerve fibers. When the brain sends messages to the rest of the body, they travel down the nerve pathway. And similar to how a damaged electrical cord would prevent the current to be sent through – when the myelin is damaged it interrupts the messages being sent.

MS is often referred to as a “Snowflake Disease” because it looks so different from person to person. While there are a million people living with MS in America everyone’s experience is unique. MS is more common in women and more prevalent the further away you are from the equator. Often times you can’t see symptoms that people with MS are experiencing. These range from fatigue, cognitive issues, vision issues to name a few. The varying symptoms also add to difficulty diagnosing the disease as it can mimic so many things.

When I was first diagnosed, so many questions flooded my mind like “who will ever love me?”, “what does this mean for my future?”, “will I not be able to walk?”. Most of those thoughts and questions faded as I became more educated about the disease and learned ways to manage it, but one question that still remains is “what does this mean for my future?”. I am on a disease-modifying drug and according to my MRIs haven’t had any new lesions which is great, but the unpredictability of the MS is what’s the toughest for me.

There are many effective treatment options on the market intended to slow the progression of the disease and other medicine that can help treat symptoms, but currently, there is no cure for MS. My hope is that changes during my lifetime.

March is officially recognized as MS Awareness month, but it’s important the awareness and education don’t stop on April 1st – and that’s no April Fools’ joke! 

We really are stronger together! If you would like to learn more about MS or ways you can help, I suggest visiting nationalmssociety.org.


Maddie S. – Development Associate

Local Support Groups:

Sources:

Illustration of Nerve Fibers and Myelin Attack in MS
Graphic from: www.medicinenet.com

URL for study: https://www.nationalmssociety.org/About-the-Society/News/Landmark-Study-Estimates-Nearly%C2%A01-Million-in-the-U

Link for MS definition: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/multiple-sclerosis/symptoms-causes/syc-20350269

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Monthly Highlight | World Day of Social Justice

The United Nations state that “we advance social justice when we remove barriers that people face because of gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion, culture or disability.” That is why today, February 20th, is recognized by The UN as World Day of Social Justice. The theme for this year is “If You Want Peace & Development, Work for Social Justice.” And that is exactly what we do here at Disability Advocates. Rich Jones, our Advocacy Program Manager, was interviewed about what we do to advocate for social justice.

What still needs to be done before we achieve true equality for the community of people with disabilities?

We have to continue to work toward equity (fairness) and that comes from influencing peoples’ thinking (behavior doesn’t effectively change unless thinking changes).

Rich is absolutely right about this, and it applies to all areas of injustice. Stigmas of inequality must be broken in order to effectively establish justice. But how do we do that? I asked Rich how this is done through us.

What do we do at Disability Advocates to bring about change related to the rights of people with disabilities?

A huge thing that we do is to educate people about disability rights.

The task of education may seem irrelevant, but it is one of the most important things we can do. I asked him to elaborate.

Why is this so important?

Education helps people know that problems exist (1 in 5 people in Michigan have a disability), that it impacts everyone personally (80% chance of obtaining a disability before you die), and with the senior population growing everyday (10,000 baby boomers will turn 65 every day for the next 19 years) it impacts society financially.

Knowing these things is huge. Nothing makes people more active in advocacy than being aware of the problems being faced, learning that more struggle with these problems than they realize, and knowing that one day those issues will affect them as well. Once armed with this information, however, they need to be set in the right direction.

How can others get involved?

Volunteer, write letters, support disability organizations financially, and vote.

Rich emphasized voting; it’s the easiest way to have your say in what is done, both locally and nationally. Doing a little bit of research to decide which candidates will fight for social justice can go a long way as more people do so. Many other avenues of involvement are available through Disability Advocates as well. If any of these opportunities feel right for you, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at (616) 949-1100. We will happily take your call and get you set on your path to work with us on reaching for social justice.


Katey Berry – Marketing & Communications Coordinator

Sources:

Rich Jones – Advocacy Program Manager

http://www.un.org/en/events/socialjusticeday/ – United Nations

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Top Winter Safety Tips

Here in Michigan, we all know that wintertime is tough. We may prepare in the usual ways–dressing warm, turning up the heat, or wearing non-skid shoes–but there may be more we could do. We’ve collected a list of tips that you may not have known to help you stay safe this winter.

Don’t track water into the house. This might seem like common sense, but it can be easy to overlook. Sometimes we don’t want to expose our feet to the cold air as soon as we come inside, so we might leave our shoes on. It’s important, however, to remove your shoes when you enter your home if you’ve been walking on ice or snow. Wearing non-skid shoes helps outside, but bringing the water you’ve walked through into your home can create new hazards indoors.

Take care of your health, including your mental health. Of course, you should always be taking care of yourself, but the way you do so should change with the season. In the summer, we know to wear sunscreen outside and drink extra water, but what should we do in the winter? Because of the lack of sunlight, making intentional dietary changes to include more Vitamin D fortified foods can make a big difference. In addition, less sunlight can lead to wintertime depression, or contribute to seasonal affective disorder (SAD). It can be hard in bad weather, but making sure to keep up with social activity is important for your mental health during these gloomy months. If you have a friend or family member with difficulties getting out in the winter, try to pay them a visit! They’ll appreciate the company, and it’ll help both of you more than you realize. If you yourself have trouble going out, keeping up with family and friends with phone calls and social media can help as well.  

Do check ups on your vehicles–this includes wheelchairs and power chairs. There’s a few good reasons to keep up car maintenance in the winter. Having things like the oil, battery, tires, and wipers checked on can be important to performance on the dangerous roads. Additionally, making sure your car is running well before the winter weather hits can save you from dealing with troubles later on that could leave you stuck in the cold. For the same reason, keeping your wheelchair or power chair tuned up is worth your efforts. Care.com credits Phyllis Buchanan for suggesting to “think of your wheelchair like your car” to prepare for the rough terrain ahead. Keeping an emergency kit on board in case of getting stuck is also recommended, and Phyllis suggests including items such as “protein bars, bottled water, hand warmers, and kitty litter to use for traction.”

Business owners, keep your facilities accessible. For this topic, we hear from Jackson Botsford, an Accessibility Specialist from our Advocacy department. Even if your building is built for accessibility, ice and snow present new challenges that should be addressed. Jackson’s first suggestion is to make sure that accessible parking spots are clearly marked with a sign, and that the surrounding area is clear of snow for ease of use for wheelchair users. He adds to that, stressing that the path from the parking lot to the door being shoveled should be a priority, along with the sidewalks, curb ramps, and any nearby bus stops. Snow is dangerous for walking commuters, but can completely limit access to uncleared areas for wheelchair users. Removing these barriers not only helps your business by helping more people in the door, but it also lets every costumer you have know that you are willing to serve them to the best of your abilities. 

We hope that these tips gave you something to think about and help keep you safe this snowy season. Make sure you share this with others that may enjoy these tips!


Katey Berry – Marketing & Communications Coordinator

Sources:

Jackson Botsford – Accessibility Specialist 

http://www.easterseals.com/explore-resources/living-with-disability/winter-safety-tips-for-people-with-disabilities.htmlEasterseals

https://www.care.com/c/stories/5447/winter-safety-tips-for-seniors/Care.com

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Monthly Highlight | National Family Caregivers Month

Media today often recognizes the “everyday heroes” in our communities. These heroes usually include firefighters, police officers, healthcare professionals, and the like who spend their lives making others’ lives better. One group of selfless individuals that often goes unrecognized is family caregivers. Nearly 44 million Americans every year assist their loved ones by providing basic care and needs, and the month of November being National Family Caregivers Month gives us the opportunity to put a spotlight on these individuals.

Being a family caregiver “is a 24 hour job,” explains Bonnie Miller, our Family Support Services Project Manager, “you can’t just up and leave for the weekend.” Bonnie works with family caregivers on a regular basis, and she understands this responsibility well because she is a family caregiver herself. She shares stories of her daughter to explain the day to day patience that being a caregiver requires. “I have tried so many times to convince Michele that there is no Santa Claus! But every Christmas we give in,” she tells me, “every Christmas for 40 years, Michele has woken up to the surprise of Christmas presents under the tree and all the milk, cookies and carrots are gone!” Family caregivers often find themselves bending to the wants and needs of those they care for over their own. This, however, is not without reward. Bonnie explains that, “knowing you’re caring for them in the best way you can really is rewarding in and of itself.”

“Caregivers need to give themselves a break, not only for their own good, but to be a better caregiver too,” explains Bonnie. This belief is why she’s so passionate about helping caregivers navigate all of the resources available to them. “I’ve seen people like deer in headlights when I show them all the resources there are out there,” she says, “which is why I think it’s best for people to come to us. These websites aren’t easy to navigate at all. We’ll help you ask for the services that make sense for you.” She highlights many services to me, and I notice that the target of these programs is not just the one being cared for, but also the caregivers themselves. For example, the Home Help program offered through the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is designed to provide care in order to take some of the weight off of the caregiver’s shoulders. Respite camps offer this same assistance, giving caregivers time to focus on their own lives while ensuring quality care for their loved one.

If you’re not a family caregiver, you may be wondering what you can do or how this is relevant to you. Bonnie suggests, “families need to be supportive and understanding. We really are doing our best, but sometimes it’s hard to make plans and be on time. It’s not that we don’t want to, it’s just one of the sacrifices we need to make. So having that understanding really does help.” Being supportive doesn’t just mean offering to help out, it can take other forms as well. It could mean offering to come over instead of trying to go out, being understanding if they’re late for plans, or allowing them to vent their frustrations to you without judgement.  

For those of you who are caregivers, we admire your selfless everyday heroism and want to help you navigate the services available for you. It is our sincere mission to help you and your loved one get the care and support you deserve. We invite you to reach out to Bonnie Miller by email at Bonnie.M@dakc.us or by phone at 616-323-2217.

 


 

Katey Berry – Marketing & Communications Coordinator

Sources:
Bonnie Miller, BS – Family Support Services Project Manager

https://caregiveraction.org/national-family-caregivers-month – Caregiver Action Network

 

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Monthly Highlight | National Disability Employment Awareness Month

The month of October has flown by at Disability Advocates! With the changing of the leaves, so too, comes the changing of our fiscal year, which begins on October 1st. This gives us all new opportunities to continue working alongside folks with disabilities as they lead self-directed lives, and to advocate for access to home, community, and employment. One of the ways that Disability Advocates continues the conversation surrounding employment is to bring awareness and education about the importance of including people with disabilities in our workforce. This month, we were able to partner with many local businesses and a few local colleges to provide this resource to their staff, students and faculty.

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Impact Story | Godwin Heights Work Group

The students of Godwin Heights Employability Work Group on their certificate day.