[nfbmi-talk] reflections from mcb insight nov 2010

joe harcz Comcast joeharcz at comcast.net
Mon Dec 6 10:34:51 CST 2010


Reflections of the Past Eight Years and Hope for the Future
By Pat Cannon, MCB State Director

 

As Governor Jennifer M. Granholm heads into the last two months of her eight years of serving as Michigan’s Governor it seems fitting to reflect upon her impact on the Michigan Commission for the Blind, our clients, as well as people with disabilities generally.  As you may know, it has been my privilege to serve as her Disability Policy Advisor, as well as her State ADA Coordinator, so I’d like to offer my perspective on some of the advances we’ve achieved since 2002.

 

For starters, in my first meeting with her as our new Governor, January 2, 2003, I asked for two things on behalf of the Commission and our clients.  First, the transfer of MCB from the Family Independence Agency (FIA) to a department which better aligns with our mission and, secondly, to support an adjustment in the split of Title I funds under the Rehabilitation Act so blind persons in our state could receive a more equitable share of the federal pie.  Later that year, we were transferred from FIA to the newly created Department of Labor and Economic Growth and, thanks to the active involvement and support of the new Director of Michigan Rehabilitation Services (MRS), Jaye Shamsiddeen, we reached an agreement to increase MCB’s share from 12 percent to 15 percent, which put us on par with other blind rehab agencies throughout the country which receive, on average, 15 percent of allocated rehab funds.

 

Since then, under the Granholm Administration and the leadership in the Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth (DELEG), we have enjoyed strong support and involvement from individuals like former directors David Hollister, Bob Swanson, Keith Cooley, Skip Pruss and Andy Levin, deputy directors Dennis Sykes, Sharon Bommarito, Irma Zuckerberg and Liza Estlund-Olson.  Many, many others in DELEG have been so very supportive of us as well, including Al Pohl, Patty Gamin, Debbie Huntley, Sharon Lycos, LeAnn Droste and on and on.  While I will not attempt to include the names of everyone who has been so helpful to us, suffice to say, that we could not have enjoyed the successes we’ve had without the strong support, guidance and assistance of very many fine individuals in DELEG, not to mention, of course, all of the terrific staff of MCB and our Commissioners.

 

As many of you know, inclusion has been an integral part of the Granholm Administration.  The Governor has attempted to ensure representation for people with disabilities throughout state government and has made it a priority to consider people with disabilities as we advance public policy affecting the lives of all of our citizens.  Governor Granholm knows well that during these very difficult times, we cannot afford to waste the talent, ingenuity and resourcefulness of people with disabilities in Michigan.  The appointment of people with disabilities to various boards, commissions and job in state government, including the Governor’s Cabinet, is evidence of this commitment.

 

With the dedication and hard work of many, we have been able to make advances in several areas which benefit people with disabilities in Michigan and following are a few examples:

 

·        Implementation of the Freedom to Work Program has enabled many individuals with disabilities to go to work without fear of losing critical health care coverage.  Today, approximately 4,500 persons with disabilities are enrolled in this program, which has often been referred to as the Medicaid buy-in initiative, meaning they did not have to choose between the dignity of working and keeping health care coverage.

 

·        Our commitment to providing a range of long-term care options is making it increasingly possible to choose alternatives to institutional care, enabling many people with disabilities to receive care at home so they may remain in their home and community.  The Governor’s establishment of her Long Term Care Task Force, then upon its recommendation, the Long Term Care Commission, has significantly moved this important issue forward and, today, is providing a real choice to more and more individuals.

 

·        Five years ago, Governor Granholm and then-DLEG Director Hollister worked hard to support catering by Business Enterprise Program operators in state-owned facilities.  Director Hollister sent a letter to all department directors and made a subsequent presentation to the Governor’s Cabinet Council to promote BEP catering in state facilities.

 

·        Our state’s various websites and other communication technologies and tools have been developed with accessibility in mind, often modeling the Section 508 standards, to ensure that everyone can access the wealth of information we provide.  While we’re not yet perfect in this quest, we’ve made great progress thanks to the tenacity of people like Scott Norris, Sherri Heibeck, Susan Turney, Sue Luzenski and others.

 

·        We’ve used technology to increase access for people with disabilities so they may participate and interact in public meetings remotely and weigh in on policy development.  For example, Commission for the Blind meetings are routinely audio streamed so consumers may listen and participate by submitting comments via email.

 

·        We’ve also strengthened our resolve to ensure that all meeting sites are accessible and barrier-free to persons with disabilities.  While this was initially underscored in a letter from the Governor to all departments, it was subsequently made part of DTMB’s Administrative Guide to State Government under the Section on Accessibility, which also requires accessible alternative formats as needed.

 

·        Most video productions procured, produced or otherwise used by state government now include captioning and audio description.  This, too, was originally directed by the Governor and is now part of the Administrative Guide to State Government.

 

·        Through critical public/private partnerships we have significantly enhanced recreational opportunities for people with disabilities throughout the state.  Advances in this priority include accessible hiking trails, boat docks, fishing piers, parks and accessible play areas at some highway rest stops, part of the very successful collaborative “So that all may play” initiative.  These accessibility enhancements to recreational opportunities have truly captured the spirit of the ADA and its promise to provide the full integration of people with disabilities into all aspects of our society.

 

·        The Governor’s Equal Opportunity and Diversity Council is continuing its work to ensure that people with disabilities are well-represented in state government and that they are effectively accommodated.  Training on disability for managers is one of several products of this good work. Both Governor Granholm and the First Gentleman participated in disability training, Windmills, along with all Executive Office staff.

 

·        Department diversity plans also cover recruitment as a critical step to promoting more diversity in state government.  And, thanks to the leadership of Civil Service Director Jeremy Stevens, commitment to diversity will be part of the competencies assessed as part of the state performance appraisal system.

 

·        We continue to ensure that all the programs, services and activities of state government are readily accessible to, and usable by, people with disabilities.

 

·        There are several things that we have done and continue to do to promote the employment of people with disability, including our efforts to help the employer community understand the importance of focusing on the abilities of people with disabilities rather than the disabilities.  People with disabilities do not want a gift or a handout.  We don’t want to be given a job for which we are not qualified.  We simply want an opportunity to compete for jobs on the basis of our abilities and what we can do.  Further, our increased activities to promote entrepreneurship, job training and re-training definitely include people with disabilities.  We’re also using federal grants to help provide work experience and employment opportunities for people with disabilities, MCB’s Client Internship Program being just one example.

 

·        Governor Granholm has been present and visible in many, many settings and events for people with disabilities.  You’ll recall, for example, her participation in the Commission’s 25th Anniversary Celebration at the MCB Training Center, her attendance at several DELEG events, in meetings with all Department ADA Coordinators and at numerous bill-signing ceremonies and ribbon-cutting events.  In the past eight years she has been very approachable, very open and truly dedicated to the inclusion of people with disabilities in all that we do.

 

While it has been a privilege for me to be involved on the fringes of many of these achievements, it’s important to note that all of these and many other successes have been the result of the hard work and involvement of many, many talented and hard working individuals.  Further, it has been my observation through more than 30 years of working in the disability arena that advancements and victories that have been won on behalf of people with disabilities have almost always come with strong bi-partisan support.  The hard-fought enactment of the Michigan Persons with Disabilities Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and many other important disability laws are the result of strong, cooperative, bi-partisan collaborations.  So, with this background of achievements, we can look forward to future support and successes with the incoming administration of Governor-Elect Rick Snyder.

 

In the coming weeks and months, MCB and DELEG will be involved with the transition of the Snyder administration and I am confident that our cooperation and support for all of those involved in the new administration will help to pave the way for not only a smooth transition, but also lay the groundwork for more successes on behalf of the blind clients we strive to effectively serve.  I thank all of you – and each of you – for your continued dedication to help restore hope for blind persons in our state.

 



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