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#Awareness Blog

Welcome to our blog entitled #Awareness.  This is a space that will delve into disabilities.   Good, bad, or neutral the information should help provide an “Awareness”.  Hopes being that through the information we have provided, you gain a greater Awareness what is happening to people with disabilities.  

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  • 27 Nov 2023 3:22 PM | Brian Elliott (Administrator)

    The Inclusion Event RecapAttendees for TIE sit at their tables facing the speaker on stage to the right of the phoo

              Wednesday, November 1st forces combined for The Inclusion Event 2023.  A night to bring together all members of the community in an informal format and share how inclusion and accessibility benefit all people.  All ages, abilities, and backgrounds came together for an epic evening.   An evening that had all the greatness of prizes, adaptive sports, Dr. Okanlami “Dr. O” as the truly memorable keynote speaker, a meet and greet with Paralympic Silver medalist and Co-Captain of USA Wheelchair Rugby Chuck Aoki offering signed photos, not just one, but TWO cakes, and it was free to attend thanks to our many generous sponsors. 

              Pulling up with a loaded trailer, members from University of Michigan’s Adaptive Sport and Fitness program brought enough adaptive sport equipment to border the attendees with playing areas for seated volleyball, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair tennis, boccia ball, wheelchair rugby, or goalball (a game played with ball with a bell in it and all players blindfolded).  Before attendees were able to play the games, they were enlightened by Dr. O on adaptive sports and their ability of providing inclusion.  Within his keynote talk, Dr. O shared how he grew up as the child of two medical physicians and was a Division I Track & Field collegiate athlete at Stanford.  Yet, before his spinal cord injury he never knew of the world within adaptive sports.  Since then, he has made it a personal mission and career to share benefits of adaptive sports and how they enhance lives and bring peers together.    

              Following Dr. O speaking, we used the remainder of our evening encouraging attendees to enter any or all of the many raffles that we had going on and to use any of the adaptive sport equipment on site they wanted.  Smiles and excitement filled the room as many people tried sports they had never experienced first-hand.  We are happy to see all the people that showed up and allowed us to share the world of adaptive sports as another asset we can use for truly inclusive communities.

              Lastly, we hope all the attendees had loads of fun, met some new people, played some adaptive sports and maybe even won a raffle prize or several, and left with new perceptions of what inclusion can be.  As Dr. O said, “We aren’t able to change the past.  But we can do something.  We can do something to impact our future through adding purposeful inclusion into our everyday lives for the benefit of all people”.

  • 16 Nov 2023 4:24 PM | Brian Elliott (Administrator)

    Outerwearillustration of a young boy and girl dressed in winter clothes th girl is in a wheelchair and h boy is holding a wrapped gift in his hands

    • Coat - 

      • You want something that will be warm by blocking wind and maintaining body temperature, yet it's also important that the coat has closures that you can easily manage by zipper, buttons, velcro, even magnets sewn into portions, or another method that accommodates your functional ability.  If self-securing the closure is not an option, you can simplify by getting a parka or leave the coat zipped, buttoned, or strapped and pull over your head, similar to putting on a shirt.

    • Scarf

      • These help to trap warm air in and around your neck and face.
      • Help to fight colds, which reproduce more easily in your nose under cooler temps. 
      • Add some style to your outfit.
    • Gloves/mittens - 

      • Protect those fingers/hands from the elements!  Total user preference on this issue.  Mittens tend to be warmer for hands than gloves, but may not be most functional, depending on activity.  Gloves, even with thinner material in the fingers for increased sensitivity, may be essential depending on tasks being addressed.

    • Head-cover -

      • This is a must have.  Your head is where the heat escapes easiest.  

      • For those with hearing difficulties, a hood attached to your jacket may be the easiest option for pulling down to listen to conversation or street sounds rather than a hat.

    • Boots - 

      • You need to try them on to see how easy they are to put on and how they feel taking steps.  Add thick socks on your feet to get a true feel during the trial session.  You want your footwear to have at least these three attributes if you are going to be walking around. 

        • Waterproof - keep your feet and socks dry if going through snow.

        • Well-insulated - to keep your feet warm.

        • Slip-resistant and ‘GRIPPY” bottoms - keep you upright and avoid slips on ice.  Buy add-on crampons to really dig into any icy terrain if you feel the need.

      • #Awareness
  • 20 Jul 2023 1:12 PM | Brian Elliott (Administrator)

    Three hours a day, three days a week, and for three weeks, disAbilitya male teacher stands in front of a small group of students and is referring to notes on a screen Connections staff member, Lisa Fleming, partnered with Michigan Works Southeast staff members this summer to host MI Internship Prep for five Jackson area students.

    MI Internship Prep is a program designed to help students learn how to succeed in the professional workplace. It focuses on soft skills such as communication, teamwork, problem solving, and self-advocacy. The partnership between disAbility Connections and Michigan Works Southeast marks the first time the program has been adapted to support the needs of students with disabilities.

    Each day, students practiced workplace etiquette by roleplaying scenarios they might encounter while working or when applying for a job. These fun interactions bonded them together as a team from day one. Throughout the program, they offered each other advice and encouragement as they practiced how to interact with customers, coworkers, and supervisors. Individualized feedback from teachers and peers helped the students to improve, and the support of their new friends helped build their confidence.

    In addition to the roleplay scenarios, students engaged in frequent group discussions. They worked to identify personal strengths and life experiences that will help them succeed in their desired careers. A mock interview served as a capstone for the course, allowing students to demonstrate their new skills.

    On the final day of the program, students received a stipend from Michigan Works and a certificate of completion. Equally important, they all showed tremendous growth in confidence and came away with new friends.


  • 29 Jun 2023 4:28 PM | Brian Elliott (Administrator)

    Accessible Tree Canopy Walkway at Hidden Lake Gardenswooden suspension walkway with a power wheelchair user crossing

    By: Brian Elliott

    Among the 755 rolling acres that make up the grounds of Hidden Lake Gardens (6214 M-50, Tipton, MI), 10 miles west of Tecumseh is a brand new attraction that will take you back to nature in its finest, purest state.  They have built an accessible tree canopy walkway and it is now open to the public Tuesday – Sunday from 10am-4pm. 

    This version of a canopy walkway uses a suspension bridge allowing people (no dogs allowed) to go single file across a 374-foot walkway that takes you 65 feet above the forest floor as you cross over a ravine. 

    From the closest parking lot, you follow a trail through the woods to reach the canopy walk that is nestled among the trees.  The first half of the trail is paved, however the second half is not and could be difficult for some with mobility issues.  The current trail was used as an access road for the equipment to build the canopy walk.  It is loosely packed gravel, I was able to do it in my power chair but felt I could struggle if I slowed or stopped on the first big hill of the trail.  *Work is being done to have an accessible crushed limestone trail, but that won’t be completed until later in this year.*

    For people with disabilities that are unable to make the trek because of the distance or the loose rock on the trail, there are two paved, accessible parking spaces located in the woods near the entrance to the canopy walk.  Speak with a HLG representative about driving back and using the space.

    The experience is designed as a circuit.  Once you reach the entrance, a few zigs and zags up the ramped entry takes you up in elevation, into an area they like to call the classroom, then one last ramp until you use the suspension walkway.  After successfully crossing and feeling the bounce and sway of the walkway along with the incredible perspective of views there is a short trip through the woods as it loops back to the entry and trail.  The entire experience - from parking lot - to canopy walk - and back to the car takes roughly 45min-1hr.

    Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and veterans and $5 for students. Children 4 years and younger get in free.  They offer a variety of memberships with a range in prices.  Value-wise, the memberships are worth checking into if you are going with a group or make multiple trips to the gardens.  This will definitely be fun to experience as the seasons change.


  • 01 May 2023 1:50 PM | Brian Elliott (Administrator)

    Think Outside the Box with Adaptive Camping

    Recent changes in weather have us thinking of getting backa tent is shown set up with a co in the back with an air mattress on top and on thr entrance there is a doormat laid across the zipper to reduce tripping or get caught in a mobility device outside and the type of activities we want to do.  Camping is typically not very high on the interest levels for people with disabilities.  Especially in a tent, which requires the most gear for participation in general.  You have your tent, seating options, bedding, food, personal items, games/activities, general materials (flashlight/plates/utensils, etc), and whatever else you can fit in the vehicle.  Good news!  With some creative thinking - people can continue outdoor recreation activities like camping.  Simple tweaks to some of the standard camping supplies may be all that is needed to get you back out in the great outdoors.


    For instance, tents will have a zip up entry that then creates a lip  at the bottom people generally step over when entering.  That same step creates a barrier/tripping hazard for those with mobility difficulties or using devices.  An adaptation for this is to take your standard doormat (may need 2) from your front door and lay across the bottom of the unzipped tent.  Other ways to make the zippers on the door and windows easier to use is through adding zip ties and creating loops for hooking and pulling. For a little extra privacy while sleeping or changing clothes, consider looking into tents that have a center divider you can portion off from the other side.  Or a way you create that will serve the same purpose of privacy.


    It is a good idea to think of elevating the sleeping surface.  Use a sleeping cot to either use as it comes or as a base for an air mattress to be placed on top.  This would make getting in and out of bed easier by creating a more natural position to transfer or sit/stand. 


    If the camp site does not have restroom facilities –Portable commodes are an option that can be used for the bigger stuff.  There are many variations of these from merely a bucket with a lid to full framed chairs with a chamber pot hooked up underneath.  Don’t forget to pack the toilet paper!  For bathing, a wash cloth and soap or some wet wipes will be your friend for cleaning all the areas on your body.

    Don’t forget to pack:

    Hands free flashlight – aka headlamp

    Toilet Paper

    Duct Tape – fixes everything – temporarily

    Drinking Water

    Pot for cooking meals and boiling water

    Utility Tool/knife

    First aid kit

    Camping will require some extra planning, adjusting, or rethinking how to accomplish those activity goals.  But don’t let it hold you back from something you want to experience.  There are even groups that take trips together.  UMAISE - (University of Michigan Adaptive & Inclusive Sports Experience) will do an indoor camping for newbys to try and then go out in nature as a group on another date.  Plus they even supply most of the gear!

    For those venturing out, don’t let a few fears of the unknown hold you back.  And don’t forget to check out all of the state parks - especially within Michigan - with campgrounds nearby and the features they offer in terms of amenities and accessibility.  Several of the Michigan state parks have track chairs that are available for people to take out and enjoy some areas that they wouldn’t have been able to get to otherwise (beaches, hiking trails, hilly terrain..).  For a list of parks with track chairs and how to reserve one free of charge, use the following link for track chairs in Michigan state parks.  #Awareness

  • 08 Mar 2023 4:18 PM | Brian Elliott (Administrator)

    Judy Huemann – A Legacyjudy in her younger days as a protester in her power wheelchair and a cardboard sign covering her legs that says no more negotiation sign 504 other protesters are in the background

              On this International Women’s Day, we acknowledge the legendary life of Judy Huemann.  The disability community – and world - recently lost the iconic disability rights leader on March 4, at age 75. 

    After contracting polio at an early age, Judy’s drive for more inclusive societies smoldered as she transitioned to using a wheelchair to get around.  She felt the discriminatory judgement of ableism very early on as she was considered a fire hazard by school’s twice due to her wheelchair -  first as a young student denied entry to learn among her peers and again by a school board which denied her being a teacher for the same ridiculous fire hazard reason.  In a story about the issues, a newspaper cleverly titled an article “You Can Be President, Not Teacher, with Polio” referencing President Roosevelt. In an interview for the article Heumann told the reporter: "We're not going to let a hypocritical society give us a token education and then bury us."  Suing the state of New York was Judy’s warm up for what she would go on to do throughout her life. 

    After becoming the first wheelchair using teacher in the state of New York, Judy carried the torch of inclusion to California where she joined forces with a growing number of disability rights advocates.  She was involved with getting the Rehabilitation Act legislation passed in 1973 and specifically with getting section 504 enacted to create more inclusive federally offered services.  To ensure the government took their concerns with the enforcement of section 504 seriously, Judy and others with disabilities occupied a government office in San Francisco for 25 days with help from all sectors of the community. 

    Judy would continue her life constantly being a driving force for inclusion and the rights for people with disabilities.  Her impact is unmeasurable for the positive changes she helped provide for people around the world.  In the end, Judy leaves behind a mark on the world that is so big we can’t help but be in awe of all that she helped accomplish.

    Disability Impacted Accomplishments

    She lobbied for legislation that eventually led to:

    Americans with Disabilities Act

    Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

    The Rehabilitation Act

    Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act

    United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

    Served U.S as:

    Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services 1993 – 2001

    First Advisor on Disability and Development at World Bank ’02-‘06

    First Special Advisor on Disability Rights for the U.S. State Department 2010 - 2017

    She helped found:

    The Independent Living Movement

    Berkley Center for Independent Living – the 1st CIL

    World Institute on Disability

    Disability in Action – disability rights protest group

    Board Member of:

    American Association of People with Disabilities

    Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund

    Humanity and Inclusion

    United States International Council on Disability

    Co-Author Two Books:

    Being Huemann (2020)

    Rolling Warrior (2021)

    Featured in Oscar Nominated Movie:

    Crip-Camp - 2020

    Archived video footage of a summer camp for youth with disabilities that had participants go on to create massive change for people with disabilities all across the country.

    Judy is testifying at a microphone in her younger years beside her is ed roberts in a power wheelchair and an air hose going to his mouth

  • 27 Feb 2023 1:49 PM | Brian Elliott (Administrator)

    Wrapping up February as Dog Training Awareness month and our focus ona group of 10 service dogs of all sizes sit and lay down service dogs, last post we answered some more “How” questions and for our last post we are going over some general questions that haven’t been covered.  This is not meant to be legal advice, but a base for understanding service dogs and the work they do for the people they assist.   This week we go over how to search for an organization, what you can do help the organizations, and are people charged for having a service animal?

    •   Where can you get a service dog?

    There are a variety of organizations that offer service dogs all across the states, even the globe!  First, a person can train their own service dog and there is not a need do go through an organization.  For those that is not an option, prior to seeking a service dog the person needs to identify their needs and how the service dog can assist to complete those tasks.  Will it be assisting the person to see, hear, remember, pick up, move, or anything else?  Some organizations focus more on specific skill sets than others.  For instance, most are able to train a dog to pick up something but not all can offer guide dogs for people that are blind or low vision. 

    Upon identifying those needs, search for the organizations that focus on those services needed.  It will take some homework.  A quick internet search can provide numerous organizations across the states, but you can also search your state or nearby area.  Another way to learn where to get a service dog is talking to those that are using service dogs. 

    Once you have found your best fit, get in touch with them and ask about the application process to follow.  Depending on an individual’s needs and their current dogs in training, you may be placed on a waitlist. 

    •     What can you do to help people with service dogs?

    There are a few ways to help.  First and foremost, know that when you encounter a person in public with a service dog that the dog is working.  You do not go over and pet or engage with the dog.  You may ask their person if you may pet the dog and whether they say "yes" or "no", respect and follow their answer.

    Many service dog training organizations rely on volunteers to assist raising and caring for the future service dogs.  Litter parents, puppy raisers and breeder homes are a humungous help! 

    Litter parents are a giant help.  These are people that take in an expecting mama to their home, then cares for her and the babies in their newborn days.  This person/family helps to nourish and support the dogs through the important early newborn weeks.

    Puppy raisers receive a pup when they are approximately 8 weeks old where they start the training process and help to get them to medical appointments.  They will begin to teach them house manners, provide socialization experiences, and prepare them for their potential future career as a service dog. 

    Breeder dogs need homes too.  Some orgs ask that you care for the mama or papa dog.  For this scenario (and all the before mentioned raisers) you would need to live nearby, let them live with you as you provide their nutrition and exercise needs and also take them to any vet appointments or services for the org. 

    Financial donations are always helpful to these organizations. 

    •     Are people charged for having a service animal?

    Acquiring a service dog from an organization will likely require charges.  Many organizations do their best to keep costs down to as little as possible to help more people but fees may come with applications and for acquiring the service dog.  As far as actually having and using a service dog with you, typical pet fees are not to be charged.  This would be most commonly applied when staying in a hotel type situation or if a person is renting or living somewhere that has community restrictions.  People with service dogs should not be charged the standard cleaning or monthly pet fee either.  Like typical pet fees, restrictions on weight and/or breed do not apply to service dogs either.  It is considered a reasonable accommodation for the entity to amend their policy in these circumstances for the service dog. However, the person can be responsible if damage is done by their service dog beyond normal wear and the person is responsible for proper removal of animal waste.

    A service dog is a tool that helps an individual live their life.  Not a pet. 

  • 17 Feb 2023 2:43 PM | Brian Elliott (Administrator)

    This week for Dog Training Awareness month and our focus on serviceup close picture of a black harness on a brown long haired dog. the vest has a patch that says service dog in big white letters dogs we are focusing on “How” questions.  How are they trained, how are they picked to be service dogs and how to pick what is best for the person, how do they help people, and how should they be acting?

    How are they trained?

    • Professionally
    • Through organizations
    • Privately/independently
    • Put through testing focused on the skills they will provide – smell, guiding, pulling – based on their intended function for the person.
    • Can take years and tens of thousands of dollars depending on their intended use.
    • They can fail out – not every dog is built exactly the same – health factors like bad joints, too energetic, too distracted, sometimes it is not the right line of work but they can do other things like being a drug sniffing dog but not a seeing-eye dog.

    How are they picked to be service dogs to train and to be for a person?

    • Dog possess good traits/characteristics and abilities                             Social, confident, calm, smart, desire to work
    • Some are bred – come from parents with good traits
    • The dog should match the lifestyle of the person along with any needs or restrictions.  If the person needs a mobility assistance dog, then a small dog is not going to be beneficial or if they have allergies that needs to be considered.  Plus take into consideration the care that is needed for different dogs as they shed, eat, and have various energy levels. 
    How do they help?
    • Allergy detection – trained to detect and alert to the scent of allergens, such as gluten or peanuts.  Did you know a dog’s sense of smell is so good that when a pizza is made people smell the toppings but a dog can smell the ingredients used to make the pizza dough!
    • Autism – provide constant source of support and comfort, work as a buffer and ice breaker in social scenarios, can be trained to alert others if their person is in a dangerous situation or interrupt harmful behavior.
    • Diabetic – alert their person of deadly high or low blood sugar levels and the person will test then adjust with insulin or glucose.
    •  Guide – help blind or low vision individuals navigate the world – typically wear a harness with a handle for their person to hold.
    • Hearing – provide ears to their person.  The dog will alert their person when they hear a fire alarm, door knock, doorbell, phones, alarm clocks, or even the person’s name.
    • Mobility assistance – retrieve objects, open doors, press buttons, turn lights on/off, assist with transfers or balance.
    • Seizure alert – help before, during, and after a seizure by finding help, providing medicine, get their person to a safe area.
    • Psychiatric – sense a change in their person when they are about to experience negative symptoms.  Guide them from the situation, remind them to take medicine, provide something else to focus on.
    • Many more

    How should they act?

    • Should be under control
              Focused on their person, calm, relaxed, Housebroken
    • Should not be
    Jumping on other people or dogs, growling, excessive barking (single bark could be a signal to their handler), aggressive towards other dogs
  • 10 Feb 2023 4:17 PM | Brian Elliott (Administrator)

    Continuing with February as Dog Training Awareness month, last week we answered some what questions and this week we are focusing on how questions.  This is not meant to be legal advice, but a base for understanding service dogs and the work they do for the people they assist.  How do service dogs help people with disabilities, how are they identified, how are they different from others, how are they trained, how many can a person have, and how do people get them?

    How do service dogs help people with disabilities?

    •         They are trained to perform specific tasks beneficial to the person they are assisting.
    •         Some examples would be the ability to recognize early signs of anxiety/panic and guide person to a safe area, guide dogs for people with low/no vision, pull a wheelchair, alert individuals who are deaf to the presence of other people or sound.

    How do you tell a dog is a service animal?

    •      Commonly on a leash and wear a vest/harness with patch signifying service dog.  This is not a requirement though.  The ADA does not require any specific identification, color, or vest for trained service animals.
    •       The dog is under their handler’s control.  Under control means being well-behaved, not wandering away from the handler, not repeatedly barking, obstructing busy walkways, and are housebroken.
    •    Ask 2 questions and only these two:
    1.  Is the dog required for a disability?         
    2. What task has the service dog been trained to perform?
    •     Important to know that there are laws against falsely claiming or impersonating a service animal.

    How do you tell the difference between a service dog, emotional support animal, and a therapy animal?

    •     Service dog is trained to perform a task directly related to a person's disability.
    •    Emotional support and companion animals are not trained to perform a specific job or task that mitigates their handler’s disability. It is the animal’s presence that provides disability-related benefits.
    •     Therapy animals are invited into places of public accommodation to provide stress relief or other therapeutic benefits to individuals with or without disabilities. For example, therapy animals may be invited into hospitals or schools to provide emotional support and companionship.

    How are service dogs trained?

    •   Not specified by the ADA
    •    Independently or Through organizations/trainers
    •    Handlers are responsible of ensuring that their dog is properly trained for their needs and will be under control.

    How many can one person have?

    •     Most people with disabilities will have only one service animal, but there is not a set limit per person.  HOWEVER, remember that a service dog is trained for specific tasks related to specific disabilities and to have more than one service dog requires them to be for separate disabilities and duties in assisting their handler.

    How do you get a service dog?

    •     Self train for your needs.
    •    Through organizations that train dogs specifically for disabilities such as blindness, deafness, PTSD, TBI’s, wheelchair users, and more.
    •   Get a trainer to work with you and your dog.

  • 03 Feb 2023 1:13 PM | Brian Elliott (Administrator)

    In recognition of February as dog training awareness month, each Friday in February we will be sharing some basic info on some highly trained dogs, service animals. This week we are focusing information using just a few basic “what” questions about service animals. 

    What makes an animal a “service animal”? 

              According to the ADA, a service animal is a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.  The tasks they are trained to perform are meant to specifically help with the disability of the person they would be assisting.

    What type of dog can be a service animal?

              Service animals do not have to be strictly Labrador Retrievers or German Shepherds.  In fact, a service animal can be ANY breed of a dog.  As long as they are able to carry out the responsibilities and duties of a service animal for the person they are assisting. 

    What tasks are a service animal trained to do?

              There is no set list of tasks that all service animals will perform.  Service animals are trained to do specific tasks for the person they are assisting, dependent on their disability.  So the tasks vary.  A wheelchair user may need them to pick things up off the ground, carry items, or even pull them along.  Someone else that walks, but has a history of seizures, may need them to help recognize early signs a seizure can come on or to remind them to take their medication.  Someone with blindness my need them to be their seeing eye dog with the ability to safely and effectively go with them in the community. 

    What do you do if you encounter someone with a service animal?

              Nothing.  They are working.  To do their job and best serve their handler, their attention needs to be focused on their person.  When strangers approach and instantly pet or talk with a dog it interferes with their attention and work.  Before ever touching someone else’s service animal you should ask the person if it is ok. 

    What can’t a service animal do?

              While a service animal does have more rights than any other animal, there are still things they are not allowed to do and places they can’t go.  If a service animal is not under control, the entity can ask to have the animal removed.  The person may return or stay but the animal cannot.  Also, while service animals can go many places ordinary animals aren’t allowed, service animals cannot go places that it would compromise the environment.  Such as a sterile operating room or kitchen of a restaurant.

    What can a business ask about a service animal?

    Neither you nor your staff can ask a disabled customer to show you their service animal’s certification. The ADA does not require an animal to be officially certified to be considered a service animal as long as they can perform the tasks a disabled person needs, are housebroken, and can be controlled.  There are only two questions you may ask a disabled customer about their service animal:

    • 1.   Is the animal a service animal required because of a disability?
    • 2.   What work or task has the animal been trained to perform?

    You cannot ask to be shown how they perform the task or anything else.  Remember, they are working and their tasks are not tricks to be performed.

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