DNWM’s Response to COVID-19

“Disability Network West Michigan Announcement: Response to COVID-19”

After much consideration and guidance from state and local partners, our organization will be taking proactive measures to combat the spread of COVID-19 virus in our communities.  As of Monday, March 16, 2020, we will be suspending face-to-face services with customers until Monday, May 4, 2020.  We will also close ALL of our office locations to the public.  We will still be providing services to customers and community members via phone, email and social media.  The three primary ways to reach DNWM regardless of location are as follows:

Phone: 231-722-0088


Facebook: Disability Network of West Michigan


We will work hard to make sure our mission to advocate, educate, empower and provide resources for people with disabilities is accomplished remotely and effectively.  Please reach out if you have ANY questions.  Thank you for your continued support and understanding as we look out for each other, our consumers and our community.

Best Regards,

Diane Fleser, CEO Disability Network West Michigan

Beware of Social Security Phone Scams

Beware of Social Security Phone Scams

Social Security and its Office of the Inspector General (OIG) continue to receive reports about fraudulent phone calls from people falsely claiming to be Social Security employees.  The scammers mislead victims into making cash or gift card payments for help with purported identity theft, or to avoid arrest for bogus Social Security number problems.

People should also be on the lookout for a new version of this scam.  Fraudsters are now emailing fake documents in attempts to get people to comply with their demands.  Victims have received emails with attached letters and reports that appear to be from Social Security or the OIG.  The letters may use official letterhead and government jargon to convince victims they are legitimate; they may also contain misspellings and grammar mistakes.

The new PSA addressing the telephone impersonation scheme is available online at .

Social Security employees do occasionally contact people–generally those who have ongoing business with the agency–by telephone for business purposes.  However, Social Security employees will never threaten a person, or promise a Social Security benefit approval, or increase, in exchange for information or money.  In those cases, the call is fraudulent and people should just hang up.

Generally, the agency mainly calls people who have recently applied for a Social Security benefit, someone who is already receiving payments and requires an update to their record, or a person who has requested a phone call from the agency.  If a person is not in one of these situations, they normally would not receive a call from the agency.

Social Security will not:

  • Tell you that your Social Security number has been suspended.
  • Contact you to demand an immediate payment.
  • Ask you for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
  • Require a specific means of debt repayment, like a prepaid debit card, a retail gift card, or cash.
  • Demand that you pay a Social Security debt without the ability to appeal the amount you owe.
  • Promise a Social Security benefit approval, or increase, in exchange for information or money.

If there is a problem with a person’s Social Security number or record, in most cases Social Security will mail a letter. If a person needs to submit payments to Social Security, the agency will send a letter with instructions and payment options.  People should never provide information or payment over the phone or Internet unless they are certain of who is receiving it.

Providing Comfort Through Crisis with a Disability

Selfie of Jeffrey VanDyke

By Jeffrey Vandyke, Graphic Design Specialist

Nothing is worse than hearing that someone you love has cancer. It’s even harder when it’s your parent. As children, we typically see our parents as strong and invincible. When they get sick, it’s tough. Your roles may reverse, and you may have to start caring for your parent as they battle this disease. One way this reversal may become even more difficult than typically thought of though is when you, yourself live with a disability which can (or does) prevent you from caring for loved one in the way you hope.

For me, this fear became a reality in December of 2018 when my mother was suddenly diagnosed with Stage 4 Lung Cancer. This outcome can not only affect you emotionally, but leave you feeling mentally down as well… feelings of sadness or as if your not doing enough as a whole. All of these thoughts, while negative and untrue, are uncontrollable but I want to provide a little insight on how you can in fact STILL contribute on the front-line of your loved ones battle against cance, even if you can’t help in every way you’d like.

1.Treat them to luxuries:
Helping your parent may be as easy as offering a haircut, manicure/pedicure, massage or getting their favorite meal. Whether it’s done by you or a licensed therapist is up to you. If your mother is the one battling cancer, give her a manicure or pedicure. These small luxuries and the time you spend together will be something you and your parent come to cherish.

2. Be a good note taker
The thought of cancer can be overwhelming and every doctor’s meeting can feel like information overload… designating one person to attend doctor appointments with the patient can help relieve some of this anxiety.

3. Strive to try to be patient with siblings/parent’s significant other
Remember that everyone is different. You and others around you will each cope with the cancer diagnosis and its effects in different ways. Some may keep emotions locked away inside; others will need ways to let emotions out. Rather than cause additional stress on your parent by constantly fighting with your relatives try to be as patient as possible.

4. Read/share stories of support
A parent who has cancer may be very emotional and need the support and inspiration of other cancer patients and survivors. Sit down with your parent and look through blogs and websites that share the amazing stories of other people who are dealing with the same or similar diagnosis.

5. Don’t forget YOU
Once a parent is officially diagnosed… the chain of events can sometimes start to move quickly. Appointments, surgeries, tests, etc. it’s overwhelming. Not just for the patient, but the patient’s inner circle as well. It’s easy to lose yourself in the struggle, but your self-care must be a priority. Remember to brush your teeth, take a shower, go out with friends, and cry if you need too. Parents (parental figures) are always important, but there’s a different vibe when that individual has always been your caregiver. It’s not selfish to wonder or worry about what might happen to you, should the individual’s condition suddenly worsen. Just because a parent becomes ill, does not mean you’re doing something wrong by continuing to live.

Cancer is a terrible, no-good and often mentally exhausting condition, which not only affects the person living with the condition inside of themselves, but everyone else within that environment as well. It’s important if you find yourself on the outside that you remember that just because you cannot contribute to the battle in every way does not mean that you cannot contribute in some way. Your life is just as important to the individual battling Cancer as it always has been… even on those days when it feels like you aren’t. Please take time to remind yourself of this.


Last week Disability Network West Michigan was honored and humbled to celebrate our organization’s 20th Anniversary through our inaugural fundraising luncheon. It was a full house at the Folkert Community Hub and Banquet Center with community supporters, new friends, volunteers and consumers. Our program featured impactful stories from individuals who have increased their independence through our services, along with representatives from the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce recognizing DNWM for our commitment in improving the quality of life for those living along the Lakeshore.

Our delicious menu was catered by Ryke’s Bakery, Catering and Cafe, topped off with amazing cookies provided by Davine Caulkins, at The 490 Bakery and mini 🧁 by Kevin Simons from Goobers Bakery.

We would especially like to thank our table sponsors who not only graciously support our mission and vision, but provide valuable service through their continued involvement in promoting diversity and inclusion within the communities we serve.💕

A HUGE thank you to Andy O’Riley from MuskegonChannel for giving of his valuable time and incredible talent in emceeing our event. He has been an unwavering, staunch supporter of DNWM and our gratitude and appreciation is boundless!

We modeled an accessible and inclusive event for our community: closed captioning services provided by Annette Blough from Q&A Reporting, interpreter services provided by Jennifer Libiran, BA, NIC and a ramp for the stage donated by Air-Caire Home Medical Equipment & Supplies Muskegon.

To all who gave, we truly appreciate your dedication and support in helping us continue our magnificent cause to advocate, educate, empower, and provide resources for persons with disabilities and ensure that accessibility is an accepted civil right.. cheers to another 20 years!

My journey to employment and a greater purpose

Selfie of Jeffrey VanDykeBy Jeffrey Vandyke, Graphics Design Specialist

“As a child we all have those similar aspirations… the final destination may vary in name, but we all dream of landing that ONE job. The special kind of job that doesn’t just provide us with a paycheck, but more importantly feeds our soul and helps us not only find our purpose, but helps relive that feeling on a daily basis.

 For me, growing up as a man with Cerebral Palsy, a wheelchair user, with a severe panic disorder, I always knew this goal was attainable for others, but I’d be lying if I said I thought I would ever find myself in that position. After all, here I was a full grown adult quickly approaching his late 20’s, a degree in hand, years of volunteer service, an artistic background, and most importantly a heart driven to make a positive difference, yet the one strike against me was that I had no official prior work experience. To make matters worse, every organization I had reached out to for help with finding employment turned me down… so, how can that change, if no one will give you an opportunity?

 The answer for me was hidden within a single phone call and the belief in me from a group of, at the time, total strangers, which has changed the course of my life forever. After reaching out to Michigan Rehabilitation Services and explaining my situation, I was eventually matched up with Disability Network West Michigan, where I initially took part in what I only know how to describe as introductory meetings and from there not only did become a volunteer where I completed all different types of tasks such as designing, phone calls, sorting paperwork, etc.

Along with that, I also participated in programs known as ‘Job Club’ and ‘My Choice My Voice’, which helped me begin to learn about various topics that I had never been shown or worked on before such as resume building, community resources, and interview skills, but most importantly helped me work on developing my self-confidence as an individual. Over the course of the year, I continued to develop my skills as a volunteer. I even received the Steven Silky Volunteer of the Year Award for my efforts, and was eventually hired as Disability Network West Michigan’s Graphic Design Specialist.

 Overall, while it may not have happened overnight and there were definitely some difficulties along the way, which can be expected with any major life change… it’s all been worth it. Even on those days when I felt myself begin to slip throughout this process, I had an amazing team of individuals (now fortunate enough to call them friends) there to support me. Not because they had to, but because they genuinely wanted to see me succeed and I can’t begin to express how empowered that support can make someone feel. I truly feel like I experienced all the trials and tribulations I have, not only to better prepare me for where I am today, but to have more tools at my disposal to help others who might be on/or about to start this same journey.

 No matter the path life takes me, I am a better person because of my experiences at Disability Network West Michigan and I am forever grateful for my position, as I feel like I not only found a job, but more importantly my purpose.

Lastly, if I could leave you with any advice… it’s that if I can, you can. I know, it sounds overly simple, but it’s true. Success is rarely ever a straight path, but that’s okay, so long as it’s your path. Keep going, you never know where life is going to take you!”



In partnership with the Community Foundation for Muskegon CountyDisability Network West Michigan is offering a program to provide FREE Accessibility Reviews for up to 10 Muskegon County businesses. These typically costs $350 per review, but you have the opportunity to have one done for FREE. Our Certified Coordinator for the Americans with Disabilities Act will do a full architectural Accessibility Review of your business and provide you with a written report of the barriers identified, the standards relevant to those barriers, and suggestions on how to fix and remove those barriers.

We want to stress that Disability Network West Michigan is not an enforcement agency and does not seek to punish or report inaccessible businesses. We are hoping businesses can use this as a tool to develop a plan for greater accessibility in the future.

Click HERE to compete the Accessibility Review Application.

If you are interested in this program and would like more information, please contact our Advocacy and ADA Coordinator, Brad Hastings at or 231-332-4037.

Educating Children About Disabilities/School Bullying

Selfie of Jeffrey VanDykeAuthor’s note: Subject matter could potentially be triggering. Please exercise discretion before reading. If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741

Written By: Jeffrey Vandyke, Graphics Design Specialist


 “Let today be the day you stop living within the confines of how others define or judge you.”

It’s that time of year again, time for the older generation to head back to school and for the youngsters to begin their journey. Growing up as a child with a disability, I dreaded this time of year, not because of the homework, assignments, or having to adjust to a new sleep schedule (even though as an adult… I still dread the sound of an alarm clock) but because of the uncertainty surrounding the behavior of my new classmates.

 It was almost a certainty; I was going to experience some level of bullying. The only question was, how severe was it going to be? Would it stop at name-calling, side conversation, and snickers as I whizzed my way down the hallway, or would it escalate to something more physical? Were they going to throw things at me or something worse? All in all, you can probably understand why my body was ravaged with thoughts of dread. For many years, it seemed normal, just something that I had to endure, but as I approached adolescence and the bullying intensified, I began to develop a deep insecurity, coupled with thoughts of suicide.

In truth though, I didn’t want to die… I just wanted it to stop (permanently) and I couldn’t fathom the thought of telling my parents or older sister, or teacher; that didn’t seem very masculine or even remotely like a practical solution as my telling would probably make it worse. What choices did this leave? Continue to endure or give up… there was no 3rd option. Thus, I opted for the first, coupled with eventually seeing a counselor post High School to help me manage the lasting effects. In retrospect, I wish

I would’ve sought help much sooner; I would encourage anyone who’s dealing with the same or a similar situation to tell someone you trust. It doesn’t matter who the individual is. Please know that you don’t deserve it, it is not a rite of passage, and your life matters. Please don’t allow yourself to believe anyone who tells you something different.

 Bullying is indeed a hot topic in schools and in our society. Unfortunately, according to Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center, “Children with disabilities are two to three times more likely to be bullied than their nondisabled peers.” They report that, “One study shows that 60 percent of students with disabilities report being bullied regularly compared with 25 percent of all students.”

Thus, I feel it’s especially important to educate children about disabilities. Children are typically inquisitive. So many times I hear parents shush their children when they ask about someone’s disability in public. It’s not wrong to ask. If they never ask questions and are never educated about disabilities, they will be less likely to try to befriend a peer with a disability.

The fact is as humans, we are conditioned to notice differences. No matter our age, when we see someone using a wheelchair or other assistive device, we notice it. That’s not negative behavior, but instead is human nature. Asking questions opens up a dialog that can help you understand a person on a deeper level. Once we understand our differences, they become less scary. Opening this type of dialog takes you one step closer to understanding and acceptance.

 If we can have open discussions with children about disabilities, this helps eliminate the fear of approaching someone with a disability and presents a safe place for them to get their questions answered rather than fanning the flames of stigma. More importantly, it shows them that people with disabilities are not much different than themselves. We all have weaknesses, barriers and things we are self-conscious about, but we are also capable of so much more than we think once we are able to look past those obstacles.

When we take the time to know more about a person, we begin to see them as human beings complete with feelings, flaws, and insecurities, just like anyone else, which is vital to a better more inclusive world for us all. Again, I ask as the school year begins, please take the time to educate your child about disabilities.


Putting the “Us” in Inclusion

Selfie of Jeffrey VanDykeBy Jeffery Vandyke, Graphic Design Specialist

Having a disability shouldn’t define who a person is, where they can go, or what they can become, but for many of us with a disability that’s exactly how it feels.

We live in a country that’s thankfully progressed significantly in many areas (with much more still to be done) in achieving equality for various groups in recent years, which is fantastic, but with each step forward, its growing increasingly frustrating to see that those with disabilities are still being ignored on a daily basis. Whether it’s in the form of thoughtless design in regards to public spaces or the continued lack of representation of individuals with disabilities within the various entertainment platforms.

I feel as though individuals with a disability aren’t necessarily viewed as people, but more so as an after thought. It happens all too often, a business is listed as having accessible facilities, but once inside you discover that even though the arrangements may accommodate some, it doesn’t necessarily fit all… rendering a business (no matter how great it may be) as a negative establishment in the individuals eyes. Furthermore, reinforcing the negative self talk that many with a disability already battle, which is thinking of themselves as an inconvenience.

All in all, exclusion for members of the disabled community is becoming far too common a problem and needs to be addressed with greater frequency and met with the same urgency that other demographics concerns are met with.

As stated earlier, within this past century, we’ve seen dramatic changes in our society, which has led to some great strides forward, but we still have miles to go before until all persons with a disability have an equal chance to live the lives they choose, free from the barriers they face, both physical and metaphorical. It’s time that we not only become participants in the conversation for change, but we ask that you join us in our fight for inclusion for all.

After all, a better world for the individuals within the disabled community today, means a better world for those who will become disabled in the future, which will undoubtedly affect you or someone you love at one point or another.

Living Life is Not “Inspirational”

Selfie of Jeffrey VanDykeWritten By Jeffrey Vandyke, Graphics Design Specialist

Because I have to use a wheelchair to get around, my disability is very apparent. You may not know the specifics, but there’s typically a big visual difference between a generically designed wheelchair and those that are a custom fitted piece, which makes me standout like a single neon light in a dark room.

With this comes a wide range of responses from strangers… some unfortunately avoid you on sight like you have been infected by the 2019 version of the plague, others are thoughtful and present their best smile; but then there are also those well-intended, but less than impressive comments, which belong to the “I’m so inspired by the courage you display by in public” or something similar to that affect crowd.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the intent and I appreciate the encouragement, but let’s be real… I either go out in my chair or not at all. Life with a disability for many of us is no more of personal choice than the length of our finger(s), mole on our arms, or shade of our skin. We can either make the best of what we have or not, it’s completely up to the individual living with the condition.

See, all things considered when strangers tell me I’m an inspiration simply for being out and about, it feels as though there simply congratulating me for getting up in the morning. They know nothing about legitimate things I have achieved or had to overcome in my life that might actually qualify as inspirational. I’m seen by strangers as an inspiration because despite my disability, I’m still living life. The way I see it, anyone can choose to get up and live life despite whatever challenges they may face. That’s not what makes someone inspirational. The things they accomplish while living their life and facing the many obstacles it brings are what qualify them as inspirational.

A diagnosis or disability in large part is placed upon you randomly… no approval needed. Our only real option is to continue to live our lives as best we can. Is this feat inspirational? Perhaps, but please don’t confuse what we have to manage with what we do, WHILE we’re managing. If you are a person who is aware of some of our genuine life achievements, we will gladly accept an “inspiration comment,” but there is no need to point out how inspiring we are if you are only referring to our ability to live life like anyone else.

Behind every perceived celebration…is another’s nightmare

Selfie of Jeffrey VanDykeWritten By Jeffrey Vandyke, Graphics Design Specialist


Behind every perceived celebration… is another’s nightmare.

I understand that for many… the 4th of July and the many festivities accompanied by the eagerly anticipated closing fireworks present what is generally perceived as an exciting cap to a great time.

However, behind every smile, ounce of laughter you hear, and time spent enjoying company… also exist those that are struggling with numerous things today, such as PTSD, anxiety, startle reflex, etc.
Specifically in my case, (and in the cases of so many others who also have Cerebral Palsy) we have a unique neurological wiring, which generally results in an extremely sensitive startle reflex. The startle reflex (also termed “Moro reflex”), an involuntary physical response to unexpected sensory stimuli, is exceedingly common in children and adults with Cerebral Palsy. Although the Moro reflex typically lasts from birth to 3 to 6 months of age, this response generally remains into adulthood for those with Cerebral Palsy, due to the neurological differences present in those who live with the condition. To sum it up in the simplest of terms? We flinch at unexpected, loud sounds.

Personally, I jump at every sudden change in my environment. My body tenses. A seemingly uncontrollable surge of anxiety rushes through my heart as my brain works in overdrive to anticipate the next sudden sound, which causes my body to pulsate in anticipation, which is horrifying at times. All in all, the 4th of July puts an extra strain on all those who are battling something.

This, for me is extremely exhausting and I’m sure, many others would agree. Thus, I especially wanted to share this… not to make you feel bad or to ruin your festivities, but to give you insight into a common struggle that is typically left out of the conversation and to spread awareness on behalf of all of us.

With that said, Happy 4th of July my friends, enjoy the festivities.