Tag Archives: disability

Hiring People with Disabilities Pays Off for All Involved

standing tall on wheels blog article by jeff vandykeFor me, growing up as child and eventually into an adult living 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. Just because people living with disabilities might do it differently, use an alternative approach, or require an accommodation of some kind, doesn’t mean we can’t be just as effective (if not more so) than any other perspective hire.

Last, but not least, 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!”

New opportunities for individuals with disabilities to enjoy outdoor recreation

Let’s help the Village of Shelby make this project the best and most inclusive that it can be as this playground will be an asset to your community and Oceana County for years to come.

Join us on April 11 at 6:playground image with accessible swings00 pm

Location: Shelby Village Hall, 218 N Michigan Avenue, Shelby, MI

The Village of Shelby will be submitting a grant application to purchase and install a *Universally Accessible Playground at Getty Park. The Village of Shelby is doing their due diligence to ensure that Getty Park is designed for all users and will create new opportunities for individuals with disabilities to enjoy outdoor recreation. At the writing of this invite, the Village is still finalizing the revision of the park’s master plan for this project. But I am happy to report the master plan is not only planning to install the universal playground, but there is a splash pad being planned, a gazebo, restrooms, picnic pavilion with a gas fireplace, seating areas with companion seating, accessible picnic tables, natural landscaped areas, as well as basketball, tennis, and pickle ball courts.

We hope that you will join us on Monday, April 11th, at 6:00 pm to help us support the Village’s efforts with the renovation plans for Getty Park. Once completed Getty Park will become a destination for you and many other people to recreate and enjoy these universally designed park amenities.

Should you not be able to attend the meeting, please check out the conceptual renderings of the playground attached to this communication. We would then encourage you to write a brief letter expressing your support of a universal playground and the benefits of this park with accessible park amenities for your family. Those letters can be sent to the Village of Shelby at the address below.

Please reach out to us if you have questions or concerns. We look forward to our time together.


Disability Network West Michigan & The Village of Shelby

Toastmasters Speechcraft Course Hosted by Disability Network West Michigan

Come gather with us at a Speechcraft event in a fun and relaxed course setting!

Toastmasters Speechcraft speakers training

The Toastmasters Speechcraft program has designated our team with helping to roll their program into the Oceana and surrounding areas.

Do you have an upcoming job interview? Work presentation? Wedding toast?
Get the speaking skills you need now and the course if free to the public.

Coordinated by: Laura St. Louis, Community Inclusion Specialist from Disability Network West Michigan

Dates and Times: Wednesdays, April 6, 2022 – May 25, 2022 Noon – 1:00pm

Location: Virtual Classroom via Zoom – To register: or Contact Laura @ 231.683.9043

This is an 8-week on-line course to build your leadership and communication skills. We encourage people with disabilities to register to support our vision of inclusive communities. All skill levels are encouraged to register for a more diverse learning experience. Each week attendees will learn, present & receive insightful feedback from your peers. Certificate of achievement to add to your professional portfolio.

Thanks to Disability Network West Michigan 907 State St., Suite 102 Hart, MI 49420 and anonymous donor through the Oceana Community Foundation to support and invest in your communities.

If you have questions, please contact Laura St. Louis by email or @ 231.683.9043.

Different Not Less

“It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.” -Maya Angelou

From a peer in the classroom to a cousin who uses a wheelchair or a character seen in their favorite TV show odds are your child is going to see a person with a disability at some point, which will pique their curiosity, which is a great time to have a conversation.

Unfortunately, the typical response to this situation is too often to shy away or dismiss the observations, but instead, I think it’s important that we don’t try to convince your child that someone with a disability is just like they are. Instead, acknowledge that just because the person might look a little different on the outside or move around differently, that doesn’t make that person bad or less.

An example of how to better handle the conversation if referring to a cousin who’s a wheelchair user is by saying, “The muscles in their legs don’t work like yours… that’s why they use a wheelchair to get around.” Or “They were born with one leg. So they have to use a prosthetic leg, which was made by a Doctor to help them get around easier.”

It’s also extremely important to try and keep emotional descriptive words out of the conversation. If you say someone’s disability is “sad” or “awful,” your child may become sad or develop a negative mindset towards differences/disabilities, and begin to feel that life with a disability is a life that is less than their own.

In closing, while these conversations can indeed be challenging to have, they not only offer valuable teaching and learning tools for both sides in the moment, but they double as an opportunity to make the world better for all generations, both current and future as every step forward is another opportunity to rid the world of the stigma surrounding such a misunderstood demographic. Disability is just another example of the human condition… just people, doing their best with what they have, which is more than enough for all of us.