Each summer, Disability Network holds an Advocacy Academy, a small group of youth and young adults with disabilities are hired for an eight-week term in which they learn advocacy skills, select an initiative to work on and implement the skills they have learned. In 2017, our Advocacy Academy interns developed an advocacy campaign to promote the establishment of a State-funded program that would help employers offset the cost of accommodations for employees with disabilities. The plan would help put more people with disabilities to work.
The Advocacy Academy interns traveled to Lansing to meet with several State legislators to pitch their idea. Representative Jon Hoadley was immediately interested in the idea and began working on an outline for how an accommodations bill would work and where the funds would come from.
On October 23, 2019 Representatives Jon Hoadley and Steve Marino introduced legislation that would make funding available for employers to provide accommodations for employees with disabilities. The bipartisan package (House Bills 5150 and 5151) would allow employers to apply for up to $1,000 to make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. Hoadley’s bill, “The Centralized Reasonable Accommodations Act,” would empower the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) to manage employer requests, while Marino’s bill would secure funding for the program through the Workmen’s Compensation Second Injury Fund, which is designed to compensate employers for payments made to employees with disabilities.
“Michiganders with disabilities have the same right as anyone else to build a life that’s right for them here in our state,” said Hoadley. “When advocacy interns from Disability Network Southwest Michigan proposed this idea to help more people with disabilities enter the workplace, we were ready to get to work in the Legislature.”
Disability Network has been conducting Advocacy Academy for eight years to help prepare the next generation of disability rights leaders. Joel Cooper, President and CEO of Disability Network Southwest Michigan, said, “Each year we develop a handful of youth who advocate for a need in the disability community and take those skills with them wherever they go. It’s so exciting when the work they have done gets carried forward to produce such impactful change in our fight for disability rights.”
On November 7, 2019 House Bills 5150 and 5151 were reviewed in the Commerce and Tourism Committee in the State House of Representatives. Paul Ecklund and Miranda Grunwell from Disability Network Southwest Michigan appeared before the committee to give testimony. System’s Advocate and ADA Specialist at Disability Network, Paul Ecklund, said, “Disabilities only extend as far as the barriers we allow to stand in the way. I believe this legislation takes great strides toward tearing down obstacles to employment so that our neighbors with disabilities can readily participate in the workforce.”
The Commerce and Tourism Committee is expected to reconvene on the bills in early December, and will vote on whether the bills will be advanced for a full House vote.