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Disability Network Southwest Michigan

Joel Cooper: The Pioneer

Joel Cooper

As we prepare for the retirement of our President & CEO after 20 years at the helm, Mary K. Fortney, Program Development Coordinator- IL Skills Training at Disability Network, puts into words the impact Joel has made on the disability rights movement and the communities he has served in Michigan.

The Pioneer
(A story we shall tell our children for generations to come.)
By: Mary K. Fortney


Long ago, before your sisters or brothers,
The world was in a terrible way.
A lack of dignity shown to others,
Not allowing them to have their say.
A bright, young man came to pave the road;
To make right the wrongs that were being done.
The seeds of justice to be sowed,
This Pioneer knew that he was the one.

From early days the people saw,
Institutions were isolating – a degrading mess.
They denied basic freedoms, yet this was the law.
The Pioneer showed them, it was time for progress.
To this occasion, he suddenly rose,
The story of rights for all, being heard.
These places should forever close,
The Pioneer stood strong – undeterred.

The end of the story is not even near,
This Pioneer continued his path without rest.
Fighting for Disability Rights without fear,
And making our agency the very best.
Not just one CIL but TWO, he drove to fame,
His strength in budgets and work culture were sound.
The communities served – were never the same,
Other CILs requested his advice so profound.

Nearly 50 years of advocacy had come and passed,
He’d made many paths, where there never were any.
The Pioneer’s legacy will forever last,
For the people knew his accomplishments were many.
Warrior-like in conviction, but never hateful,
And fought so hard for our rights– a real trooper.
And people far and wide are forever grateful,
To the disability rights Pioneer, named Joel Cooper.