Have you ever wondered what it’s like to live with a disability? Maybe you’ve wondered about the appropriate thing to say to a disabled person– or maybe you are a person who lives with a disability and are bothered by the odd way that members of the public sometimes treat you.
The Disability Mini Expo at Flint Farmers’ Market on Thursday, July 2 will shed some light on these and other topics related to interacting with the disabled at home, at work or out in the community. Scheduled for 11 am to 2 pm, the theme for the event is “Disability Awareness and Inclusion In Our Community.” Admission is free and members of the public are encouraged to come out and show their support for citizens with disabilities and to learn a few helpful tips on etiquette and communication.
“I was born with cerebral palsy,” says Charlene Lizotte, who owns All About Awareness, a Flint business that is hosting the event. Through her business, Charlene offers interactive training and consulting services to increase the public’s sensitivity toward people with disabilities. “It’s very important for everybody to learn about disability awareness,” she says. “It’s important we focus on the person and not necessarily the disability.”
The event celebrates the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and will include supportive area sponsors and vendors, opening words from Mayor Dayne Walling, music, prizes and helpful information about disability sensitivity and awareness. Throughout the years, the ADA has directed important changes in society that have helped disabled citizens to safely navigate city sidewalks, buildings and businesses.
Giffels Webster is a Birmingham, MI-based civil engineering and architectural design firm that will be attending the Mini Expo as a sponsor. The company works with businesses and municipalities to bring them up to standard with the ADA and with related Michigan Department of Transportation guidelines and building codes. One of its current projects is to assist Kmart stores across the country with updating their ADA-compliance, as the ADA standards have been sharpened many times over the years.
“When a new detail is issued every six months, you wonder why,” says Loren Crandell, a partner with Giffels Webster. “But when you get to know a person who has a disability and they show you why, it makes sense.”
The mission of All About Awareness is to not only increase sensitivity toward disabled citizens but to also learn more about their perspective and to understand that each person has unique abilities and interests just like anyone else. “The biggest question I get is how to best communicate with someone who is deaf,” says Charlene, who uses a wheelchair. “My suggestion is, if they are by themselves, then use a simple pen and paper to communicate. If they’re with a sign language interpreter, be sure and look at the person who is deaf, not the interpreter.”
Nurturing a spirit of independence is important. Charlene suggests that when you’re with someone who has a disability, it’s polite to ask them, “Can I help you?” and if they respond yes, then ask them how. You don’t need to assume that someone with a disability or someone using a cane automatically needs help. Some people may also have hidden disabilities, such as dyslexia, cognitive disabilities, mental illness or a serious heart condition that is not immediately apparent to others. “They park in the Meijer handicapped spots, get out of their car and walk into the store, but someone might not see that they used a motorized cart in the store,” says Charlene.
The disabled community today includes those born with a disability, those who acquire a disability from an accident or other condition, and a number of individuals in the growing aging population.
Charlene is inspired by her work and looks forward to teaching people ways to be sensitive toward those with disabilities and reaching more people in the local community through the Mini Expo. “I think that it’s an important thing to do and that it’s catching on,” she says. “And I want to do something positive for Flint.”
Charlene Lizotte is an amazing and wonderful person. She makes people smile and her energy is contagious. She has always had a positive attitude, even with the multitude challenges she has on a daily basis. Many times when I am feeling down, all I have to do is think of her and how she always goes forward in life and it keeps me going.