United Way of Washtenaw County to launch 21-Day Disability Equity Challenge

The United Way of Washtenaw County has opened registration for an online challenge that aims to raise awareness about the disability community's experience in Washtenaw County.

Beginning August 1, those who sign up to participate in the 21-Day Disability Equity Challenge will receive one email every weekday through August 29 containing information and resources about topics related to disability equity. Developed in partnership with the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living (AACIL), the challenge is being launched in parallel by several other United Way locations across Michigan — each partnering with their own local disability equity organization.

"This statewide effort explores disability from a position of equity and pride in order to raise awareness, increase understanding, and really shift perspectives about disability in our culture," says United Way of Washtenaw County CEO and President Pam Smith. 

"Each day we'll cover a different topic related to being a person with a disability within our community," adds Smith. "So [we'll be] talking about awareness, talking about disability in the media, talking about ableism, intersectionality, accessibility, income, inequality, job accommodations, and more."

The United Way of Washtenaw County previously hosted the 21-Day Equity Challenge, which primarily focused on racial equity education. The United Way of Washtenaw County, along with a number of United Ways nationwide, debuted the program in 2019 to great success and requests for similar content.

Since then, the United Way of Washtenaw County has participated in three additional equity challenges, including a Michigan-focused challenge and a COVID-19-focused challenge. Smith says the idea for a disability equity-focused challenge came from a collaborative effort between two other Michigan-based United Way organizations.

"The Kalamazoo and Battle Creek United Ways took the original Equity Challenge and did it in their communities and then they saw a real quest for more information," Smith says. "They developed this 21-Day Disability Equity Challenge. And so, in the spirit with which it was launched, they returned the learning to the network."

Smith lauds the AACIL in particular for its help in setting up the challenge, and in co-facilitating two virtual community discussions for those participating in the challenge.

"The Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living is run by people with disabilities, for people with disabilities," Smith says. "We've been a partner with them off and on throughout the years. And they want to make sure their mission is to empower the lives of people with disabilities and advocate for a more inclusive community for all."

Smith confirms another equity challenge is already planned for this January, though the topic has not been confirmed yet.

"Things are always changing," she says. "And what we try to do is stay abreast of the community condition and then include that in the conversation."

Sabine Bickford Brown is a freelance writer and editor based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She can be reached at sabinebickfordbrown@gmail.com.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.