Why information and referrals are key to supporting the disability community

Every day, numerous people find the support and help they need — quickly, conveniently, and free of charge — because of information and referral services. This is especially true in the disability community, where finding essential services and support can be a challenging process to navigate.

This year, Disability Network Southwest Michigan (DNSWM) took part in celebrating I&R Day on Nov. 16 by taking stock of all the information and referrals the organization provides to people. In the 2022 fiscal year, Disability Network staff provided a total of 5,155 information and referral services.

The people whose hard work accomplished this feat are the organization’s I&R team members, allowing DNSWM to be the first stop for people with disabilities and their families in Southwest Michigan.

Bringing people and services together

“The I&R team members at DNSWM hold some of the highest qualifications in regard to the services they provide. They each are Certified Rehabilitation Specialists, focusing on care for the aged and disabled. Most are trained as options counselors and one is a certified work incentives practitioner. I am very proud of this team and all of their accomplishments,” says Hank Bostic, Disability Network program director.

Information and Referral is the practice of bringing people and services together and is an essential component of the human services sector. People in search of critical services — such as health care, financial assistance, food, shelter, transportation, jobs, or mental health support — often do not know where to begin to get help, or they get frustrated and overwhelmed trying to find what they need. 

Through I&R services, a phone call or appointment with a member of the DNSWM staff makes the process of getting one’s needs met much less daunting and can remove the pressure of trying to navigate often-tricky community systems alone.

A team dedicated to I&R

While many staff at Disability Network Southwest Michigan sometimes provide information and referrals through their positions, the members of the team specifically dedicated to I&R services have worked diligently over the past year to further elevate the quality of their services through ongoing education and training. They’ve advanced to become AIRS certified through Michigan AIRS (MI-AIRS), the state affiliate of the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems (AIRS). 

Certification ensures DNSWM’s skilled staff members meet specific competencies and criteria around the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and work-related behaviors needed by I&R practitioners to successfully execute their duties.

“Information and referral service providers are a critical lifeline for Michiganders in need, providing a listening ear and knowledgeable guidance to empower them to effectively connect with the health and human services that provide support. It’s an honor to recognize these I&R organizations on this day,” says Jennie Pollak, president of MI-AIRS and deputy director of Michigan 2-1-1.

This article is a part of the year-long series Disability Inclusion exploring the state of West Michigan’s growing disability community. The series is made possible through a partnership with Centers for Independent Living organizations across West Michigan.

Read more articles by Shandra Martinez.