Mom of child with disability helps create Midland area support group for parents and caregivers

Iris Mehler studied in the field of rehabilitation counseling, and worked with people with disabilities during her Master’s degree program. When she had her daughter, Keren, all of that experience helped prepare her for the challenge ahead. Keren was born with cerebral palsy, is a quadriplegic, and uses a device to speak. Although Iris was equipped with theoretical knowledge surrounding disabilities, she says living that reality is much different. 

“Everything you learn from a professional experience kind of crumbles into pieces when you have to live the reality of being a part of the disability community,” Mehler says. “As a family, we started a journey of activism and advocacy for our daughter and for other people with disabilities.”

Upon arriving in Midland in September 2020, the Mehler family quickly realized that the community was a caring and involved one. Mehler got involved with the Midland Area Community Foundation and the Access to Recreation group, renamed the Access to Community group

With Alma Schneider, Mehler also co-founded a support group for parents and caretakers of children with disabilities. 1in6 Support Michigan is a non-profit which provides free advocacy, support and consulting for families of children of all ages with disabilities. 

The group includes in-person meetings on a regular basis at Mehler’s house, as well as an online Facebook support group. The support group sees anywhere from 10 to 50 guests in attendance inside their accessible home, with a fully accessible bathroom and lift system. Guest speakers are often invited to include discussions on disability rights, politicians, and other community figures. 

Mehler hosts support group meetings in their home.
“This is a group that grows in numbers every week,” Mehler says. “It’s meant to provide families with a place to get connected with other families of children with disabilities, and to find support, resources and information that is relevant specifically for this population.”

The group has grown organically, without advertisements on billboards or newspaper ads, it’s all been word of mouth referrals. 

“The fact that the group is grassroots, and does not belong to any organization in the community gives the parents a lot of comfort,” Mehler says. “Parents are overwhelmed by their child’s caregiving needs, and the support from the community is lacking. It’s been a privilege for me to be able to start this group and open my door literally to this population.”

Mehler says the support group is valuable for participants because 24-hour caregiving is not easy for anyone. Topics discussed in the group include dealing with the education system, insurance companies, and maintaining your own wellbeing. 

The group started as Midland Parents of Children with Disabilities, but just recently changed its name to 1in6 Support Michigan. This represents the statistics that one in six children in the United States between the ages three to 17-years old has a disability. 

The group has also recently created a pediatric medical equipment exchange, where parents can borrow donated equipment. Many times, it takes insurance companies a long time to approve the purchase of necessary items like special toilets or wheelchairs. This resource provides them with equipment at no-charge. For now, the equipment is held in the family’s basement, but they hope to find a donor that can host space for the equipment exchange library. 

Pediatric equipment available at 1in6 Exchange. "We are happy to receive donations of other items from families whose children outgrow their pediatric durable medical equipment and devices."
Mehler says experiencing life with her daughter has forced the mother to reassess priorities and what she thought she knew about the community and society. 

“It made me realize that I need to create as many changes in the world as I can in my lifetime so that I can leave behind a better place for my children,” she says. 

Mehler hopes the 1in6 Support Michigan group can inspire systemic change in approaches, attitudes and legislation. Upcoming events include a May 10 Mother’s Day event for parents to have a mini spa day. Registered group members are invited to the event, which includes massages, hair styling, and yoga classes for caregivers. 

“The hope is to share the parents some love and appreciation, giving them some caregiving, since they always care for others,” Mehler says. “This is going to be the first event this year, and I hope this event can repeat itself every year.”

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Read more articles by Sarah Spohn.

Sarah Spohn is a Lansing native, but every day finds a new interesting person, place, or thing in towns all over Michigan, leaving her truly smitten with the mitten. She received her degrees in journalism and professional communications and provides coverage for various publications locally, regionally, and nationally — writing stories on small businesses, arts and culture, dining, community, and anything Michigan-made. You can find her in a record shop, a local concert, or eating one too many desserts at a bakery. If by chance, she’s not at any of those places, you can contact her at