Differently Abled: Offerings in Midland area to those with disabilities

"Midland County's vision statement is 'Midland County: an inclusive community. Together. Forward. Bold. An exceptional place where everyone thrives.' The Midland Area Community Foundation works to support this vision. One way we do this is through the Access to Community initiative. Access to Community focuses on the inclusion of people with disabilities in the planning and building of an inclusive community. People with disabilities are often referred to as 'the largest minority group' because approximately 1 in 4 people in the United States have some form of disability," shares Sharon Mortensen, President and CEO of the Midland Area Community Foundation. If you or someone you love is differently abled, whether that be physical, developmental or intellectual, Midland offers vast opportunities to live, work and learn.   

“Midland is a unique community because it places high value on varied interests such as the arts, sciences and athletics and it’s so wonderful to see Midland expanding these opportunities to all community members by choosing to include people with disabilities through improving accessibility,” adds Debra Mead. Mead and her husband have learned how to navigate the world of opportunities for those with disabilities as they parent two teenage boys, one with an autism diagnosis. “Some of our favorites have been TOPSoccer, (Midland) Middle of the Mitt Miracle League and Tall in the Saddle. We’ve also really enjoyed sensory friendly offerings at the Midland Center for the Arts, as well as the summer camp at Chippewa Nature Center called ‘Exploring Nature Together,’” she continues.

When asked why it is important to offer sensory friendly events and activities in our community, Marcie Post shares, “Everyone needs something different to make them comfortable and having these sensory friendly opportunities does just that. It takes away the extras that might make someone uncomfortable and strips it down into manageable pieces. Having sensory friendly experiences allows for inclusion on so many levels. It allows families to enjoy opportunities together in an inclusive environment. It gives someone who might be overwhelmed an opportunity to try the simplified version of an activity to make them comfortable.” Post, Assistant Director of Public Services for the City of Midland, was the Santa Parade’s Grand Marshal this year and helped spearhead the creation of the sensory friendly block where families could sit comfortably without music, lights and sirens. People of all ages lined Ashman St. next to Grove Park and enjoyed collecting candy and watching colorful characters walk or drive by without the worry of overstimulation from the noise and flashing lights. The Midland Santa House, a gift to the community from the Midland Area Community Foundation, offers sensory friendly days, also. "We want to make sure all children, families and individuals have access to the Santa House. Sensory friendly days enable us to provide this experience to those with sensory needs," says Mortensen.
Middle of the Mitt Miracle League player with buddy
Several camps, events and programs  are offered in Midland and outside of Midland that are either geared toward or include our differently abled community members. The Midland Miracle League offers participants of all ages to play baseball with a Buddy (someone who can guide them through the game) without the stress of competition or having to be at a specific skill level. This league plays in the spring and fall and is truly a magical experience for everyone involved. In the off season, you will find individuals playing adaptive sports such as kickball and wiffleball on the field. Middle of The Mitt Miracle League Program Leader, Mackenzie Render, shares “Our first season we had four teams, this year we had six teams, and next year we anticipate about eight teams, which is some incredible growth. Each team has 10-13 players on it ranging in age from 3-73 and for the upcoming season we are looking into doing two leagues since we have so many athletes. We now have a fall league, spring league, and have started a unified kickball, and competitive wiffle ball league to hopefully reach athletes of all abilities. This last season we also hosted our first event at the field, as well, which was our ‘Monsters on The Mound’ event where we hosted a trunk or treat and outdoor movie night. Recently, we have also added a lift into one of the restrooms and started offering concessions at our games.”

Inclusion Day at Dow Diamond
Midland Soccer Club also offers a spring and fall program called TOPSoccer that allows people of all abilities and skill levels to participate. Camp Fish Tales, in Pinconning, is a year-round independent non-profit camp, conference and retreat center. This barrier-free camp, for people of all ages and all disabilities, is located on 67 acres. Dow Gardens offers accessible paths and parking for everyone to enjoy the beautiful scenery in the heart of Midland. The Great Lakes Loons offer sensory bags with headphones for when the park might be a bit too noisy. Midland Center for the Arts holds relaxed shows with softer sounds and adjusted lighting. NCG Cinemas allows kids of all ages to move comfortably in a setting with the lights raised and the sound quieted during their sensory friendly movies.

The Arc of Midland, a non-profit organization which promotes the general welfare of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, holds their iCan Bike Camp annually to give everyone the opportunity to ride a bike. Creative 360 is fully inclusive and their Artshop program is specifically designed so that all participants will succeed. Wooden Gate Stables’ Stablemates program is geared toward individuals with varied abilities that have an interest in horses. Tall in the Saddle, a 4H program, serves a similar purpose.

There are also exciting things happening at Plymouth Pool. “This year we created a Sensory-Friendly block of time on Saturday mornings in August. We wanted to give our friends who need it an opportunity to swim without the water features pumping out water and when the pool/park is still fairly quiet. We didn’t get a lot of participants, but we know we will as the word gets out. In terms of the facility, we are working on finalizing some additional accommodation when we undergo future pool renovations. This includes an accessible walkway into the water and an additional pool lift. In the future we would love to build a fully accessible restroom on deck, but we don’t have any plans for that yet.” Post says. It is important to note that there are parks in Midland that are safer for parents to take their children with elopement tendencies. Fenced playgrounds like Thrune Park and the playground at MyMichigan Pediatric Rehabilitation Center are accessible and safe for people of all abilities to be outdoors.

As you can see, Midland is constantly working to provide the best life and opportunities for those who may need different support. The L.E.A.P. Program through the City of Midland, The Aktion Club through Kiwanis, The Arnold Center all offer wonderful programming. The list is nearly endless. Please check out more opportunities here:

Bay City:
Disability Services Resource Center-Offers enrichment programs and adaptive sports 

Special Education Mediation services 

Student Advocacy Michigan 
The Arc of Bay County

Tink Tank Animate 

Great Lakes Bay area:

Great Lakes Bay Autism Center 

Great Lakes Bay Region Down Syndrome support group 


Able eyes-know before you go 

Aktion club-Through Kiwanis


Creative 360 

Disability Network of Mid-Michigan 

Great Lakes Loons-Inclusion day 

LEAP-Through Midland Parks & Rec 

Midland Center For The Arts-“Relaxed Events” 

Midland Soccer Club TOP Soccer 

Mid-Michigan autism association 

NCG Movies-sensory friendly nights 

Plymouth pool-Sensory friendly days/times 

Tall in the Saddle-Midland 4H 

The Arc-Assists with finances and provides workshops 

The Legacy Center for Community Success 

Victory day-Through Midland and Dow high

Wheelchair Tennis 

Wooden Gate Stables LLC 


Camp Fish Tales 


ABA Pathways 

Able Eyes-know before you go 

ASD parent group-It is also run by parents 

Aunt Sandy’s Sewing-weighted blankets and vests 

Diocese of Saginaw-Special needs ministry 

Saginaw County CMH Authority 

Saginaw Township TOP soccer 

Places of employment for people with disabilities:

Arnold Center 
Cottage Creamery 
Pizza Baker 

A note from the author: As a mother of a child with autism, I want to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to our community. When I moved to Midland in 2007, I never expected to seek services or be a part of the special needs community. The support from various organizations, Midland Public Schools, Midland County ESA, the City of Midland and so many others has truly been overwhelming. Midland is unique in so many ways and I am forever thankful for the opportunities that my family has because of the wonderful things offered in our little corner of Michigan. Thank you!

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Read more articles by Carly Lillard.

Carly Lillard moved to the Great Lakes Bay Region in 2007 from Traverse City. Since that time, she’s graduated from Northwood University and worked in fund development and communications for a variety of non-profits including Shelterhouse and Holy Cross Services. Currently, Carly is working to complete her Master’s Degree from Michigan State University in Strategic Communication. When she’s not writing, you will find her spending time with her husband, Jesse, and two children, Maycie and Elias. Carly can be reached at carlylillard@gmail.com.