Disability Network West Michigan hosts inclusive Party in the Park on July 28

The Party in the Park on July 28 will be a special one: It will include American Sign Language interpreters performing with the musicians and covering all of the announcement portions. There also will be Mobi Mats to provide some wheelchair-accessible seating space on the lawn in front of the stage. 

“On top of all of those things, it’s a great way to spend a Friday evening in Downtown Muskegon,” says Brad Hastings, the advocacy and certified ADA coordinator for party host Disability Network West Michigan.

Party in the Park, which has been a summer tradition for 39 years, is held at Hackley Park in Downtown Muskegon. The parties are hosted every other week, on Friday evenings from 5–9 p.m. Each party is a fundraiser for the hosting nonprofit organization, and features live music, food, adult beverages, kids’ activities, and more. The events are free to enter, but the way nonprofits raise money is by selling drink tickets. Live music at the July 28 party will start with drummer, multi-instrumentalist, singer, and songwriter Loren Kranz, followed by local funk, rock, and soul band Flexadecibel

“We will also be sharing some information throughout the evening about our agency,” Hastings says. “This is a great fundraising opportunity for us, but more than that, it is a great opportunity for us to spread awareness about disabilities and the availability of our programs and services with our community. It is a great way for us to gain visibility in our community, and it’s also a great way for us to showcase how to host more accessible and inclusive events.”

A safe, welcoming space

Families that include those with disabilities appreciate such gatherings, thanks to the accessibility and inclusivity. 

“Last year, one family with an electric wheelchair user in their group approached one of our team members and said that they specifically came because they knew it would be a safe and welcoming space for people with disabilities,” Hastings says. “Several others commented that we had the best and most diverse audience of the summer.”

That is what the Disability Network West Michigan is all about — creating a safe space and trusted resources for those living with disabilities as well as managing a federally designated Center for Independent Living. 

“We are created by and for people with disabilities, with the majority of our staff and board members being people with disabilities,” Hastings adds. “Our mission is to advocate, educate, empower, and provide resources for people with disabilities.”

Promoting inclusion

The organization’s goal is to promote the community inclusion of people with disabilities in two main ways. The first is that the nonprofit works with individuals with disabilities on their independent living goals. These are goals that they set for themselves, and the Disability Network West Michigan works alongside them to make sure they have the knowledge, skills, and resources to be successful in whatever they are trying to achieve. The second is that the organization works within the communities to remove barriers to inclusion. These barriers could be attitudinal, programmatic, or physical, and there is community education and technical assistance to make sure places are accessible and inclusive, and know how to respectfully interact with people with disabilities.

“We hope that we can be a one-stop shop for people with disabilities or disability-related needs or questions,” Hastings says. “If we can’t provide the information, resources, or services that are needed, we will work to refer you to somewhere that can.”

The Disability Network West Michigan is looking for volunteers for its Party in the Park. 

“Anyone is a good fit. We will need help with setup, tear-down, selling drink tickets, checking IDs, serving drinks, providing information to partygoers, helping with the kids’ activity area, etc. We can find a place for anyone, regardless of age or disability,” Hastings says.

This article is a part of the multi-year 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.
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