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Washtenaw United: Washtenaw Association for Community Advocacy giving voice to the intellectually and developmentally disabled community

Washtenaw Association for Community Advocacy


Washtenaw Association for Community Advocacy President & CEO Kathy Homan.
Kathy Homan
Washtenaw Association for Community Advocacy President & CEO Kathy Homan.

Kathy Homan is the President and CEO of the Washtenaw Association for Community Advocacy.


Washtenaw Association for Community Advocacy (WACA)

WACA Resources


David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU. And welcome to our weekly exploration of equity and opportunity in Washtenaw County. We call it Washtenaw United. I'm David Fair. And this week, we're going to explore the challenges and successes of helping giving voice, opportunity and levels of self-determination to those in the intellectual and developmental disability community. Our guest today is deeply embedded in that work. Kathy Homan is executive director of the Washtenaw Association for Community Advocacy. And thank you for making time today, Kathy.

Kathy Homan: Thank you for having me on your show. I appreciate the opportunity to speak on this subject.

David Fair: I may be mistaken, but it certainly feels to me like when we have communal discussions about diversity, equity and inclusion, that those with intellectual and developmental disabilities are often left out. Do I read that right?

Kathy Homan: I do think you read that right. We often feel that these folks who we work with are the last to be considered for options in their community, for inclusion into society, and for making their own decisions in their lives.

David Fair: Why do you think that is? What have we missed as a community?

Kathy Homan: I think that, years ago, when we closed institutions, we thought everything was going smoothly and okay. And, as you know, when you have big system changes, nothing goes smoothly and okay all the time. So, I think the idea has been that folks of IDD are cared for. There's been provisions set aside for them and things are going just great because the community institutions are closed. And it's not true.

David Fair: Certainly, we saw progress made with the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act, but that was really more focused on access and inclusion. Is it time to revisit and consider expansions that those in the IDD community give greater voice and options for more self-determination?

Kathy Homan: That would be fabulous. I think that you look at this group right now, and the number one reaction once somebody turns 18 is to get them a guardian. And nothing can be more restrictive in their lives than a guardian because they can make all those decisions about their lives. They're supposed to have input, but most times they don't. I do think it's time to revisit it, particularly for the intellectual and developmental disability community, because disabilities can go anywhere from somebody who is using a wheelchair or crutches to somebody that is non-verbal. But that doesn't mean that they can't communicate.

David Fair: We are talking with Kathy Homan from the Washtenaw Association for Community Advocacy on 89 one WEMU's Washtenaw United. Kathy, when it comes to those in the IDD community, what is the mission of your organization?

Kathy Homan: Our mission is for full community inclusion for people with intellectual disabilities to live a self-determined life, to make their own decisions, to have decisions about where they live, who comes into their room, who comes into their house, what they do with their money, and decisions that they make on what to eat. We take those for granted every day, and folks in this community don't get those decisions a lot of the time.

David Fair: So, how do you best advocate for equity and inclusion and self-determination in education, the workforce, and in housing?

Kathy Homan: So, we have a connection across all of those systems. We work with folks across their lifespan, and we do direct advocacy into difficult systems, such as Social Security, DHS, community mental health. Every system has its own rules that have to be followed. Every system has its own laws that need to be enforced. And so, we work with families and individuals to help support them get through those systems as successful as possible.

David Fair: The Washtenaw Association for Community Advocacy is about to celebrate its 75th anniversary. That's going to come in 2024. So, first of all, congratulations!

Kathy Homan: Thank you! We are very excited to have been around for 75 years and very proud of our track record.

David Fair: Now, there has been a good deal of evolution over the last three quarters of a century in how we view and treat members of the intellectual and development disability community. What are the next steps in the ongoing evolutionary process?

Kathy Homan: I think the next steps are to actually close all of the institutions. We're seeing a movement. And because of the direct care worker shortage, that older adults are getting scared now. What happens to me once I go or I pass away? What happens to my child? And we're seeing that there's a movement towards congregate living. And if you are aware of any of the institutional history, a congregational living is not optimal living for people--for anybody, really. And so, our next move is to make sure that those institutions stay closed and to make sure that people have choices and inclusion in society.

David Fair: So, absent those facilities, what are the options?

Kathy Homan: That's a great question. Right now, our options are slim with the direct care worker shortage. We need to move with the Legislature to make options available for people to have the funding and make sure the funding goes to the individuals that it's meant for.

David Fair: Once again, you are listening to 89 one WEMU, and we're having a Washtenaw United conversation with the executive director of Washtenaw Association for Community Advocacy, Kathy Homan. Now, Kathy, I hear a real passion in your voice for the work you do and for whom you do the work. What brought you to this line of work?

Kathy Homan: Thanks. Yeah, I do have a passion for it. I have a daughter that was born in 1989 who has Turner syndrome, and she's missing an X chromosome. And back then, it took a long time to get our genetic testing. And when we were still in the hospital after her birthday, they asked us if we were going to institutionalize her, which isn't that long ago. So, fast forward now that she's an adult, she went to Michigan State and had two degrees in four years. She went through the Peace Corps. She graduated from Columbia University with her master's degree. It really motivates me to say, "Don't pre-judge people." We should always presume competence with everybody we meet, especially those in the IDD community.

David Fair: What about the psychiatric and the medical community makes them go to institutionalize as a first response?

Kathy Homan: I don't know about the psychiatric community. I can tell you when I hear medical model, I am not happy. This is a model of support for people with IDD and support to live in their communities. They don't need to be fixed. They need to be supported. It's easier, I think, times to have people in one setting to see them all at once. But it's not what's appropriate.

David Fair: So, you just told a rather amazing success story of your daughter and of your family. What did you learn about your preconceived notions or implicit biases through the journey with your daughter?

Kathy Homan: I did learn so much. I was a graduate of a group, Partners in Policymaking, where we heard a woman talk one time, and she was sitting in an IEP for her daughter. And the school wouldn't say anything. And her daughter had some significant medical issues. And she finally said, "What is it? Please speak honestly with me." And the school said, "We're afraid she'll die at school." And the mom said, "I can work with that. I can help you with that. I can talk to you about that." So, that preconceived notion, I think some of us are afraid of what we don't know. If somebody is nonverbal, how do we communicate with them? But the more we ask questions and the more we are around folks with IDD, the better off society will be, and it will be better off for them, too.

David Fair: Obviously, this was a very personal and important process. And because it touched you in such a personal way, it was kind of top of mind every day. You talk about fear in the community at large. What would you like those of us in the community who do not have daily contact with these issues and challenges to think about and to take action upon?

Kathy Homan: I would like you to think about when you're at a meeting, why isn't there somebody with developmental disability there? Why aren't people included at the decision making levels? And if you see them on the streets, please just say hello. They're just like anybody else that we would say hello to.

David Fair: Again, as you prepare to mark the 75th anniversary of the Washtenaw Association for Community Advocacy, how are you going to take note of that occasion through 2024?

Kathy Homan: We are working on a celebration as we speak. We are planning for October. We don't have the details down. I'd love to come back and talk to you about those once we do. But we need to celebrate in a big way and be inclusive.

David Fair: Kathy, I'd like to thank you for your time, and I'd like to thank you for the work that you do. I most appreciate it.

Kathy Homan: Thank you. And I also like to thank United Way for this opportunity today. They've brought us into the 20th century with our new grant from them for computers. And it's very important for us to have that option. And we're very appreciative.

David Fair: That is Kathy Homan. And she is executive director of the Washtenaw Association for Community Advocacy. They are about to celebrate their 75th anniversary. And Kathy has been our guest on Washtenaw United. For more information on today's conversation, pay a visit to our website at wemu.org, and we'll get you linked up everywhere you need to go. Washtenaw United is produced in partnership with the United Way for Southeastern Michigan, and we bring it to you each Monday. I'm David Fair, and this is your community NPR station, 89 one WEMU FM, Ypsilanti.


Recently, the Washtenaw Association for Community Advocacy (WACA) has received a $15,000 award from the 2024 cycle of United Way for Southeastern Michigan’s Opportunity Fund—a resource for local organizations and groups whose efforts address poverty, racism and trauma: root causes of systemic oppression that hold opportunity at bay for all people in Washtenaw County.

The WACA used this investment to upgrade staff laptops and equipment and ensure that internal operations run successfully.

WEMU has partnered with the United Way for Southeastern Michigan to explore the people, organizations, and institutions creating opportunity and equity in our area. And, as part of this ongoing series, you’ll also hear from the people benefiting and growing from the investments being made in the areas of our community where there are gaps in available services. It is a community voice. It is 'Washtenaw United.'

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Contact WEMU News at 734.487.3363 or email us at studio@wemu.org

Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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