University alum lauded for disability advocacy

Wednesday, October 26, 2016 - 1:55pm

Mark Bernstein, member of the Board of Regents, presents the James T. Neubacher Award to Cooper Charlton in Rackham on Wednesday.

Mark Bernstein, member of the Board of Regents, presents the James T. Neubacher Award to Cooper Charlton in Rackham on Wednesday. Buy this photo
Haley McLaughlin/ Daily

 

The University of Michigan presented Cooper Charlton, former Central Student Government president and University alum, with the James T. Neubacher Award Wednesday for his commitment to mental and physical health support during his tenure.

The Neubacher award recognizes outstanding advocacy for the rights and opportunities of people with disabilities. The ceremony, held at the Rackham Assembly Hall, also featured the presentation of other scholarships and certificates to students, alumni, faculty and staff for their work with disability rights and awareness.

The award is given in memory of James. T Neubacher, a Michigan Daily and University alum who later worked for the Detroit Free Press. At the Free Press, Neubacher advocated for equal rights and opportunities for those with disabilities through his “Disabled in Detroit” column, which received national recognition. Members of his family were in attendance at Wednesday's event.

Charlton volunteered with the Army-Navy Wheelchair Basketball game and co-founded the Wolverine Support Network in 2014, an organization that provides confidential peer support groups to students with the goal of destigmatizing mental health issues. As well as being president of CSG, Charlton also served as president of the Student Athletic Advisory Committee.

Regent Mark Bernstein (D), who presented Charlton with the award, emphasized Charlton’s focus on inclusion and access during his time as CSG president.

“The agenda (Charlton) presented every month as CSG President was about inclusion, about access, and frankly, just making our campus a more just, fair, and compassionate place for our students," Bernstein said. "(Charlton) did this as a person that brought great humility and grace to that work, and I'm grateful to him.”

In remarks at the event, Charlton said efforts to engage in sincere dialogue about disability are the first step toward inclusion.

“This willingness leads to openness, and this openness leads to a connection which transcends differences,” he said.

Wednesday's ceremony was also part of the 26th Investing in Ability celebration on campus, an annual month of events increasing awareness of disability issues and recognizing the contributions of individuals with disabilities to the University and the community. As part of the recently launched Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Plan, this year’s Investing in Ability month featured discussions on how diversity includes disability.

Law School lecturer Jack Bernard, chair of the Council for Disability Concerns, who spoke at the event, said this focus was consistent with the overall concept of diversity.

“Diversity is not just one spectrum, but includes all the ways of knowing and being and … this is what gives us the strength to be the best we can be at the University,” Bernard said.

Other speakers focused on the significant progress at the University in providing resources and access for individuals with disabilities, as well as current opportunities and challenges in addressing the issue on campus.

Stuart Segal, director of the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities who was in attendance at the ceremony, highlighted the lack of awareness regarding disability on campus in an interview with the Michigan Daily, saying that 94 percent of students registered at the office have "invisible" or non-apparent disabilities that are often overlooked, like mental health conditions, learning disabilities, ADHD or having an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

"The importance of Investing in Ability and this event is exposing the University community to the breadth of disability issues and how prevalent disabilities are not only on campus, but in our wider community and our country."

Other award recipients were recognized for work in a variety of fields, from advocating for increased focus on disability in medical school curriculum to establishing the Archive of Data on Disability to Enable Policy and Research at the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research.

Jai Holt, colleague of award recipient Alison Stroud, a research technician lead at ICPSR, said investing in ability in all aspects of the University makes the community stronger and serves as a model for other campuses.

“I want to see University of Michigan be a diverse community that has input from a variety of members. That will fortify us to be stronger,” Holt said.