Grand Haven

Ability Award 2015 - Deb Stanley

The 2015 Ability Award recipient has a vision of improving the lives of people with disabilities by seeing them fully integrated into our communities…. working, living, worshipping and celebrating, side by side with others in the community.

Knowing first-hand what it feels like to be the underdog, tonight’s recipient has spent most of her life protecting and defending the underdog.  Experiencing teasing and bullying and longing to fit in but not knowing how, this person could only imagine what people with disabilities must feel like as they watch from the outside.

When asked if there was a specific incident that motivated her to promote inclusion or a community without barriers, she talked of something that happened when she was in 7th grade. Upon seeing a room of children, sitting in wheelchairs and with other disabilities, she asked the teacher why these children could not be with the rest of the class. The teacher replied, “Because they have disabilities and cannot be with other children.” This did not make sense; they looked like nice children and she wanted to get to know them and be friends. She would never forget peering into that classroom window and wishing there was not a barrier between them.  She shared in her essay, “this specific incident shaped my life, although I did not realize it at the time.”

Tonight’s recipient has spent her life, teaching, advocating, and bridging the gaps in our community. Her passion for helping her students with disabilities goes far beyond the classroom. In fact, knowing how hard it was for her students to successfully find their way into the community, she brought the community to them. She started a Transitions Class and brought presenters from various agencies, careers and backgrounds to talk with the students in the classroom. Before the students graduated, 3 of the 9 in her classroom had employment.  Once the people from the community got to know her students, they were willing to hire the student.

In her essay she wrote, “I love stories of people like Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan who overcame tremendous challenges through pure grit and determination, and the people who help them achieve success.  I hope to become a part of someone else’s story of achieving goals beyond their wildest dreams.”

And that is exactly what she is doing…her career of teaching and influencing students over the years has transitioned to helping people achieve success and fulfill their dreams by connecting them to the community through meaningful employment, mentors and volunteering. She recently resigned her position from Grand Haven High School and started a non-profit called Transition Bridges.

Her goal with Transition Bridges is “to create a profile of our adults so that employers see the person they are hiring with a set of unique gifts and skills, instead of someone with special needs. People in our community need someone to be a community liaison---someone who will connect them with employment, resources, and who will be a consultant to businesses.”

“There is no blue print for this journey that I am on, just one person’s dream of answering her younger self’s question of why people with disabilities are not living, working, and participating in the same activities as those without disabilities. We all deserve the same opportunities to live, work, and experience life side by side. I have made it my life’s mission to do everything possible to make sure that happens.”

We are thrilled and honored to introduce this beautiful, humble, compassionate and genuine woman, Deb Stanley as the 2015 Ability Award Recipient! 

Deb, tonight we honor you as an individual who advocates for inclusive communities, where everyone can participate, contribute, and belong---regardless of ability.

On behalf of Disability Network/Lakeshore, we present you with the 2015 Ability Award.



“If you can read, you can go anywhere.”

Wayne and Yvonne VanDuinen

Wayne and Yvonne VanDuinen

You’d get no argument from Wayne and Yvonne VanDuinen about that famous quote, “If you can read, you can go anywhere.”

The Grand Haven couple spends many enjoyable hours each week listening to audiobooks together.

In 2010, they listened to all 40 books in Gilbert Morris’s “House of Winslow” series. They accompanied generations of the Winslow family from the time one crossed the Atlantic Ocean on the Mayflower through the time his descendant fought in World War II.

Talk about time travel!

More recently, the VanDuinens accompanied Richard Paul Evans’ character, Alan Christoffersen, through his daring four-book walk from Seattle to Key West following the tragic death of his wife, betrayal by his business partner, and subsequent bankruptcy.

They’re eagerly awaiting the fifth book of the “Walk” series, “Walking On Water,” to be published later in 2014.

But don’t expect the VanDuinens to place a hold on “Walking On Water” at their local library, or be first in line to buy it from their local bookseller.

Wayne and Yvonne are blind. They both have Retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited, degenerative eye disease that causes severe vision impairment and often blindness.

So, they can’t feed their reading habit in the usual ways.

The VanDuinens rely on the Library of Congress’s National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped to keep them in free reading material – and have for more than 40 years.

Congress authorized the service in 1931, when many veterans were returning home from World War I with visual impairments, or physical disabilities that prevented them from holding a book and turning the pages.

The National Library Service (NLS) circulates books in braille and as recorded books in a special format that can only be played back on equipment issued to eligible patrons by Braille and Talking Book Libraries.

The recorded books are circulated postage-free through the mail. Wayne, however, is computer savvy thanks to a screen reading software that allows him to navigate the World Wide Web. He has been downloading books directly from NLS’s Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) portal since 2008. He loads the books onto a digital cartridge to playback on the machines.

The VanDuinens, who have been married for eight years, have two of the special players. Yvonne, 76, listens to one in the kitchen, while she’s preparing meals. The second is usually in the living room, where the couple likes spending one to three hours a night listening to Christian fiction and historical fiction together.

“In most households it would be the television, but we don’t spend much time with our TV set,” said Wayne, 73, who taught biology at Spring Lake High School for 31 years before he retired in 1994.

In March, the couple bought a 50-inch wall-mounted TV set, thinking they’d be able to get programming with video description – narration between the dialogue describing what is happening on the screen.

But only big cities got the audio description service on the first round. The Federal Communications Commission will require expansion of audio description services from 25 to 60 venues in 2016. Wayne has already composed a letter asking the FCC to permit the company that provides his cable service, Charter Communications, to one of the “venues.”

The VanDuinens also borrow movies with audio description through the Michigan Braille and Talking Book Library in Lansing, although they say there are few newer movies on DVD in the collection. Most of the collection is still on VCR.

Hollywood doesn’t produce all movies with a video description track. And it’s usually difficult to find the track on DVDs – especially for those without sight – because it’s usually buried in the foreign language or special features options.

Both can read and write braille, although they usually prefer listening to audiobooks for pleasure reading.

Choosing what to read would be difficult, the VanDuinens said, if it wasn’t for Sheila Miller, a Reader Advisor at the Braille and Talking Book Library’s Advisory and Outreach Center in Muskegon.

“Sheila has introduced us to all the books we’ve liked,” Yvonne said. “I call her about every two weeks. She’s always got good suggestions for what we’ll like to read next.”

“Really,” Yvonne added, “this is a big part of our lives.”

When Yvonne’s vision deteriorated to the point where she could no longer see the sidewalk, the couple stopped venturing out with their white canes, unless their sighted friend Sarah Meiste can walk with them.

But, thanks to Richard Paul Evans’ “Walk” series, the VanDuinens feel like they are poised to complete an epic cross-country trek.