Community leader, disability advocate, and former President of The Disability Network (TDN), Mike Zelley, has passed away on June 27, 2022. Mike spent his life advocating for disability rights at the local, state, and national level, and developing relationships with many community, business, and government officials. Zelley was the co-founder of TDN and served the organization for 26 years before retiring in 2017.
Nationally, Zelley hosted President Clinton’s visit to TDN where the president announced Zelley as the Chair of the National Task Force on Technology and Disability. The task force was supported by The Mott Foundation and over half of the 40 national policy recommendations were implemented. Zelley provided direct testimony to U.S. Congress in D.C., which led to the removal of employment barriers for people with disabilities in federal law. Zelley worked with Congressman Dale Kildee to co-sponsor the Money Follows the Person Act resulting in 100,000 people with disabilities being freed from nursing facilities, living independently in the community and saving millions in taxpayer dollars.
With state Senate confirmation, Zelley was appointed by Governors Engler and Granholm to the Michigan Civil Rights Commission, where he was elected Chair. Zelley chaired the statewide MIJOB Coalition and championed the implementation of Michigan’s Freedom to Work Act empowering 10,000 people with disabilities to work. He also chaired Governor Snyder’s three Business Summits on Disability Employment, which were attended by 500 business executives, who then hired over 4,000 people with disabilities. To improve employment services for all Michigan citizens, Mike served as President of Michigan Works for 8 years. Zelley cherished his time with his peers at the Disability Network Michigan, a statewide network of disability organizations that advocate for inclusion and accessibility throughout the state.
Locally, Zelley worked relentlessly to better the Flint and Genesee County community. He served and advocated for accessibility on countless boards, committees, and councils. The MTA where he served as Board Chair and the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce were near and dear to his heart. Zelley’s respected voice of collaboration and passion for accessibility can be experienced with local policies and in public spaces like the Flint Farmers’ Market, Community Foundation of Greater Flint, Smith Village, The Whiting, Flint Institute of Arts, Genesee County Land Bank, polling locations, over 400 home ramps installed in Flint and much more.
Zelley’s legacy will have a lasting impact on Genesee County and the disability community. TDN plans to name their new building in honor of Zelley upon completion. A special thank you to Mike’s wife, Lana, and the Zelley family for designating TDN for memorial contributions. You may make a gift in honor of Mike at https://www.classy.org/give/370057/#!/donation/checkout.
Funeral arrangement details can be found at https://www.swartzfuneralhomeinc.com/obituary/james-zelley.