Cerebral Palsy never got in Michael Hamm’s way of enjoying what he loves most – hunting, fishing and running. It wasn’t until 2010 when neck and back issues caused by herniated discs forced Hamm into a wheelchair.
“I walk when I need to,” said Hamm. “I traveled to Europe last summer for a tour of World War II sites (which is another interest of mine), and some of the motels were inaccessible.” He was forced to walk and had to walk on and off the tour bus. He was able to, but it was extremely difficult: starting about seven years ago, for safety reasons, he began using a wheelchair due to a lack of balance 90% of the time.
His love for the outdoors and nature led him to Michigan State University where he received his first Bachelor’s degree in Horticulture. Unable to fulfill his plans to own a tree farm, he eventually left the industry. “You can make a living but that is about it unless you own something,” said Hamm.
He decided to start painting cars again, which he did in junior high school to make some money. It paid this bills so he could return to college and earn a second Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s degree, this time in Behavioral Science, Psychology and Social Work. He earned those degrees from Grand Valley State University. Hamm eventually interned for three semesters at Newago County. In the late 1980s, a positon opened and he applied. He worked his way up to the Clinical Director positon in the Mental Health Department at Newago County.
Once chair-bound, Hamm became interested independent living for the disabled and that issue along with his experience in Human Resources and Mental Health led him to MISILC.
He was originally diagnosed with a mild case of Cerebral Palsy, but as he aged, his back began to give out. He used to run about five miles a day and was very active in high school. As an outdoorsman, he is very a passionate about accessibility for disabled sportsman. “It is probably my biggest passion,” said Hamm. “I have been hunting and fishing since about 12 years old and am very active in the National Wild Turkey Federation,” said Hamm. “One component of that organization is "Wheeling Sportsmen", which advocates getting individuals using wheelchairs into the outdoors hunting and fishing.”
Another great interest of Hamm is a bill he pushed to get introduced years ago, and was later struck down, that would require all new homes built in Michigan to have at least one wheel chair ramp or accessibly for the disabled. “I hope to get it reintroduced in the house,” he said. “Statistic show that despite your abilities as a young person, 1 out of 5 people older than 65 have a disability. So, eventually many people will need wheelchair access.”
Over the years, Hamm has had several back surgeries. The recovery was often slow. He eventually left his director positon at the county and became a consultant running his own business. “It wasn’t really fair to my staff of 15 people and others in the department,” he said. “I thought it was time for me to leave.”
He began focusing his time on MISILC issues. “Paving the way for uniformity across the state is important,’ said Hamm. “There are many different groups advocating for and representing the disabled community. We all need to be on the same page and have the same goals. This will ultimately give us a larger voice.”
He also supports eliminating the sub-minimum wage law. “It’s just not fair,” he said. “Everyone’s disability is different. You can’t just say the disabled get paid less than minimum wage. If we are productive and can do the job, then why not pay us the fair wage?”
He looks forward to the work on the MISILC agenda. “We are in a great position today,” he noted. “We are focused on important issues.”