Neubacher Award recipient advocates for those with hidden disabilities


For the millions of Americans living with Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and other inflammatory bowel disorders, the hidden disease can affect every aspect of their lives, including whether they will have access to a restroom anytime, anywhere.

When Jill Sklar took her then-5-year-old son tennis shoe shopping she had to use the restroom, urgently. She was denied access to the non-public department store restroom. On her way home, after passing accommodations for shoppers with visible disabilities, an idea was born and she ran with it.

Sklar took her own lived experiences with Crohn’s disease and spent the following seven years working with state representatives, senators and the Retailers Association of Michigan, writing, advocating and fighting for the Restroom Access Act, which was signed into Michigan law in 2009.

In recognition of Sklar’s commitment to empowerment, advocacy and accessibility, she will be honored with the University of Michigan’s James T. Neubacher Award during a virtual ceremony at 1 p.m. Nov. 4.

From left, Jill Sklar, her son Jonah, former state Rep. Andy Meisner, former Gov. Jennifer Granholm and former state Sen. Gilda Jacobs at the 2009 bill signing ceremony for the Restroom Access Act. Photo courtesy of Jill Sklar
From left, Jill Sklar, her son Jonah, then state Rep. Andy Meisner, then Gov. Jennifer Granholm and then state Sen. Gilda Jacobs at the 2009 bill signing ceremony for the Restroom Access Act. (Photo courtesy of Jill Sklar)

The annual award is a memorial to Jim Neubacher, a U-M alumnus who was a columnist for the Detroit Free Press and an advocate for people living with disabilities. The honor is given to U-M faculty, staff, students and alumni who have exhibited leadership and service in support of the disability community.

“My goal is to help others live with dignity and have the ability to remove barriers, so people with this disease can live a fuller life because there is no cure for this disease,” said Sklar, administrative director for capacity management at Michigan Medicine.

Jill Sklar

The bill was created with an intentional lens on disability to allow individuals who have a greater reliance on a restroom to use an employee-only restroom in a business that is open to the public. It also ensures compliance by fining business owners who deny restroom access to patrons with a doctor’s note.

Sklar’s work has had an impact on the lives of disabled people around the country, as she has also worked with the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation to assist other state chapters across the country in passing similar laws in 20 states.

Her advocacy continued onto the pages of three books she published, one titled “The First Year: Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis.” In the book she shares her own experiences, alongside her medical expertise aimed at people who have been recently diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease through the lens of a patient.

Sklar said when someone is first diagnosed with something that causes a disability, life can be difficult and can seem bleak, but her hope for the book is for someone new to this disease to learn how to manage it and know they are supported.

Her commitment to inspire and empower others to improve their health and wellness every day continues in her role at Michigan Medicine, where she assists with the needs of thousands of patients flowing into, out of and between units at the health system.

“I am working to try to make Michigan Medicine have greater access to the patients in the state of Michigan and around the world,” Sklar said. “We provide the highest level of care, and our hope is to provide greater access to our patients.”

She has been instrumental in the planned Nov. 29 launch of a new facility known as M2C2, which will improve capacity management operations, care progression and quality and to allow the organization to better serve patients and team members.


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