Pam McGuinty ensures that the voices of the University of Michigan’s disability community are not just heard, but actively valued.
Her passion for that work stems from the challenges she faced growing up deaf before the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 gave people with disabilities greater protection and accessibility.
McGuinty, a senior budget analyst in the College of Engineering and co-chair of the Council for Disability Concerns, is the recipient of this year’s James T. Neubacher Award in recognition of her commitment to empowerment, advocacy and accessibility.
“For years I struggled with not having things accessible to me. I would attend meetings and have to try to figure out what others were saying around me,” McGuinty said. “I never want anyone else to ever struggle through that. I want to make things better for everyone.”
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.
McGuinty will receive the award at a ceremony that begins at 1 p.m. Nov. 1 in Weiser Hall.
Throughout McGuinty’s 23-year career at U-M, she has accomplished many milestones that have helped individuals embrace their disability identities and emerge as advocates themselves.
“My goal is to enter any event or space on campus and have it be accessible for everyone,” McGuinty said. “I want people to know there is a community supporting them, even if they can’t see it.”
As co-chair of the Council for Disability Concerns and a prominent member of the leadership group for Disability Culture at U-M, she has been a champion of accessibility and inclusion.
Her leadership has extended beyond the organization, as she has actively contributed to pivotal university discussions, including Vision 2034 and Campus Plan 2050, where she has worked to ensure that accessibility and disability advocacy remain at the forefront.
In 2019, she was involved with the development of recommendations from the Student Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility Board to assess U-M’s structures and culture for students with disabilities.
She also was instrumental in the success of the Anti-Ableist Academy Conference, which provided the U-M community the opportunity to learn about best practices that ensure disabled persons can fully participate in campus life at the university.
McGuinty’s colleagues say she has fostered connections among many different groups and has been instrumental in efforts to provide an institutional home for the Council for Disability Concerns.
“Pam was an honorable mention for this award in the past. But in the past two years her active involvement and advocacy have made her an integral part of U-M’s progress toward becoming an accessible institution,” said Colleen van Lent, lecturer IV in the School of Information. “We are thrilled that her unseen work is being acknowledged.”
McGuinty, who lost her hearing as a toddler, said her parents always told her to never let her disability keep her from achieving her goals.
The Neubacher Award, which was established in 1990, is sponsored by the Council for Disability Concerns, the Equity, Civil Rights, and Title IX Office, University Human Resources, Michigan Medicine, and the Office of the President.
In partnership with Student Accessibility and Accommodation Services, U-M’s student disability services unit, the Nov. 1 ceremony also will recognize three longtime donor families — the family of Adam S. Miller, the family of Burt Black and the family of Wesley Smith — and the awards and scholarships for U-M students that their donations have funded over the last year.
The ceremony will be livestreamed via Zoom with the link provided through the online registration form. Communication Access Realtime Translation and American Sign Language interpreting will be provided at the ceremony and a reception is scheduled to follow.