Student Life and Michigan Medicine have selected Oluwaferanmi Okanlami as the interim director of Services for Students with Disabilities.
Alfred Kellam, who has been serving as SSD interim director since January 2019, will retire Sept. 30. Okanlami’s one-year appointment took effect July 1.
Okanlami also will assume the role of director of Adaptive Sports, a newly established unit within Student Life.
Affectionately referred to as “Dr. O,” Okanlami is an assistant professor of family medicine and physical medicine and rehabilitation at the Medical School, and is director of Adaptive Sports in the Michigan Center for Human Athletic Medicine and Performance.
He will retain his faculty appointment and the Adaptive Sports Program will move to Student Life, with Okanlami as director.
The collaborative partnership between Student Life and Michigan Medicine will enhance and augment programs established via SSD as well as raise awareness throughout the university and community of disability and diversity, equity and inclusion challenges and solutions.
Okanlami is uniquely positioned to take on this mission. In 2013, while in his third year of orthopaedic surgery residency at Yale New Haven Hospital in Connecticut, he sustained a spinal cord injury in a diving accident, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down with limited use of his upper extremities.
After several years of rehabilitation, he has seen first-hand the difference that access to appropriate accommodations can make in a learner’s life. He was able to earn a master’s degree from Notre Dame in engineering, science and technology entrepreneurship, and completed a family medicine residency in South Bend, Indiana.
While he identifies as a wheelchair user, he has also regained some ability to walk using assistive devices, some of which he worked with a rehabilitation engineer to design and create. Suddenly experiencing life “from the other side of the stethoscope,” as he calls it, Okanlami says he is dedicated to “focusing on advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion broadly, but now as an individual living at the intersection of disability and race.”
A national spokesperson for Guardian Life in their “Equal and Able” partnership, he speaks around the country on topics related to diversity, equity and inclusion, including the lack of black male physicians, and creating a health system that is accessible to and inclusive of both patients and providers with disabilities.
“Using his trademarked catch phrase, ‘Disabusing Disability,’ Dr. Okanlami has widely shared his goal to demonstrate that DIS-ability does not mean IN-ability,” said Robert D. Ernst, associate vice president of student life for health and wellness and executive director of the University Health Service.
“As a leader, faculty member and distinguished alumnus of our Medical School, Dr. Okanlami has been a strong advocate for our faculty, staff and learners with disabilities, and he is passionate about empowering them to make significant contributions to building a diverse medical community,” said Carol R. Bradford, executive vice dean for academic affairs in the Medical School.