Newman accepted her award during the Ability Award Dinner at Midtown Center in Holland on Oct. 24.
The DNL Ability Award recognizes someone who lives in Ottawa or Allegan counties who promotes a spirit of inclusion and a community without barriers.
An inclusive education pioneer, Newman has impacted thousands of churches and children with disabilities through perseverance, innovation, love and wisdom, the organization said. For nearly three decades, she has combined her background in special education and conviction for inclusion to shape inclusive, interdependent faith communities across the United States and Canada. More recently, she has been equipping churches to apply principles of universal design in their congregational worship practices, something Newman considers to be a natural next step.
“As a teacher passionate about promoting and supporting inclusive communities with persons with disabilities, I believe that living life together with one another helps improve the quality of life for each person who is part of the community,” she said. “I am grateful for the honesty of parents, the willingness of the local churches to allow me to try some ideas, and the continued open doors in many denominations around the country.”
Ten individuals were nominated for the award, including those who live with a disability, have a family member with a disability, or are a friend or ally to the disability community.
“We are fortunate in Ottawa and Allegan counties to have so many advocates who contribute their skills and time to emphasize the gifts and assets of people with disabilities in our communities — because that leads to opportunities,” said Terry DeYoung, selection chairperson for the DNL Ability Award. “In so many ways, Barb Newman embodies the qualities the Ability Award celebrates. She's a persistent, dynamic, caring leader who has impacted thousands of individuals and families. Her hands-on, practical approach empowers people to look for strengths in others and what they can accomplish, rather than making assumptions about what they can't do because of human limitations and our labels.”
The Ability Award reception featured a keynote address from Randy Lewis, former Walgreens senior vice president and disability employment advocate. Lewis discussed his personal experiences with his son and the disability employment initiative he developed, which is now being implemented in Walgreens distribution centers nationwide and changing the lives of thousands.
For the past 25 years, Disability Network/Lakeshore has worked in Allegan and Ottawa counties to create communities where people with disabilities can participate, contribute and belong. The DNL organization is staffed and managed by a majority of individuals with disabilities and serve those with any type of disability, including many who are “invisible,” such as sensory or cognitive impairments and mental health concerns.