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RCPD director refuses to let his disability deter his passion to help

Michael Hudson, director of the Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities, has chosen not to let his disability keep him from making MSU's campus a more workable environment for disabled students

December 2, 2014
<p>Director of the RCPD Michael Hudson discusses what it was like growing up with blindness and his journey to becoming a leader in the disabled community on Nov. 24, 2014, at Bessey Hall. Hudson described the work he does including making intersections on campus as safe for the disabled as possible. Dylan Vowell/The State News</p>

Director of the RCPD Michael Hudson discusses what it was like growing up with blindness and his journey to becoming a leader in the disabled community on Nov. 24, 2014, at Bessey Hall. Hudson described the work he does including making intersections on campus as safe for the disabled as possible. Dylan Vowell/The State News

Michael Hudson commutes every day — he rides the bus and walk down the streets no matter if it’s sunny, raining or snowing.

Hudson sticks out from the rest of the pedestrians on the street because of the white cane that is constantly in his grasp.

The cane that labels Hudson as blind.

Hudson, who has been the director of the Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities for 14 years, has a recessive hereditary condition called retinitis pigmentosa.

“If you think of your eye as a camera — the film in the back of that camera is very important in taking pictures, and mine is deteriorating,” Hudson said.

Hudson said even though the “lenses” in his eyes work, they have deteriorated to the point that his brain doesn’t get anymore data from the light patterns shined on his retinas.

Hudson said both of his parents had the trait and they passed it to him, starting his path to blindness at a young age.

His parents realized there was something wrong with his sight when he would crawl or walk into things that would have been clearly avoidable for someone with good vision, such as a tree.

Hudson was diagnosed with his condition at age four. But he refused to let that stop him, receiving a degree in psychology from Lake Superior State University and a master’s in administration of student personnel services from Western Michigan University.

Moving past the barriers

Despite all of the obstacles in his life, Hudson maintains a sense of humor and a strong desire to move forward.

This has been helpful in situations where a lack of understanding from others and his desire to move forward have collided.

“I tend to ride a lot of buses because I’m a terrible driver,” Hudson said. “Standing at a bus stop somewhere somebody sees a blind person, and the stereotype is the blind guy needs a little help crossing across the street.”

Hudson said many people are concerned when he does things such as go up a flight of stairs or walk through a building.

Although Hudson recognizes the good will of people when helping him, he also acknowledges the importance of letting people with disabilities develop in a world that is not completely suitable for a person with a disability.

“That ‘be careful’ attitude is the one that shuts you down,” Hudson said.

Hudson, a first generation college student, knows firsthand the importance of growing from unfamiliar situations. His alma mater, Lake Superior State University, was four hours away from his hometown of Saginaw.

“When I got to college, I moved away from all the people that I had known, and I said ‘I still kind of want to hide my visual impairment.’ But there is more opportunity here that people might be accepting,” Hudson said, adding that college served as a fresh start in his life.

Hudson has been a strong proponent of encouraging independence among persons with disabilities and has used his role as the director of the RCPD to develop that on campus.

Students crossing the street at almost any given crosswalk on campus are familiar with the deep voice announcing when the walk sign is up. Hudson and his office were the ones who took on the task to make that happen.

“He’s really had had a lot of impact in how people with disabilities are able to access the things they need to be successful students and employees,” Hudson’s RCPD assistant Beverly Stehlik said.

RCPD is not the only outlet for Hudson’s work.

In 2012, Gov. Rick Snyder appointed him as Commissioner for the Bureau of Services for Blind Persons.

In 2014, Hudson was appointed to the MSU Federal Credit Union Board of Directors.

“Mike embodies that role — he ensures that the members’ voices are heard,” MSUFCU Executive Vice President April Clobes said.

Even before Hudson’s appointment to the MSUFCU Board of Directors, he was well known within the organization. Hudson advocated for voice activated ATM’s around campus, Clobes said.

As a result of his advocacy, all the MSUFCU ATMs are now voice activated — users can plug in headphones to hear what appears on the screen.

Inspired through work

“As a child, having toys that would break, I learned an important lesson from my grandfather,” Hudson said. “I take my toys to my grandfather because I knew he could fix anything and he would say, ‘Yes we can fix it. Let’s do it together.’”

Hudson said spending time with his grandfather, a person whose teachings have helped him throughout his life, was very important in his development.

Hudson said his grandfather taught him to never be afraid to get deeply engaged in something and to try to study and understand why it happens.

“I learned a lesson of persistence from my grandfather,” Hudson said.

Hudson said that philosophy is something he tries to implement in his everyday work with the more than 1,500 students that receive services from RCPD.

Stehlik said working with him for the past six years has been an amazing journey.

In 2010, Hudson was won the Outstanding Supervisor Award given away yearly by the Family Resource Center.

“He is really understanding about the fact that people need to have lives too, that’s what I like about this job,” Stehlik said. “He amazes me every day.”

When Stehlik started working at the resource center she did not have prior experience working with someone with a disability like Michael Hudson’s.

“It was not a hard adjustment, he was really understanding of my ignorance,” Stehlik said. “He was really good about showing me how to interact with someone so we could be both comfortable.”

Maintaining a home life

Hudson has been married to East Lansing blind resident Karla Hudson for 19 years. They have two children, neither of whom are blind.

Karla Hudson said Michael Hudson invests time with their kids, teaching them about life and having fun with them.

“He is a guy who jumps in the things (with) both feet — he has an extreme amount of energy,” Karla Hudson said.

Although Michael Hudson’s and Karla Hudson’s lives have been very dependent of audition and memory — Michael Hudson memorized an algorithm system for his clothes. The couple have been very conscious on letting their kids grow without any additional pressure.

“Every family has a way of dealing with certain challenges, in or case we are very conscious in letting kids do things that are age-appropriate,” Michael Hudson said.

Hudson said while growing up it was hard to come to terms with his condition, but he later understood that vision is not required to be a visionary.

“I spent more time figuring out I wasn’t able to change it no matter what I did, so that I better figure out how to make the most of it in achieving my life goals even if I was blind,” Hudson said. “I learned that one of the most important things that I was going to need to do would be to find ways of overcoming the aspects of a disability so that they would not stop me from the person I wanted to be.”

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