The University of Michigan’s Student Life office and Michigan Medicine have selected Oluwaferanmi O. Okanlami, M.D., M.S., assistant professor, as the Interim Director of Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD).
Additionally, Dr. Okanlami will assume the role of Director of Adaptive Sports, a newly established unit within Student Life.
Dr. Okanlami, affectionately referred to as “Dr. O,” is currently an assistant professor in the Department’s of Family Medicine and Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation at the University of Michigan Medical School. In addition, he is the director of Adaptive Sports in Michigan Medicine’s Michigan Center for Human Athletic Medicine and Performance (MCHAMP). He will retain his faculty appointment at the Medical School in the Department of Family Medicine, but the U-M Adaptive Sports Program will move to the Division of Student Life, with Dr. Okanlami as the 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 DEI challenges and solutions.
He takes over this role following the retirement of Alfred Kellam, Ph.D.
Dr. Okanlami is uniquely positioned to take on this mission. In 2013, while in his third year of orthopedic 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, Dr. O has seen, first-hand, the difference 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, Dr. O states that 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, but not limited to, the lack of black male physicians and creating a health system that is accessible to and inclusive of both patients and providers with disabilities. While he spent his first two years at Michigan Medicine as the director of Medical Student Programs in the Office for Health Equity and Inclusion (OHEI), he also served on the Student IDEA Board, a committee convened by the Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (ODEI) and charged to develop short and medium-term recommendations on disability climate and inclusion matters.
Robert M. Sellers, Ph.D., the Charles D. Moody Collegiate Professor of Psychology, Vice Provost for Equity and Inclusion, and Chief Diversity Officer in the Office of the Provost added, “Dr. Okanlami has demonstrated himself to be a fierce advocate and tireless worker for equal access for all members of our U-M community. I am very much looking forward to working with him in this new role.”
“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, M.D., Associate Vice President of Student Life for Health and Wellness and Executive Director of University Health Service. “During this interim period, Dr. Okanlami will manage the operations and supervise the staff at SSD, while also providing strategic direction for the unit and advocacy for the disabilities community on campus.”
“During Dr. Kellam’s tenure, while the entire campus had to adjust on extremely short notice to the shift to on-line learning during the winter semester, the SSD team had to work especially hard with students with disabilities to develop many highly individualized educational plans,” said Dr. Ernst. Dr. Okanlami will continue and expand upon the work of Dr. Kellam, serving students in the disability community as they also navigate the impact of the COVID crisis.
Dr. O will take the reins to continue a seamless transition, stating that “as we are re-imagining what a Michigan education will now look like, this is a critical time to ensure that all of our programs are inclusive of, and accessible to all students. It is an exciting opportunity to lead SSD down this new “post-COVID era” road, as we strive to provide each student with what they need in order to succeed, and I look forward to working with others across the institution in order to do so. We are stronger together.”
“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, M.D., M.S., Executive Vice Dean for Academic Affairs, Medical School. “His expertise and experiences make him a great choice to lead Services for Students with Disabilities. We look forward to his continued contributions to our larger campus community in this new role.”
Working within his role as the Director of Adaptive Sports will also make an immediate impact.
“I am excited to hear about Dr. Okanlami’s new role. He has brought a revolution of awareness about adaptive sports to Michigan, and I am looking forward to seeing growth of sports programming for the people we serve. He will have a major impact on increasing physical activity and participation for people with disabilities, which is one of our major goals in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. He will make Michigan a leader in this important area,” said Edward A. Hurvitz, M.D., professor and Chair, James W. Rae Collegiate Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.
Philip Zazove, M.D., professor and the George A. Dean, MD Chair of Family Medicine added, "I'm very excited that Dr. Okanlami will be taking on this important role. His expertise in, passion for and experience in helping students with disabilities and in establishing adaptive sports will benefit everyone -- not just those with disabilities.”
The Services for Students with Disabilities office mission is to provide accommodations and access to students with disabilities. The University of Michigan officially recognized the Office of Disabled Student Services in February of 1974 five months after the passage of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act. In 1989, the office changed its name to Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD). Throughout its history, SSD has played a prominent role in advocating for students with disability issues at the state, national and international levels.