The Bentley Library will close at 2:30 pm on December 12.


The Value of One

Elizabeth Bauer’s collection reveals the crucial work of a tireless advocate

by Elise Reynolds

The newspaper clippings are yellowed and worn, but the story of neglect and abuse is the same on many of the pages: A mentally disabled young man, soiled with urine down to his shoes, is left to roam the halls at the facility that is supposed to be caring for him. An elderly woman with Alzheimer’s wanders into the cold for hours, and when she’s finally discovered, the nursing home charged with her health ignores her shivering and frostbite.

Elizabeth W. Bauer’s papers at the Bentley contain these stories—but also stories of the tireless work of Bauer herself as an advocate for the human and legal rights of people with disabilities in Michigan, nationally, and internationally. Her motivation grew even stronger when she became the mother of a child with multiple disabilities (Ginny Bauer, pictured with Elizabeth, above). Through professional and personal experience, Bauer gained firsthand knowledge of the challenges faced by the disabled and their families and has never stopped fighting for them. Her approach to advocacy starts with one very basic idea: every individual has value.

“The whole purpose of my work since 1958 has been to enhance the dignity and worth of every person. All people are valuable. All people deserve to live dignified, self-determined lives. Some will need more support than others to achieve that goal. Ensuring those supports are available, accessible, acceptable, adequate and affordable (5As) and that they are provided in ways that enhance the dignity of the individual has been the centerpiece of my work,” said Bauer.

Bauer walks the talk. For decades, she has worked for the cause in many ways, including founding the Michigan Protection & Advocacy Service, working through the political process, and serving in government to secure rights for people with disabilities. In recognition of her efforts, Bauer was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in 2013.