Bernstein to receive Newbacher award

In recognition of his notable and sustained service and leadership in Michigan and beyond, Richard Bernstein will receive the University of Michigan 2011 James T. Neubacher Award. The award will be presented by U-M Regent Julia Donovan Darlow Oct. 28 at 10 a.m. at the University of Michigan Rackham Building Assembly Hall. The event is free and open to the public.

The Neubacher Award honors members of the U-M community (faculty, staff, student, or alumna/alumnus) who have demonstrated exceptional leadership in enabling full participation in programs and services by people who have disabilities; promoted acceptance and awareness; advocated for civil rights of people who have disabilities; and demonstrated a commitment to the concept that all people, regardless of disability, have the right and obligation to be full and contributing members of society. The Neubacher Award was established in 1990, in memory of U-M alumnus and Detroit Free Press columnist Jim Neubacher, who advocated tirelessly for equal rights and opportunities for people who have disabilities.

''As a tireless advocate for disabled rights, who gives voice to those who would otherwise be forced to be silent, U-M alumnus Richard Bernstein meets and exceeds all of our criteria,'' said Anna Ercoli Schnitzer, chair of the Neubacher Award Committee. ''It is obvious that he is dedicating much of his life to the cause of helping others. He has specifically helped make his world and ours kinder and gentler by working on such factors as advocating for accessibility in the U-M Stadium wheelchair area, improving travel at Detroit Metro Airport for individuals who need special assistance, and pressing for transportation in the City of Detroit for people who have mobility challenges.

''His energy and enthusiasm in his work inspires others, and the fact that he is completely non-sighted is forgotten. People who have disabilities who know him feel strengthened because they know they can turn to him for advice. Richard also knows how to have fun. He competes in marathons and triathlons, and shows others what can be done if one has the will and discipline to do it. In other words, he is a role model for everyone, whatever their level of ability.''

Blind since birth, Bernstein is a graduate of the University of Michigan and Northwestern University School of Law. He is an attorney with the Sam Bernstein Law Firm in Farmington Hills.

Bernstein successfully partnered with the U. S. Department of Justice to force the City of Detroit to fix broken wheelchair lifts on its buses. He also is working to affect change at Detroit Metro Airport to make the airport more accessible to travelers who have disabilities. He fought the State of Michigan and won to preserve special education funding throughout the state.

Further, Bernstein represented the Paralyzed Veterans of America in an action against the University of Michigan's plans for disabled seating in Michigan Stadium, and represented disabled residents who sued the Oakland County Road Commission after roundabout traffic circles were built without disabled access.

Bernstein serves on the board of directors for several not-for-profit organizations and teaches a political science course in social activism at U-M. He also served an eight-year term on the Board of Governors at Wayne State University in Michigan, elected by voters statewide, and served as chair for the last two years of his term.

In his spare time, he is an avid runner, completing 14 marathons---including six New York City marathons---the Ironman triathlon in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, in 2008 and the 2011 Israman triathlon in Eilat, Israel.

Published: Mon, Nov 7, 2011