Christopher Sump receives Disability Pride Month Award

Christopher Sump receives Disability Pride Month Award

DETROIT – Christopher Sump was born deaf. But he doesn’t want people to feel bad for him, or to apologize when his disability is discovered. Instead, Samp would prefer they simply smile, joining him in taking proactive steps to enthusiastically help Detroiters with disabilities.

Samb, a native of Troy, Michigan, is currently the director of the Office of Disability Affairs for the City of Detroit. He is the first of four game changers honored by the Detroit Tigers, Detroit Red Wings and Comerica Bank during Handicap Pride Month in July.

Just two months before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in January 2020, the Detroit City Council unanimously passed a resolution to create the Office of Disability Affairs. The office was formally introduced by Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan in February 2021 in conjunction with SAMP’s official hiring.

The interview for this story was conducted via email, but that was not the case. Samp communicates regularly through an interpreter phone number, and said 21st century technology has made life easier for people with disabilities.

But to this day, SAMP still deals with stereotypes and challenges that are difficult for people without disabilities to understand. Admittedly, it was a frustrating childhood.

In the 1990s as a student, Samp wore bulky assistive devices that can now be mistakenly considered a portable device. Nevertheless, he ran for student government elections, obtained his driver’s license and volunteered in the community.

“I learned how to stand up for myself and prove to everyone that I can be as successful as they are,” Samp said. “I did not want other individuals with disabilities to suffer abuse and experience social rejection many times because they are different. Therefore, I have always been passionate about helping and advocating for people with disabilities.”

After graduating from Troy High School in 2000, Samp attended the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, where he completed his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in public policy. Samp wanted to learn more about deaf identity and issues of social justice and civil rights.

Upon returning to his hometown and taking on the role of director of the City of Detroit’s Office of Disability Affairs, Samp got down to business. The first component was a campaign to encourage disabled Detroiters to feel comfortable being vaccinated against the coronavirus. This included staying consistent with CDC and local health mandates and recommendations, and providing Duggan with the most relevant information to engage residents with disabilities.

“My city colleagues and I quickly developed a plan to help Mayor Duggan move forward in ensuring that our residents with disabilities are cared for and have equitable access to vaccines,” Samp said. In addition, she worked with the Department of Health on an accessible public campaign to dispel myths and encourage people with disabilities to get vaccinated. I’m proud of the work we’ve done.”

The Office of Disability Affairs, which serves more than 128,000 Detroiters with disabilities, is currently in Phase II of its three-year strategic plan. The department focuses on public participation, community partnerships, foundational services, disability education, and compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Recently, a budget was approved to expand the Office of Disability Affairs team.

Despite advances in technology and increasing resources, there is still work to be done to achieve universal accessibility and inclusivity, according to SMB.

“When some people see a person with a disability, they think that person needs to be fixed in the community,” Samp said. “However, inclusivity means changing the way we think that the world is disruptive and unreachable for everyone. Providing accommodations is reactive. We need to treat everyone fairly and be proactive with accessibility built into our designs, programs and events.”

Growing up as a Tigers and Red Wings fan, Samp remembers attending games while singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” with his childhood peers from SCAMP, a summer camp for children with disabilities.

In 2021, Samp began attending events at Little Caesars Arena and Comerica Park for the first time since returning to Detroit. In particular, he was pleasantly surprised that he was able to scan a QR code and set the live captions at Little Caesars Arena on his smartphone. On the field, guests can follow the live broadcast of captions on the LED board along the first base line.

“Immediately, I was able to follow what was happening,” said Samp. “I stood and screamed for joy at the same time as my teammates. We love our city and want to share the same excitement, the same sense of pride in our sports teams with other loyal fans.”

The transition to city government has been a smoother process for Samp than it may be for others entering the industry. From 2010-17, he served in the United States Senate, including as a research assistant and scholar to Senator Richard Durbin.

I wasn’t planning to start my career in the United States Senate. In fact, I was so intent on returning to Detroit and helping Detroit improve right after college,” Samp said. “But the dean of the college encouraged me to apply for a congressional internship, which then changed my view of politics. I quickly learned that I could influence the legislative process and be an asset to the legislative staff, as a person with a disability and my general political background.”

During those seven years of working with policymakers, community advocates, and voters, Samp conducted research, studying community trends, and making recommendations to influence and shape policies. It was those skills that led him to Detroit. It just so happens that his impact has gone a long way in helping people with disabilities better understand how to deal with a global pandemic.

Through it all, SAMP remains focused on helping people with disabilities thrive in Detroit, now and in the future.

“It is my life’s mission to advocate for accessibility so that individuals with disabilities are valued and have a positive experience, better than we have had in previous generations,” Samp said.

To learn more about the City of Detroit Office of Disability Affairs and to get involved, fans are encouraged to follow the office on social media. Community hearings are also available to attend. Samp can be reached via email at [email protected].

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