July 02, 2020

Oluwaferanmi O. Okanlami M.D., named interim director of Services for Students with Disabilities

Michigan Medicine, Student Life partnership to enhance awareness of University diversity, equity, and inclusion and disability initiatives

Oluwaferanmi O. Okanlami M.D.

The University of Michigan Student Life Office and Michigan Medicine have selected Oluwaferanmi Okanlami, M.D., M.S., to serve as interim director of Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD). He also will assume the role of director of adaptive sports, a newly established unit within Student Life. 

Okanlami, affectionately referred to as “Dr. O,” is currently an assistant professor of family medicine and physical medicine and rehabilitation in the U-M Medical School. In addition, he is director of adaptive sports in the Michigan Center for Human Athletic Medicine and Performance (MCHAMP) at Michigan Medicine. The Adaptive Sports Program will move to the Division of Student Life, with Okanlami as director.

The collaborative partnership between Student Life and Michigan Medicine will enhance and augment programs established via SSD, and raise awareness throughout the university and community of disability and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) challenges and solutions.

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, Okanlami has seen, first-hand, the difference access to appropriate accommodations can make in a learner’s life. He earned a master’s degree in engineering, science, and technology entrepreneurship from the University of Notre Dame, and completed a family medicine residency in South Bend, Ind. While he identifies as a wheelchair user, he has 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,” Okanlami is focused on advancing DEI broadly, but now as an individual living at the intersection of disability and race.

“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,” Okanlami says. “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.”

A national spokesperson for Guardian Life in their “Equal and Able” partnership, Okanlami speaks around the country on topics related to DEI, including 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 director of medical student programs in the Office for Health Equity and Inclusion, he also served on the Student IDEA Board, a committee convened by the U-M Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to develop short and medium-term recommendations on disability climate and inclusion matters.

“Dr. Okanlami has demonstrated himself to be a fierce advocate and tireless worker for equal access for all members of our U-M community,” says 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. “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,” says 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.”

“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 in the 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.”

“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,” says Edward A. Hurvitz, M.D., the James W. Rae Collegiate Professor and chair of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. “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.”

Philip Zazove, M.D., professor and the George A. Dean, M.D., Chair of Family Medicine adds, “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.”