Rules changes eyed warily, traumatic brain injury program outlined
Advocacy groups were rallying to block proposed new rules which would make it more difficult to move people from nursing homes back into their homes or other living situations. The rule allowing for 180 days of coordinated relocation services was eyed for a change to 60 days. The Metropolitan Center for Independent Living (MCIL) Nursing Home Relocation Program, which helps many people make the move from nursing homes, was raising awareness about the proposed change. In an interview with Access Press, MCIL Relocation Program Manager Eva Hansen indicated that 70 percent or more of relocation cases take longer than 60 days. The story featured Toni Mitchell, who had just moved back to her home in St. Paul after a nursing home stay with the help of the MCIL program and the funding from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS). UPDATE: A moratorium was passed to put the 60-day limit on hold. The 180-day period is still in effect until April 2009. Hansen said they are still waiting to see what the new federal administration does with the time period.
Also in the news: A project at the state women’s prison in Shakopee was tracking rates of traumatic brain injury (TBI). State officials were screening inmates for TBI and working to provide improved services in prison and in the pre-release transition for inmates.
A new chapter of ADAPT was forming in the Twin Cities. Organizer Galen Smith answered reader questions about the 25-year-old grassroots disability advocacy organization. Community members were urged to get involved with caucus night, the first step toward the November election.
Legislative preview, new Arc leader named
The Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MN CCD) prepared for the 2008 legislative session, which began this month. Healthcare reform, transportation needs statewide, caregiver tax credit and other issues were to be brought forward at a time when the state faced a general fund deficit of $373 million. The MN CCD was encouraging everyone to follow these issues and get involved in the legislative process. The MN CCD was working with its plus-100 member groups on a wide range of policy issues.
Also in the news: Pat Mellenthin was named to head the Arc of Minnesota. She replaced Steve Larson, who became the agency’s director public policy. Mellenthin had previously worked for the agency’s branch in southwestern Minnesota. There she worked on the successful merger of several local chapters into a larger regional group. The Arc of Minnesota is a statewide nonprofit organization that supports and advocates for people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities.
Colorado native Carrie Ann Lucas and her legal battle with Kmart made the news. The lawyer, activist and mother of three took Kmart to court in a class action lawsuit, which resulted in a $13 million settlement. Kmart made many changes to its stores as a result of the lawsuit.
Advocating Change Together (ACT) and its Disability History Exhibit were invited to the Hungarian Eotvos Larand University and other destinations. ACT Co-Director Rick Cardenas said he hoped the traveling exhibit would help ACT make connections and spread the word about disability as a human rights issue. UPDATE: The trip was featured in the November issue.
Artists display wares, beauty redefined
The Institute on Community Integration at the University of Minnesota hosted an art show featuring works by artists with developmental disabilities. Artists were from Partnership Resources Inc. The show was held at Pattee Hall for four months and was begun with an open house where many of the artists were on hand to discuss their works. The artists received art instruction and studio space at PRI’s facilities. Several of the artists were pictured with their works. Some of the artwork was able to draw good prices for the artists.
Also in the news: In another front page article, readers met Tiffiny Carlson. This young woman is out to redefine the American concepts of beauty. The successful free-lance writer, who lives in Minneapolis and uses a wheelchair, wants to change stereotypes about persons with disabilities and standards of beauty. She has written for many Web sites and national magazines and has her own blog, Beauty Ability.com. She also writes the Tiff’s Corner column on the lovebirds.com Web site, dispensing relationship and dating advice. Her blog and other Web articles have generated many comments and much debate among community members. “Over the years as a dating columnist, I’ve pretty much figured out one solid thing: The problems people with disabilities face versus the dating problems people without disabilities face are not that different. We all experience loss, jealousy and betrayal no matter how good-looking we are.”
The Work Incentives Connection provided information about how to receive federal economic stimulus checks and what the eligibility standards are.
U.S. Senate candidate Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer was seeking input on disability issues at a listening session.
Disability Day drew crowds, Social Fun-Joyment
Disability Day activities at the state capitol drew a large crowd. About 360 people attended the sessions and visited legislators. Participants came from around the state, including many organizational representatives, self-advocates and family members of persons with disabilities. They learned about a variety of issues that were in play during the 2008 legislative session and how they could help. Participants also attended a rally to protest looming state budget cuts. Many participants feared a repeat of the 2003 session, when the state budget was balanced on the backs of those with disabilities. The state budget projected out for 2009 had ballooned to $935 million. Governor Tim Paw-lenty was proposing numerous cuts that would affect the community, including a schedule cost of living adjustment, caps on growth of waiver programs and limits on the growth of Minnesota Disability Health Options (MNDHO).
On a lighter note, The Social Fun-Joyment Program was featured. This program is a unique therapy program for teens with Asperberger’s Syndrome and highly functioning autism. Reach for Resources was offering five groups and planning to add several more. Participants got to meet other teens, participate in fun activities and develop social skills.
Also in the news: West African musician and dancer Sidiki Condo was making a return trip to perform in Minnesota. Despite polio and the loss of the use of his legs, this talented man and his dance group perform around the world.
Accessible Systems was showing off its Adjust-A-Sink, which can be used in hair salons to better accommodate customers who need the sink to come up to their neck and head height.
Health reform sought, team a winner
As the newspaper went to press, health care reform was still being debated at the state capitol. The main sticking point was how to pay for changes to the system and how to expand coverage to more uninsured Minnesotans. Governor Tim Pawlenty wanted top use some of the Health Care Access Fund to help cover the state’s budget deficit. Legislators wanted to use the funds only to pay for health care. Other ways to streamline the health care system were being sought. Another focus was on how health services are paid for and how the true prices for services are addressed. Much of the discussion focused on making the health care system as transparent as possible for those wishing to compare services and providers.
Also in the news: The Courage Center’s Junior Rolling Timberwolves varsity wheelchair basketball team was honored for placing first in a national tournament in Seattle. The group, which includes nine boys and girls ages 13-18, was honored by state lawmakers during a visit to the capitol. Much of the news had a global feel.
Advocating Change Together (ACT) leaders traveled to Doha, Qatar to attend the Third Annual International Form on Disability. There they met with more than 250 others to discuss disability issues. Meanwhile back home, a delegation from Zambia was visiting the Twin Cities to meet Minnesota disability community members. Arc, Fraser, the University of Minnesota Institute on Community Integration, St. David’s Child Development and Family Services, and Opportunity Partners hosted the delegation. The group visited for two weeks and studied self-advocacy, policies and services.
Session wrap-up showed gains and losses
The 2008 session of the Minnesota Legislature wrapped up with the usual flurry of activities, late-night sessions and compromises. The disability community saw gains as well as losses. Much of the session and the work of state lawmakers were overshadowed by the $935 million budget deficit. The biggest challenges for persons with disabilities during the session were the budget deficit, as health and human services had been targeted for substantial cuts. As a result home and community-based waiver services limits were set for persons with traumatic brain injury and for persons eligible for nursing home care. Limits mean more people will have to wait for services. Education for persons with disabilities also faced challenges during the session. Gov. Tim Pawlenty vetoed the E-12 Educational Policy Bill and the E-12 Omnibus Education Budget Bill. Only a handful of items eventually did pass, including an increase of $51 per student in state aid. Also, a special education task force continued its work with the goal of making recommendations by February 2009. This group is charged with comparing federal and state requirements, and recommending which state laws should be eliminated.
Also in the news: Michael Cohn described the ways disability group listservs could connect community members who want to share information.
The first Service Dog census was underway, to count the number of service dogs in the United States. UPDATE: The Service Dog Census project is on hold while a new funding source is sought. Organizers hope to start it up again soon. Keep track of the project at www.censusproject.org
Light rail access a concern
The proposed Central Corridor light rail line was well into the planning stage yet few people were speaking out about platform and train access issues. The 11-mile rail line, which will connect downtown St. Paul to downtown Minneapolis and the Hiawatha line, was the focus of a series of public meetings over the summer. One issue that had to be sorted out was how plans for public art at the stations would affect rider access and ease of use. One challenge with the Hiawatha stations is that stations aren’t laid out in the same manner and can be difficult to navigate. Advisory committees were pushing the Metropolitan Council hard on issues of access, according to Metropolitan Council Chairman Peter Bell. Station design, space on platform and access to the stations built in the middle of the street were among the issues of concern.
Another front page story focused on cuts to Living at Home/Block Nurse programs around the region. Some of the programs lost state grant funding and had to lay off staff. The programs are praised for keeping persons with disabilities and senior citizens in their homes, by providing home nursing care and other needed services.
Also in the news: Changes were announced that make Minnesota elections more accessible to disabled voters, including new equipment and changes in how voters can be assisted at the polling place. Campaign ads also got a makeover thanks to a change in state law that requires political advertising to have closed captions. That benefits Minnesotans who are deaf, hard of hearing or deafblind.
Skyway access is debated
St Paul skyway access was generating debate at St. Paul City Hall and throughout downtown. The City Council had recently adopted regulations calling for skyways to be open between 6 a.m. and 2 a.m. but many building owners were asking for exemptions to the rules. Closing segments of the skyway system would mean that persons using the skyways at night or in the early morning hours would have to navigate to an elevator to get to street level, then find another open door and elevator to get back into the skyway system. Building owners argued that requiring longer hours would add to their security, utility and maintenance costs. This summer the council began hearing exemption requests and voting them up or down on a case-by-case basis. One factor in making the decisions is whether a segment of skyway is a connection to housing or parking facilities that need more access. UPDATE: The City Council, assisted by an advisory committee, continued to hear and vote on access request throughout 2008.
Also in the news: The September and November elections were already on many community members’ minds as they made preparations to vote. The prospect of long lines in November prompted a push for more information about absentee voting and how it can be an option for persons with disabilities. Readers learned how to obtain an absentee ballot and where they could see an AutoMark voting machine demonstrated.
Proposed changes in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) were being debated. Pictures from the United Cerebral Palsy Golf Scramble showed many people having fun in the sun. Soldier-triathlon participants aided disabled comrades through the TRI-N-Help Program.
Movie premieres draw attention
For very different reasons, two movie premieres captured the attention of community members. The movie “Tropic Thunder” was released despite protests from activists and community members objecting to the release of a movie full of “retard” slurs. The movie was picketed at locations throughout the nation.
The documentary “Offense Taken” was released to cheers. It was produced locally by the Self Advocates of Minnesota (SAM) and filmed and directed by Jerry Smith of the Institute on Community Integration. The film was a response to a 2007 Brave New Workshop presentation that also used the R-word. A number of community meetings led the docu-mentary’s creation. It followed activists over a 16-month period as they organized around the issue and the concerns use of the slur raised.
Also in the news: Finding gainful employment and adaptive services were among the barriers disabled job seekers were facing. The Statewide Independent Living Council, Minnesota State Rehabilitation Council and Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) hosted the forum, which drew numerous individuals with disabilities. They detailed the struggles they have had in finding gainful employment, especially in a challenging economy and widespread job loss.
National Ataxia Awareness Day was publicized with a profile of two brothers who struggle with the condition. The Open Doors and Open Hearts conference would provide information and support for groups and individuals who work with recently released inmates. Mai Thor began her column on her pregnancy and how the notion of being pregnant and disabled provoked different responses in people.
Target settles lawsuit, election previewed
Target Corporation settled a lawsuit with the National Federation of the Blind over Web site access. Lack of accessibility for customers who use screen readers was at the center of the lawsuit, which was filed in 2006. The settlement resulted in changes for the Target Web site and $6 million set aside for lawsuit plaintiffs to share.
Target and NFB officials announced that they were satisfied with the settlement and that they hoped this would better serve visually impaired Web users. Web site access for persons with visual disabilities was also the subject of this month’s Web sitings column.
Also in the news: Access Press published an extensive elections edition in preparation for the Nov. 4 national, state and local elections. Readers got an overview of presidential candidates’ positions on disability issues, an explanation of how to use the AutoMARK voting machines, a guide to candidate forums and other information needed for what turned out to be a historic election. Voters were encouraged to cast absentee ballots to avoid long lines.
National Disability Awareness Month was marked in October with an effort to make more Americans aware of disability-related issues and to highlight the many contributions persons with disabilities make to society. Congressman Jim Ramstad won the 2008 National Courage Award, presented by Courage Center in recognition of his years of work on behalf of the disability community. Other award winners honored at the gala event included; James Mastro, Eric Rasmussen, Greg Saylers and Tim Benjamin who received awards from the Phillips Foundation.
ADA Amendments Act, ACT trip detailed
The significance of the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) Amendments Act was outlined. The act, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2009, restores the ADA to its original intent. More than 200 organizations throughout the U.S. lobbied for Congress to make the changes to the ADA. The ADAAA basically undid a number of court decisions and federal actions that had undermined the ADA’s intent since the ADA was adopted in 1990. Advocates hailed the changes as long overdue.
Also in the news: ACT (Advocating Change Together) transported one of its disability history walls to Europe to be displayed at a Hungarian university ACT, Co-Director Rick Cardenas then had the opportunity to speak to European groups about the wall, disability issues and attitudes directed toward persons with disabilities. The rights of persons with disabilities are an issue of worldwide importance as this trip indicates.
Speaker, writer and artist Pete Feigal was honored as the 2008 Charlie Smith Award Winner. The award is given annually in recognition of founding Editor Charlie Smith.
The brutal attack of Justin Hamilton, a developmentally disabled man, was detailed. The Lakeville resident was attacked and tortured by a group of people he considered to be his friends. Five people were charged in connection with the attack. (UPDATE: One of the people involved in the attack pleaded guilty in late November.)
The History Note column focused on the story of Richard Brown and Marilyn Blom, whose friendship began when Brown was a resident at the Faribault State Hospital. In the early 1960s Blom helped Brown by developing a positioning hardness that allowed him to sit up. The two friends recently reconnected.
Thanks to Rep. Madore
The disability community said a heartfelt thank you to outgoing State Rep. Shelley Madore. The Apple Valley DFLer, who had lost her bid for another term in the Minnesota House, was honored at the annual Minnesota State Council on Disabilities banquet and awards ceremony. Madore told the group she appreciated the ability to make a difference. She is the parent of a son with autism and a daughter with spinal bifida. Madore was inspired to run for office after the state cut budgets in 2003. She saw many parents of children with disabilities struggling after those cuts were implemented. The banquet also highlighted many individual and group accomplishments with the presentation of awards.
Also in the news: Disability advocates from around the country watched a situation unfold in Iowa, where parents and adult children were trying to prevent disabled family members from voting. A developmentally disabled man from a Grinnell group home was allowed to vote against his mother’s wishes. In another case, a woman challenged her elderly mother’s right to vote.
The need to provide better access to crime alerts and crime prevention tips is the focus of 2009 legislation proposed by State Rep. Paul Thissen. Some of the alerts are difficult for everyone to receive in a timely and accessible manner. Comments from the community were sought in preparation for the upcoming session.
Also in the news: The UCare Fund announced its grants for 2008. Seventeen community grants and two research grants were awarded to Minnesota organizations that address disability and diversity issues, and promote healthy lifestyles and medical care.