Editor's Column - October 2015

Tim Benjamin

As an end note to my last column, 

I would like to make a few clarifications. The correct terminology is the Olmstead Subcabinet as appointed by Governor Dayton rather than a subcommittee. The Olmstead Subcabinet is chaired by Commissioner Mary Tingerthal, Minnesota Housing Finance Agency and includes a total of eight state departments and two ex-officio voting members from the Ombudsman’s Office for Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities and the Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities. I want to thank everyone involved in the mediation sessions with Magistrate Judge Becky R. Thorson and all the state agency personnel that helped develop the Olmstead Plan during this past summer.

On September 29, US District Court Judge Donovan Frank accepted the most recent version of the federal and state-mandated Olmstead plan. Frank stated in his ruling. “The Court applauds the parties for their collaboration in developing this landmark Olmstead Plan. Simply put, this revision of the Olmstead Plan is unlike any other version submitted to the Court. The Court fully expects the State to act on its promises to ensure that the Olmstead Plan will truly put the promise of Olmstead into practice across the state.”

The overwhelming consensus from the Olmstead Implementation Office (OIO) is that this is truly a victory for the disability community. I feel they’ve done a great job as well. After several versions and several requests for more explicit requirements, the OIO has succeeded. This plan maps a direct progression of specific, actionable goals and time-frames with targets to measure progress. The plan provides a blueprint that will change the way state government provides services and supports for Minnesotans with disabilities.

We applaud the work of Darlene Zangara, OIO Executive Director, Kristin Jorenby, Assistant Director, and Tristy A. Auger, Executive Assistant. They can be rightly proud of a job well done. These three folks faced an almost impossible task and they succeeded. The OIO and the entire subcabinet of eight state agencies is not yet completely finished with the Olmstead plan, since the plan is a fluid construct with goals, timeframes and outcomes that must be constantly evaluated. The plan will also be subject to public reporting under the very watchful eyes of the community and the ongoing recommendations of U.S. Magistrate Judge Becky R. Thorson. In 2016, a Quality Of Life Survey of people with disabilities will be conducted and its data evaluated to determine how integrated and engaged in the community people are and how much autonomy they have on day-to-day decision-making about their lives in the setting of their choice.

The Minnesota Olmstead plan is intended to ensure that people with disabilities have a clear understanding of all their options to enjoy life and to work and learn in the settings of their choice. It guarantees more fully integrated services that treat people with dignity and respect—not in institutions, but in their communities. The plan requires person-centered planning, which will offer information on options and honor any decision that the person makes, ideally integrated into the community, in jobs, support services, in transportation and in education. It should be noted, though, that people may make choices that are right for them. We have to remember that integration into the community may not be the choice that some individuals will prefer. We must likewise remember that each of us has our own definitions of integration and dignity. The person-centered planning recognizes this, and it is required that an informed decision by the individual is met with respect and followed. If implemented correctly, this plan will allow all of us more and better opportunities to increase our quality of life. Gov. Mark Dayton applauded the efforts of the court and the subcommittee and said, “We will continue to work hard to improve life opportunities for Minnesotans with disabilities.”

I encourage you to join me in congratulating the OIO and the subcommittee. We have to show our appreciation for the efforts of the eight state agencies that cooperated to get this plan to the point of acceptance by the court. It’s important that these eight agencies continue to cooperate efficiently, and that the legislature allots them the budgets to fulfill their implementation of the entire plan. There’s no question that this plan will be costly on the front side, but I think on the backside it will be a benefit not only to the disability community but to Minnesotans in general, including our ever-increasing community of elderly individuals.

Hope to see you November 6 at the Charlie Smith Awards banquet. We have a great award recipient in Jessaalyn Akerman-Frank, and many more causes for celebration this year. 25 years of ADA, 25 years of Access Press and now Olmstead!