2012 could be considered a year of memorable gains for Minnesotans with disabilities especially at the state capitol. There were many self-advocates and state lawmakers who took steps to undo some of the damaging service cuts made during previous sessions, and had significant success.
It was also a year of considerable challenges. One issue that dominated the media headlines was the voter identification ballot question. Many self-advocates and disability advocacy groups opposed the proposal saying it would make it harder for many people with disabilities to vote. There was relief and celebration when the measure was defeated.
Financial difficulties continue to be felt directly by disability service organizations, which are struggle in a tough economy. Some were forced to close their doors. Others made strategic cuts or mergers.
Many community leaders were lost in 2012, included Metropolitan Independent Living Services owner David “Mike” Dreier, inventor Jeffrey Farnham and activist Karen Boersma, Boersma was the first poster child for United Cerebral Palsy Minnesota.
Fifteen-year-old wheelchair athlete Rose Hollerman sued the Minnesota State High School League. The Waterville-Elysian-Morrison High School student wanted the right to compete against runners at high school athletic events. Hollerman stars in basketball for Courage Center and is a Paralympics athlete. Her lawsuit resulted in more track and field events for wheelchair athletes and rule changes.
The Arc Minnesota warily eyed proposed cuts to special education programs, as the 2012 legislative session got underway. Some state lawmakers claimed programs caused a paperwork burden; Arc leaders and self-advocates said the cuts would gut important programs.
Partners in Policymaking promoted its self-advocacy program. Plymouth residents Jeff Pearson and daughter Abby, who has epilepsy used their training to advocate for services.
Serious injuries to two young Minnesota hockey players put the spotlight on the sport’s dangers, especially rough checking. Courage Center responded by stepping up its efforts to educate athletes about the risks of spinal cord injuries. Especially, after the SC injuries to the athletes from Benilde-St. Margaret and St. Croix Lutheran schools made the news.
St. Paul’s Thompson Hall, a historic social hall for the deaf and hearing impaired, earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. The hall, built in 1916, is now eligible for funding to preserve the property and interpret its history.
People Incorporated Mental Health Services announced it would be taking over several programs from Children’s Home Society and Family Services.
Bullies got attention, but not for being mean. “All About Bullies. . . Big and Small!” won a Grammy Award for Best Children’s Album. All sale proceeds go to PACER Center’s National Center for Bullying Prevention. Philadelphia-based Cool Beans Music produced the CD.
Maltreatment of patients at the Minnesota Security Hospital at St. Peter was scrutinized. Use of metal handcuffs, seclusion, mesh blankets and face coverings roiled the troubled mental health facility.
Lee Perish was remembered for work for theater access. As a deaf woman who also used a wheelchair, Perish made the quest for accessible performances a priority. She also was involved in a legal case against Abbott Northwestern Hospital, changing how hospitals work with deaf and hearing-impaired clients.
Family members who provide PCA care made their case at the state capitol. About 6,000 Minnesotans provide care to family members with disabilities. But they are paid 20 percent less than non-relative care providers, as a result of a cut made during the 2011 special legislative session. The cut mean some workers had their wages drop from $10 to $8 per hour.
Kathleen Martinez, a lead disability employment issues advisor to Pres. Barak Obama, appeared in the Twin Cities to discuss job opportunities for people with disabilities.
Rep. John Kriesel, R-Cottage Grove, announced he wouldn’t seek a second term in the Minnesota Legislature. The military veteran lost his legs in a roadside bombing in Afghanistan. He had worked on disability issues while he was a legislator.
State lawmakers restored some 2011 funding cuts when the health and human services bill was sign by Gov. Mark Dayton. Restoration was thanks to funding that health care plans returned to Minnesota’s coffers. Many community advocates attended the bill signing. One huge win for families who provided personal care attendant services was temporary restoration of a 20 percent pay cut.
The Arc of Mower County marked 60 years of providing service to southern Minnesotans with developmental disabilities. The group had a long history and ties to many other service groups.
News was less favorable for longtime disability service organization United Cerebral Palsy of Minnesota. Funding cuts ultimately closed the organization, which was founded in 1949.
The Minnesota Department of Human Rights announced a settlement with Greyhound Lines. Changes were made to serve passengers with disabilities, in response to a complaint filed in 2010 by Shoreview resident Mark Hughes. An investigation by state officials found that Greyhound violated the state human rights act.
Willmar resident Kevin Haakenson won the Participant of the Year award from Goodwill/Easter Seals Minnesota. He was honored at the organization’s Power of Work event. After sustaining a traumatic brain injury, Haakenson struggled to maintain work until enrolling in a supported employment program.
VSA Minnesota had to make cuts to art programs and services, due to loss of all of its federal funding. Ways to make up for the cuts were being explored.
To disclose or not to disclose? A forum on disability disclosure for employment and community integration drew a full house to Ramsey County’s Roseville library. Representatives of state agencies, employers and people with disabilities discussed whether or not prospective employees should disclose disabilities.
The 2012 Minnesota Legislature placed the question of Voter ID on the November ballot, in the form of a constitutional amendment. Proponents said requiring voters to show identification would reduce fraud. Opponents said it could disenfranchise people with disabilities.
A park in St. Paul’s Midway, Dunning Park, was eyed as the first Miracle Field site in the capital city. The field would have a cost of $250,000 and could be used by young baseball players with disabilities.
Voters prepared for the upcoming primary and general elections. Absentee voting was suggested as an alternative to long lines and crowded polling places.
The change of the primary from September to August brought additional concerns about less-than-ideal air quality in some polling places, due to hot weather and a lack of air conditioning.
Beep baseball or beepball athletes from two Minnesota teams competed in the sport’s World Series in Iowa. The Millers are the competitive team while the Fighting Lions offer a more relaxed game.
Charles “Chuck” Van Heuveln was honored by Access Press as the 2012 winner of the Charlie Smith Award. The longtime disability rights advocate, whose work dates back to the 1970s, was a leader in efforts to make changes to the Medical Assistance- (MA-EPD) Program. MA-EPD allows people with disabilities to pay a percentage of their earnings as an insurance premium toward medical services. Van Heuveln and others would have been forced to give up assets, including their homes, had changes not been made to the law.
A horse named Taco delivered food and smiles as he and his owner delivered Meals on Wheels in Twin Valley.
Courage Center’s new Todd Anderson Field in Brooklyn Park was unveiled As Minnesota’s first field for competitive wheelchair softball.
Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare and the United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) national organization announced a new partnership. Gillette would become the newest UCP affiliate and the first hospital to join in UCP’s 64-year history.
Accessible rides to the polls were promoted as the Nov. 6 general election neared. The ride program began in 2008 and was popular with voters with disabilities.
Minnesotans were proud to be among the competitors at the Paralympics in London. Ten Minnesotans competed in more than half a dozen sports, including swimming, track and field, and basketball. Seven medals were brought home by competitors. Gold medalists were won by two swimmers, Eagan resident Mallory Meggemann and Justin Zook of Plymouth.
Dale Street Place, which provides affordable and supportive housing for people with mental illness or chemical dependency, opened its doors in St. Paul. Community Housing Development Corporation purchased and renovated the property and BDC Management was in charge of operations. The building has 150 units.
The Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MN-CCD) announced its 2013 legislative priorities. One focus would be the permanent repeal of the 20 percent cut to family members who provide PCA services. Staving off additional health care cuts is another priority. Task forces spent months studying various issues and members.
St. Paul-based Handi-Medical was honored by the publication Home Medical Equipment News as the equipment provider of the year.
The Affordable Care Act requires all people to have health insurance. Minnesotans with disabilities need to be informed, concerning the upcoming health insurance exchange (method for purchasing insurance) and how it will affect them. A task force was working on details of the exchange. When the exchange goes into place, it could serve an anticipated 1.2 million Minnesotans.
In 2011, state officials estimate that more than 490,000 Minnesotans lacked any health insurance
and this will be a key target group for the exchange.
A committee working on the state’s long-awaited Olmstead Plan was seeking public comment on its interim report. The plan outlines how the state should provide services for people with disabilities. The Northland 300 snowmobile run announced its 25th anniversary.
What about Spinal Cord Society Twin Cities chapter joining forces with the U of M? That’s some pretty big and exciting news! Especially for those of us that are disabled from a spinal cord injury. Like myself, quadriplegic and ventilator dependent from one that happened 18 years ago when I was 13.