Regional News in Review – August 2017

Fargo group goes on after accident Performing for Change, a Grand Forks performing arts company that operates under Self-Advocacy Solutions, […]

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Fargo group goes on after accident

Performing for Change, a Grand Forks performing arts company that operates under Self-Advocacy Solutions, North Dakota and the LISTEN Center, made a Chicago trip in July with heavy hearts. The group was chosen earlier this year to perform at one of the nation’s largest gatherings promoting pride among people with disabilities, the 14th annual Chicago Disability Pride Parade. The troupe performed versions of The Wizard of Oz and Grease.

“It was kind of a long shot, that’s what we were thinking anyway,” said Carla Tice, director of Performing for Change. Performing for change launched in 2003, when a self-advocacy group survey found many people with disabilities wanted the opportunity to engage in fine arts such as music, dance and theatre. So Tice and others at Self-Advocacy Solutions launched Performing for Change. The group has tried to include messages for social change, particularly accessibility and inclusion.

But the troupe had a reflective moment thinking of those who couldn’t make the Chicago trip. The performances came just days after LISTEN members were in a fatal traffic accident July 17 in Grand Forks. Three people were killed and several others were injured, including one performer.

A van carrying nine passengers to Grand Forks Air Force Base for jobs through the federal AbilityOne disability employment program collided with a semi and rolled. The van driver had moved from the right to left lane to turn, and was struck by the semi as it merged.

Three occupants, all from Grand Forks, were killed: Jason Boppre, 39; William Joyner, 66; and Gary Voeller, 41 were killed. Six others sustained injuries ranging from minor to critical. The crash remains under investigation. Source: Forum News Service


Legislation affects people with disabilities

Several Minnesota laws took effect August 1, including laws affecting people with disabilities. One law allows Ramsey County to select five full-time positions for a supported work program. The program is for people who need the continued support of a job coach. A full-time position may be shared by up to three persons with disabilities and a job coach.

Another law change that took effect August 1 allows Minnesota residents suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder to start buying medical marijuana. It’s the latest expansion of the state’s medical marijuana program that launched in July 2015. Patients suffering chronic pain that couldn’t be treated with other means were allowed to use the drug starting last summer, a move that added thousands of customers to the state’s pool.

Manufacturers aren’t expecting the same rush of new patients to help offset their heavy financial losses in the first years of legal sales. State data shows just 105 patients with PTSD had started or completed the registration process in the month leading up to legal sales.

Patient advocates are pushing to add even more conditions like autism, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Source: St. Paul Pioneer Press


Research funding sees key gains

After a successful pilot program for funding spinal cord and traumatic brain injury research in 2015, the Minnesota Legislature stepped up with a much bigger pool of money before adjourning this spring. The state will now make available another $5 million in grant money for researchers.

“I think this is the most dollars the Minnesota Legislature has ever put forward and Gov. (Mark) Dayton was right on board with it,” said Sen. Scott Jensen (R-Chaska), who carried the bill in the Minnesota Senate.

After a smaller amount was approved in 2015, researchers from the University of Minnesota, the Minneapolis VA Hospital and the Mayo Clinic were given several $125,000 grants for research. Jensen, who is also a medical doctor, says the research is slow, but showing remarkable progress.

“If you see some of the research projects, they’re literally able to get a person to think a thought and move an extremity… and that’s miraculous,” Jensen said. The funding, which becomes available this summer, was noted at The Wilds golf club in Prior Lake, where Jack Jablonski’s “Believe in Miracles Foundation” aimed to raise $130,000 at its annual golf tournament.

“To throw five million dollars at us, it means the world to everyone who’s in a wheelchair knowing that they believe paralysis is not permanent,” Jablonski said. He was paralyzed in a hockey game in 2011 and has raised more than a half-million dollars for spinal cord research since then. He now attends college and works in California. Source: KSTP-TV


School district is litigation target

A class action lawsuit has been brought against the St. Paul Public Schools, claiming illegal discrimination agains “foreign-born students who are just beginning to learn English.” The suit claims district policies deprive students of equal opportunities covered by federal, state and city law.

The suit was filed on behalf of two students and their parents – Mary Jane Sommerville and George Thawmoo – as well as all English language learning students. Both students are Burmese refugees who came to Minnesota from Thailand in 2012. Both students knew little English and were barely literate in their own language, making them English language learners, according to court documents. One student also has a learning disability.

The lawsuit claims that school districts must take, “affirmative steps to address language barriers for English language learners.” However, the St. Paul school district implemented policies that require English language learners to attend mainstream classes. One claim in the lawsuit is that the students were denied the ability to learn in their own language.

The class action suit also claims the district’s practices, “improperly consider students’ national origin in determining eligibility for special educational services or accommodations, and fail to accommodate students with disabilities by refusing to evaluate them.”

One student wasn’t screened for a learning disability until his parents received a medical evaluation, but even with the medical opinion, there were issues in getting a school district evaluation. The district refused to recognize that he qualified for special education services.

Court records also show that the Minnesota Department of Education found problems with the school district’s English language learners program. Source: KSTP-TV


Comedian is assault victim

St. Paul native and nationally touring comedian Josh Blue performed to a sold-out crowd Sunday at St. Paul’s Joke Joint in July. But hours later, at Hot Rods Bar & Grill on University Avenue, he was assaulted and robbed.

Blue, 38, has cerebral palsy, which he frequently jokes about in his act. He won NBC’s Last Comic Standing competition in 2006, and has since enjoyed a successful career headlining clubs.

Blue, who now calls Denver home, posted on Facebook about the assault and robbery. “I spent the night in the ER with a mild concussion.” He said the attacker — a man with long dreadlocks and a black baseball cap — made off in a maroon SUV with his wallet, which contained $700 cash, credit cards, and a driver’s license.

“He followed me [into the bathroom] and was very aggressive, asked me what I was looking at,” Blue told a Twin Cities television station. “And then he just punched me in the side of the head. If he’s willing to punch a disabled person in the head, then he’ll do that again to anybody. That’s not somebody we want on the streets.” St. Paul police are investigating the incident. No one has been arrested. Source: City Pages


Cities’ housing limits questioned

West St. Paul and South St. Paul have taken steps to restrict housing options for people who receive state assistance for being both low-income and disabled, despite Dakota County’s misgivings and questions about the legality of such a move.

Officials in the suburban communities contend that the residents call police too often and that their communities have more than their fair share of rental properties catering to their needs. “We have enough of these properties in the community,” said Tom Seaberg, a South St. Paul City Council member. “It’s not a discriminatory thing, it’s an economic issue.”

But Dakota County officials worry that the two cities’ use of ordinances to restrict housing will significantly limit options for the disabled. Others, including disability advocates, question whether the ordinances violate federal laws regulating fair housing and civil rights and conflict with laws that require disabled people to be integrated into the community as much as possible.

West St. Paul passed an ordinance in November prohibiting people who get government rental assistance and support services, a category the state calls “registered housing with services,” from living in the city’s apartments unless they’re already residing there. People receiving assistance may be mentally ill, physically or mentally disabled or elderly. The services they get range from transportation and nursing care to help with cleaning or money management.

The South St. Paul ordinance was approved earlier this summer. It allows just one unit, or 5 percent of a multifamily building, whichever is greater, to be occupied by people receiving both rental help and support services. In both cities, existing properties can retain current tenants who fall into that category, but they can’t add more.

Dakota County officials wrote city officials, stating that the ordinances restrict or prohibit housing choice for the disabled. In the letter to South St. Paul, county officials said the ordinance could further concentrate disabled people because now they can primarily live in just a few buildings that are exceptions to the city’s new ordinance. They also raised concerns that the ordinance could make it impossible to develop more assisted-living facilities for seniors, a group that often qualifies for rental assistance and social services. Source: Star Tribune




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