It’s hard for me to believe that 10 years have passed since the creation of Access Press. In January of 1990, my father and a good family friend, Michael Sheehan sat in the living room and talked about starting newspaper for people with disabilities. The big questions were: Is there a need for a newspaper focusing on people with disabilities; Are there enough people with disabilities who will read the paper; and Can we find enough advertisers to financially support this new venture? I spent the next two months doing research, talking to individuals and organizations, asking those questions. The answer to the first two questions was an overwhelming yes. Everyone thought it was a great idea. All of the disability organizations I talked to mentioned that they had thought about starting newspaper but they never had the time to take on a new project. The individuals and advocates in the community that I talked to felt it would be valuable asset to the disability community. At that time statistics show that between 16 percent and 20 percent of everyone living in Minnesota had some type of a disability. That meant that there were as many as 800,000 people with disabilities and certainly we could find enough advertisers to support our new venture.
In June 1990 we started to publish, the immediate response was positive. The office started to get calls from all over the metro area, “I just found a copy of Access Press. It looks great. Where can we pick up more copies?” In the early days we were dropping the paper at about 100 locations around the metro area and people started to subscribe. Disability organizations called with story ideas, suggestions of having regular columnist and a directory of organizations. The directory which we put together originally had about 100 organizations serving all types of disabilities in Minnesota. Within two months the directory grew to over 180 organizations and the office received many calls from people who found it to be a valuable resource.
In July of 1990 the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) passed and was signed into law by President Bush. Access Press covered this historic law by printing sections of the law and analysis of what it would actually mean to the disability community. Again the community embraced the paper and started to rely on the information we were able to provide. All the next few years the paper continued to improve and respond to the readers’ suggestions which were plentiful.
As I look back the disability community and Access Press have evolved and grown. The disability community in Minnesota has rich and active history of providing valuable services and getting laws changed to improve people’s lives. But, in the last 10 years the disability community has become more powerful and more effective when it comes to advancing the rights of people with disabilities. I see more advocates and organizations working together to achieve goals which in the past may have been only dreams. A good example of this, is the Consortium for Citizens with disabilities (CCD). This group was formed in 1994 when there was a direct threat to people with disabilities and health care. The CCD has become a very respected and powerful force for people with disabilities. Today, people with disabilities are now at the table when issues are being discussed not just reacting to plans which have been prepared. A whole host of the state agencies, legislators, and even the Governor ask for advice from this group before taking any action.
Community support has always been the key to Access Press’s success. Upon the sudden death of my father in January 1996, the support I received from the community was overwhelming. A small group of community activists came to me and asked “What can we do to ensure that Access Press continues?” It was at that time that I found out Access Press was in the financial trouble, so the answer was “Raise some funds.” With that request The Friends of Access Press began raising needed cash to keep the paper going in the short run. Luther Grandquest called from the Disability Law Center offering support and asked if there was anything he could do. If Access Press was going to survive, it needed to become a 501(C)3 nonprofit so the donations from the friends could be tax-deductible and Access Press could apply for grants from foundations. Luther’s response was wonderful, he said “I’ll find a law firm to do it on a pro-bono basis; we need to keep Access Press alive”. He did just that, he found us Tracy Kockendofer an attorney at Ryder Bennett Egan & Arundel. Tracy did a great job preparing the legal documents and advising me through the process. In December of 1997, Access Press was granted its nonprofit status. Within four months of receiving our nonprofit status we received our first grant from the Headwaters Fund.
Now three years later, with the a grant from the Medtronics Foundation, the ongoing support by the Friends of Access Press and from disability organizations the paper is financially stable for the first time in its history. The readers of the paper should also be credited for its success, without them there wouldn’t be a tenth anniversary.
In the future, I hope to see increases in readership, drop-sites (in the metro area and greater Minnesota), and the number of copies that we publish each month. Depending on advertising, we could expand the number of pages from twelve to sixteen. The paper will continue its commitment to being a source and resource to the people of Minnesota.