Accessibility will be focus during upcoming session

Accessibility will be focus during upcoming session
Image of people at MN State Capitol

by Jane McClure

Accessibility on many levels and in many forms will again be a theme at the state capitol for Minnesotans with disabilities. Organizations are hammering out final details of bills and legislative agendas, as the clock ticks toward the January 31 start of session.

2022 may be another year where much work gets done virtually as the public health situation with COVID-19 remains fluid. Organizers are already planning for some of the usual rallies and focus events to again be virtual. Those include the annual Disability Day at the Capitol, tentatively set for February 22.

The Minnesota Council on Disability also plans a virtual event for its annual legislative forum. This year’s forum is noon-2 p.m. Thursday, January 13. The forum is a chance to not only hear the state council’s legislative agenda, it also provides an opportunity for other organizations to unveil their proposals. State legislators will be on hand and there will be time for public comment. Watch the council website for details on how to join the event, at https://www.disability.state.mn.us/

The Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MNCCD) set its 2022 legislative agenda November 16, after a lengthy process with group and individual members. MNCCD reviewed legislative proposals and ranked them through a tiered system, with more than two dozen items on the list. A supporting report outlining each issue is more than 80 pages long. MNCCD also groups its agenda items by themes, which allows proposals to complement and build on each other.

Members agree that proposals can change or move on the ranking as the session goes on. “We fully recognize that this is fluid,” said Maren Hulden.

Tier 1 items are those that the organization takes the most active role in championing, through work of contract lobbyists and consortium members. Typically only a few items are in the first tier, given the amount of work required for each.

Tier 2 items  have their legislative lead groups, but also can rely on support from MNCCD in the form of help from volunteers and lobbyists. Tier 3 proposals also can get support from MNCCD, often in the form of signing on as a supporter or writing a letter.

Three items are in MNCCD’s top tier. Mitch Berggren, who does legislative lobbying for MNCCD, said all three Tier 1 items could go far during the upcoming session. “There’s really good possibilities for all of these to get some traction and they could get across the finish line.”

One proposal is of a county and state service accessibility investigative workgroup, which is part of a package of measures championed by Autism Society of Minnesota (AuSM) and interactive process pilot program of the Disability Law Center.

The focus is individuals with invisible disabilities, and how they can access accommodations in public spaces. It builds on efforts from the 2021 session and on ongoing efforts to make everyone aware of the challenges many people with invisible disabilities face.

“AuSM has attempted to address the issue by training organizations and private businesses in sensory-friendly practices and accommodations,” the MNCCD proposal stated. “We’ve worked with sports teams, zoos, theatres and other places people gather. It’s time for our public spaces to become more accessible to all.”

After the proposal was introduced in 2021, advocates said it had a positive impact on how people viewed and discussed accessibility.

The third Tier 1 proposal is a study on obesity for individuals with intellectual disabilities. Self-advocate Kayte Barton is drawing on her personal experience as well as extensive volunteer research to highlight how people with intellectual disabilities don’t have access to obesity care and programs.

Barton has worked on the issue since 2020, discussing it with groups including Special Olympics, Arc and others. She plans to continue outreach to other groups, and sees it as providing many benefits.

The Arc Minnesota is leading efforts on the third Tier 1 proposal, the accessibility in housing bonding proposal. It would be tied to request for proposals for state bonding money. It would require housing development and rehabilitation projects to include a “meaningful percentage of physically accessible units.” The proposal include a number of requirements, including roll-in showers and a number of provisions on sound and lighting for sensory accessible units. Another focus would be keeping housing as free of scent as possible, including low-fume paints and low-chemical carpets and carpet glues.

The proposal is modeled on measures developed for accessible housing in Richfield.

Read more about additional legislative proposals in the January issue of Access Press.