National Disability Employment Awareness Month and the accomplishments of Minnesotans with disabilities were celebrated Sept. 26 at the Minnesota State Council on Disability (MSCOD) annual luncheon and awards ceremony. MSCOD is a state agency that provides leadership to empower and strengthen the rights of Minnesotans with disabilities.
The luncheon featured keynote speaker Richard Devylder. In July 2010, President Barak Obama appointed him as the U.S. Department of Transportation’s first Senior Advisor for Accessible Transportation. Devylder, who has a significant disability himself, advises the department on the development and execution of effective policy strategies aimed at providing accessible transportation for all Americans.
Devylder gave an excellent presentation on emergency preparedness and warned all of us to take the necessary steps to prepare for any emergency. He stated, don’t expect the government to be there in a catastrophic type emergency, they will have other priorities than looking after people with disabilities.
He advised everyone on many of the specifics but in general take the necessary steps to fend for yourself for at least three to five days. There is a very good emergency preparedness brochure that is available to all of us from the state Council on disabilities. It is available by request.
The luncheon also featured the presentation of awards. The Minnesota Award was given to Tom Lijewski. It is MSCOD’s highest honor to a Minnesotan with a disability who has worked to enhance the empowerment and employment of individuals with disabilities. This individual has demonstrated outstanding achievements in the world of work and made significant contributions that increase public awareness of Minnesotans with disabilities.
Among Lijewski’s many accomplishments are: radio and television personality, politician, business owner, disability rights and access visionary, shaper of public policy and transportation pioneer. And all of these incarnations of his life have been fueled by his desire to enhance the lives of those with disabilities, to the end that they might chart their own destinies. Currently, Lijewski is in the final stages of ALS, yet he continues to teach several students to use assistive technology each week.
Recently retired State Sen. Linda Berglin was given the Legislator of the Year Award, for her longtime commitment to issues affecting Minnesotans with disabilities. Berglin recently stepped down to take a position with Hennepin County.
The public policy team at the Brain Injury Association of Minnesota was awarded a Certificate of Appreciation for work on the Youth Concussion Bill passed during the 2011 legislative session. This new law requires coaches to remove athletes under 18 years of age from sports events if they have symptoms of concussion; requires permission from a health care provider before these youth re-enter the sports event; calls for ongoing training of coaches and provides increased concussion information to parents.
A Certificate of Appreciation was given to Rod Haworth, recently retired, project manager at Minnesota Department of Energy and Economic Development (DEED) for the Pathways to Employment initiative. He led an outstanding team that created an infrastructure to support programming for people with disabilities. He was instrumental in creating a variety of new programs that have enhanced the opportunity for individuals with disabilities to increase the chances for competitive employment.
A Certificate of Appreciation was also given to Honor Flights. The National Honor Flight program was conceived by veteran Earl Morse, who realized that many veterans had given up hope of visiting the memorial specifically created to honor their services and fellow comrades who made the ultimate sacrifice. Morse recruited friends who were pilots and began flying veterans to Washington, D.C. To date, Southeast Minnesota Honor Flight has taken more than 900 elderly and disabled veterans from southeastern Minnesota and northern Iowa to visit the World War II memorial.
June Lacey was given a Friend of the Council Award for her work over the past 65 years to enhance the empowerment and employment of individuals with disabilities. Her community television show “Focus on the Community,” has covered hundreds of topics pertaining to the disabled and has honored heroic individuals with disabilities from all parts of America. She continually pushes for roles for actors with disabilities in theater, television and print ads.
Another Friend of the Council Award was given to Tom Hauser, political reporter for KSTP-TV and producer of the award-winning show At Issue.
Kevin Schmitz was given the Council’s Media Award for his work on the television show Disability Viewpoints. The show covers a broad range of issues of interest to the disability community. Schmitz is a municipal production facilitator with CTV North Suburbs, and until recently served as producer of Disability Viewpoints.
Cindy Sapinski won the Mentorship Award. For the past 33 years, she has guided and challenged students with disabilities to reach beyond their perceived limitations and not only succeed, but excel. In her first year of teaching she created a program to teach independent living skills. Sapinski also teaches the transition program at Intermediate School District 916, and works directly with students who have developmental disabilities as they learn skills and enter the world of work.
Robert Mingo was given the Emergency Preparedness Award. Mingo and his wife Amy recently relocated to North Minneapolis, where he grew up. He has muscular dystrophy and is in a wheelchair. In the aftermath of the recent tornado, he was a steadfast figure in the initial debris and tree volunteer cleanup effort for residents. He was involved in food distribution for 3,000 volunteers that joined the response effort, provided support services for the disaster response team and assisted with tool donations.
Don Sheldrew of the Minnesota Department of Health was given the Access to Emergency Preparedness Award. Safe access is critical during emergencies and disasters. Sheldrew is relentless in his efforts to ensure equal access to shelters and mass care facilities. He provide leadership and is responsible for organizing the upcoming training for emergency planners, responders and others involved in mass care.
The Goodrich Corporation was honored with the Above and Beyond Veterans’ Employment Award. Goodrich Corporation makes it their business to attract veterans as employees, advertising job opportunities to veterans via Minnesota Workforce Centers and other vet-friendly employment resources.
Navarre Corporation won the Small Employer of the Year Award. Since 1996, Navarre Corporation has employed three to four people with disabilities as mailroom clerks. Navarre considers their mailroom crew an integral part of their team, and as their business has expanded over the past 15 years, so have the duties of mailroom employees.
Target/Edina won the Large Employer of the Year Award. Chris Simon and Rosie Boran at the Target store in Edina have not only done an exceptional job at employing people with disabilities at their store, they have also set the bar for other area Targets to follow suit. They have carved out niche roles for everyone based on abilities and never failed to consider someone who could not operate dangerous or technical equipment.
MSCOD also honored its own. One person singled out was the late Ed Butterfass. He served three terms on the state council. Butterfass also was active with a number of other organizations including Agri-Ability and Assistive Technology Minnesota. Butterfass continued to farm after he became disabled, and was known for his sense of humor and commitment to improving the lives of people with disabilities. The council also recognized outgoing council member Ken Rodgers, who served two-three year terms.