In 1973 the late Rev. Barbara Andrews appeared before a state Senate committee. She described the various kinds of discrimination she faced as a person with disabilities. A small and committed group of people with disabilities had decided to push Minnesota to be one of the first state’s in the nation to prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability and to make public transportation available to people with disabilities. Barbara noted that she had to hurry with her testimony because a cab with the meter running was waiting outside the Capitol. She explained that few cab drivers would pick her up.When she got a good one she kept him/her waiting. Otherwise, she risked being stranded at the Capitol.
Then Senate Majority Leader, Nick Coleman, jumped up, handed a page money and instructed him to go pay the driver to continue waiting.
Barbara had brought reality to what had been an abstract consideration for most legislators. The group tenaciously battled big business and successfully amended the Human Rights code. Soon after they successfully advocated for the establishment of Metro Mobility. Everywhere they went, they forced lobbyists and legislators to deal with them as people instead of as “the handicapped”.
Since that time we have seen many victories and defeats. Groups like the Federation of the Blind, the United Handicapped Federation and Advocating Change Together have consistently demonstrated that the major ingredient for success is people advocating for themselves.
While many of the architectural barriers have been removed, the Capitol remains inaccessible. Decisions dramatically impacting people’s lives are made without most even knowing about it! For example, while there has been little press on how the Carlson budget will affect people with disabilities, the impacts could be profound. Proposals include:
• $8.8 million could be squeezed out of adults who receive medical assistance by requiring them to make co-payments;
• Reductions of proposed home care services of $10.3 million;
• Scraping plans for at least 13 new group homes resulting from the Regional Treatment Center Agreement, and;
• Significant pressure to make substantial cuts in Metro Mobility.
The most effective way to assure that these and other cuts don’t become reality is by clogging the halls of the Capitol with people. Several things to keep in mind include:
* YOU HAVE A RIGHT TO BE THERE!!! Legislators are supposed to work for you (at least in theory).
• Barriers must be continually broken down and run over.
• People with disabilities are the most effective advocates for people with disabilities.
• Don’t be taken in by the talk of budget short falls. While our state does have budget problems, who should be asked to shoulder the burden? Should we cut services for people with disabilities or should wealthy people pay a little more in taxes? Which is more important, independent living or a tax break on next year’s Super Bowl tickets? (Presently Super Bowl Tickets will not be taxed – how did that one slip by?)
• Don’t just react to cuts. Continue to advocate for accessiblity – architecturally, socially and economically. Set the agenda and let others react.
• Letters and phone calls do make a difference if there are enough of them. Contact your legislator often (to find out who it is call 612-296-0504). Ten personal calls from a home district and many elected officials perceive a crisis.
• Join broader coalition efforts like MAPA’s Peoples Budget Campaign and the Invest in A Fair Future effort (for info call 612-338-1648). We must unite and fight for a fair budget AND tax system.
• Start grooming candidates for office or run yourself. Too many TABs (Temporily Abled Bodied) are in the decision making process. Remember the most powerful U.S. President of this century presided from a wheelchair.
The struggles are great. The victories are few. Yet people with disabilities have demonstrated that dramatic change is possible. This direct participation not only improves our quality of life but also expands the promise of democracy for all of us.