Commentary: Olmstead Plan training must include everyone

“Training and education will be necessary to overcome inertia and resistance to change. This training must include everyone—the general public; people with disabilities; employers; the state legislature; the executive branch; and state, county and tribal organizations, service providers/employees, and government staff.” (Challenges, Weaknesses and Risks, from page 10, Olmstead Plan Draft of October 2013)

Those who have been following the development of the Olmstead Plan understand that state and federal laws prohibit discrimination against people who have disabilities; much more than just physical access discrimination. The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) the 1999 Olmstead Act (a landmark civil rights case) specifically require government entities to provide services in the most integrated setting which enables individuals who have disabilities to interact with persons without disabilities to the fullest extent possible. A 2011 federal court ruling against the Minnesota Department of Human Services involving violations of the Olmstead Act led to a settlement wherein the state of Minnesota agreed to develop and implement the Olmstead Plan. This ensures that Minnesota is in compliance with the letter of the law and what is known as the Promise of Olmstead. Under the executive order of Gov. Mark Dayton, a multi-disciplinary and cross-agency subcabinet was formed to draft the plan. The subcabinet has actively extended invitation to constituents to offer input and feedback. On October 10, the Olmstead Plan Subcabinet released the third draft of the plan. A copy can be obtained at http://tinyurl.com/olm-draft The final version was to be released on November 1 and should be available on the Olmstead Plan homepage after that date http://tinyurl.com/olm-lastfinal click on “Documents.”

The subcabinet membership appears to have taken their assignment quite seriously. Members have learned immensely from those who provided input through listening sessions held throughout the state and through written comments. They have recognized the challenges related to integration and inclusion of people who have disabilities in Minnesota. They have documented that, despite the progressive nature of services in the state of Minnesota on the whole, supports and services are not consumer-driven. Subsequently, they have drafted a most ambitious, yet doable, Olmstead Plan to address these challenges. The plan establishes an Olmstead Plan office, a timeline for set objectives to be accomplished, and meaningful ongoing input, feedback, and active oversight with strong leadership and authority. This will prevent having this advanced level of effort fall by the wayside, as have other movements, as soon as no one is looking.

That having been said, a major component still missing in this third draft of the plan is Comprehensive Training and Education. An earlier version of the plan and listening session minutes credited training, particularly training to the person with disabilities and their advocates, as being the key factor in the sustainability of the plan. This is a civil rights movement. The federal courts have affirmed for the creation of a “new normal” for people who have disabilities; a new normal where services are truly consumer-driven and where everyone knows it and abides by it without question. It is imperative that

the philosophy and “guts” of the plan and the promise are disseminated, in a meaningful way, to each and every entity identified in the opening quote of this commentary, and that it needs to happen much sooner than later. The subcabinet, now and moving forward, needs to be fully aware that some county agencies/agents, supported by unenlightened county attorneys, continue to ramrod their less-than-Olmstead-like practices and determinations on people who have disabilities and are adversely targeting anyone and everyone who will advocate for the person. One would think that all agents would have received clear direction on the philosophy of the Olmstead Promise and would be acting accordingly. After all, the Olmstead Act is in place, regardless of whether the plan is presently in place.

Comprehensive Training Now: Beginning immediately, the agents need to know that the person with disabilities knows, that the legislators know that the person knows, that the executive branches at the state and county level know what the rest of them know, and that the service providers and the general public know how things are intended and expected to work under the Promise of Olmstead. Beyond that, the same parties need to have a clear understanding as to what will happen when that promise are intentionally thwarted by any link in the chain, any link