Shelley Madore brings a longtime commitment to inclusion to her role as the new director of the Minnesota Olmstead Implementation Office (OIO). Madore, who took the helm this spring, said that every piece of work she has done along the way has been critical toward filling her new position.
The OIO was established to assure the commitments of the Olmstead Plan, which ensures people with disabilities are living, learning, working and enjoying life in the most integrated setting.
As the parent of two children with disabilities, Madore learned first-hand about the challenges the disabled and their families face. “That led me to work with families in my school district, and learn how families, counties and the disabled operate,” she said. “I went basically from being a consumer into my legislative role, which brought me into a whole new realm of understanding. I went from seeing how people react to policy to being a policy-maker. People were looking to me to create opportunities and provide insight on an awful lot of issues.”
During her tenure in the Minnesota House (2007-2009), Madore chaired the Disability Working Group. “I was instrumental in a bill that allowed students with disabilities to participate in high school graduation,” Madore said. She said that special education students often move from school to a transition program. “This bill required the school district to include students with disabilities in graduation, whether they transitioned or not.”
Madore also served as an executive board member with Metropolitan Center for Independent Living (MCIL) for nine years. “(Former Access Press Executive Director) Tim Benjamin and I worked together on that board,” she said. Part of what they did was nursing home relocation. Madore said working with the agency provided her with a lot of experience. MCIL delivers programs, advocacy and support to people with disabilities in the seven-county region.
In 2017 Madore was named a Bush Fellow. Her work focused on creating systemic change for youth with disabilities. With her fellowship, she helped youth with disabilities achieve self-determination and self-sufficiency. She attained her B.A. in disability studies from City University of New York’s School of Professional Studies.
“It’s been a long road, and now I have to provide services in this restrictive environment,” Madore said. But she looks at the specific challenges brought about by COVID-19 as having opportunities attached to them.
Madore said that although some people with disabilities may be highly vulnerable to the virus, she doesn’t think they are any more vulnerable than other members of the population. And in living through periods of isolation, they may more easily adapt and live a life that is full.
She believes that the most scary part of dealing with the pandemic is the lack of personal care attendants (PCA) to keep people independent and living in their own households. “That is going to be a significant challenge that will affect the majority of people with disabilities,” she said.
But she is optimistic. Minnesota is one of about 18 states that has an Olmstead plan, and Madore said it is on the cutting edge for the integration of people with disabilities. Gov. Tim Walz, just a few months after taking office in 2019, issued three consecutive executive orders designed to improve the lives of people with disabilities.
“We have had some significant improvements in raising awareness about neglect, decreasing restraints in schools and hospitals and offering more opportunities for transportation and employment,” Madore said.
“We’ve been doing an awful lot of work developing a new website that is more inclusive and providing access to people. We went out into the communities and met with disabled people.” Getting their input in the Olmstead Plan is the road map she wants to follow.
“Originally, we were going to be on the road for most of the fall,” she explained. “Being at home is the most challenging thing right now.”
Madore said that coming from the perspective of being a parent, she can see every miscommunication and frustrating situation as an opportunity. “For example, when there’s a problem, we often look at it from only one angle. Because I have layers of experience, I can say ‘Wait a minute. How about it we look at it this way?’ There is a real opportunity to bring some new ideas, and work at deeper engagement with people with disabilities.”
“We can work on lifestyle change, inclusion of the disabled and equity built in as a forethought, not as an afterthought.”
Madore said she is excited to be able to bring her experience to her office. “And I have a terrific staff,” she added. “We’ll be out in the community, one way or another.”