Editor's Column - December 2009

I started last month’s column with some thoughts about the Charlie Smith award banquet. Then it was only a few days away, and I promised that this month I would fill you in on all that happened. Well, the night was a fabulous success! We had one room where the silent auction and raffle was held, and as people started filling up that room, the wall that separated the dining area from the bar and raffle area was pushed aside, revealing a massive room with tables set with flowers. The Larry McDonough jazz band played snappy tunes as people found their tables and food began to be served. The food was very good (at a banquet!)—the salad was fresh and cold and the entrées were hot and well-seasoned.

Access Press board chair, Mike Chevrette emceed and expressed the board’s thanks for all the work of volunteers and staff, both for a terrific evening and for all they do for Access Press. Then the main event began, as Pamela Hoopes from the Disability Law Center introduced Anne Henry, the 2009 Charlie Smith Award winner, to an exuberant crowd. Henry gave a captivating and thought-provoking speech, explaining the seven challenges that she sees shaping the future of the disability community. We’ve printed her remarks in this issue on pages 8 and 9. Be sure to check out what one of the most progressive thinkers in our community has to say about the road ahead.

What might seem like a small thing was one of the memorable aspects about this fabulous evening for me and others in wheelchairs: the amount of room that everyone had. I have never been to a banquet that was so easy to maneuver around; I have never been able to navigate through tables and visit people in a banquet setting like I did the night of the Charlie Smith award. Our board and staff planned this event making sure that everything would go as smoothly and comfortably as possible, and it did. Those who attended were still smiling as they left, and dozens of them had the satisfaction of having won special items in the silent auction and raffle. I’m grateful to the board and our staff, and we all extend our thanks to the hundreds of folks who attended and gave generously to Access Press.

It was great to see all the friendly faces. Thank you to all who came! One last personal note: I’m still looking forward to making all the contacts that I promised throughout the evening. I will be calling or e-mailing to set up meetings, and I look forward to them.

Gerald Walsh, who died last month, is the person highlighted in this month’s history note. We all owe a debt of gratitude to Walsh, for his research and his ability to persuade legislators to do the right thing for all people with disabilities and developmental disabilities. Walsh made history in his own lifetime.

The word everybody’s using these days to predict the upcoming legislative session is grueling. Our legislators have a lot of tough decisions to make this session. On the front page we have highlighted the position papers of the Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (Mn-CCD). Mn-CCD’s papers detail how much our legislators have to learn about the economic, healthcare, and social needs of people with all kinds of disabilities. I’m hearing that the cuts that are about to take place could be devastating for some in our community. We all have to get involved. If we don’t speak out at the Capitol, much of the forward movement on equal rights will be lost. The planned cuts to General Assistance Medical Care alone (GAMC) are going to have serious impact on many in the disability community. The unfunding of GAMC is also going to overwhelm many city and county governments that will have to assume much of the responsibility for taking care of the medical needs of the poorest Minnesotans. MinnesotaCare should not have been the answer proposed by state government as a stopgap for the unfunded GAMC. MinnesotaCare is a good program but many of the people who were served by GAMC will not be eligible for MinnesotaCare. For one thing you have to have a stable address, and for another, many of these people cannot even afford a dollar co-pay for their medications.

So let’s all do each other a favor and get involved at the Capitol. Get involved as well in the local advocacy group that most fit your needs. You don’t have to go it alone. Give them a call and ask how you can get involved. Even if you think your story is not “unique” or worthy of attention, it is! Write up a testimony of how these cuts have affected, or would threaten, your independent living and send it to the legislators. This is the most effective way of advocacy, without even leaving your house. Before you finish reading Access Press every month, review our events calendars, and plan to join many of the disability agencies that will be having days at the Capitol, as well as informational seminars that we all can attend.

Happy holidays to all readers of Access Press. We appreciate your support and wish you all good things in 2010.