Again this year we had a fabulous time at the Annual Charlie Smith award banquet! Jeff Bangsberg’s acceptance speech was one of my all-time favorites. Two of our previous award winners, Anne Henry and Steve Kuntz, introduced Bangsberg to a packed crowd who gave him a standing ovation. Bangsberg told us about several experiences in his lobbying career with Charlie Smith and with many others who had helped him throughout the years. Bangsberg gave special thanks to Rhoda Becklund who had initially hired him as a lobbyist and allowed him “almost free rein” to pursue passage of many of the legislative programs and statutes for which he had a personal passion. And of course, all of the laws that Jeff advocated for offer us the independence we have today. Minnesota has come a long way in becoming the state that best guarantees its citizens that if you have a disability, you can have a good quality of life. I’m proud to say that Jeff, along with the entire Charlie Smith Award winners group, Charlie Smith himself, and so many other lobbyists, made this happen.
It was a great night, and I am thankful to everyone who was in attendance, including Bangsberg’s family, all the sponsors, Land O Lakes, NHHI, members of the State Council on Disabilities, Bangsberg’s colleagues from the Home Care Association, departmental directors and staff from the Department of Human Services, Courage Center, several PCA agencies and many of our durable good providers. Jeff was honored and applauded by so many of his colleagues, and by members of his family—including, of course, wife Anita Boucher. She looked proud and happy to have as he said, “put up with [his] quirks for all these years.” We all thank you, Jeff, for all your efforts.
A new semester is coming up at many of our colleges, and we have a couple articles highlighting the accessibility features—or in some cases, the lack of them—at many of our colleges. Some of the colleges are having difficulties with the number of accessible dorm rooms available. For years, the focus was just on accessibility for people with disabilities, but the colleges are recognizing that there are more students with short-term disabilities who need the same accessibility features that are available for people who have lived with disabilities before they started pursuing their college education. We have an article also on how service animals fit into the classroom. Many of our colleges and universities have difficulties with personal care attendants being in the classroom, so you can imagine their objections to having a service animal. It’s a simple thing to require that assistants of any kind not be disruptive to the classroom and other students, but there have to be policies in place to address these needs.
We also have an article on a very important decision that many of us will have to make and may find confusing: whether to join a Special Needs Basic Care (SNBC) health plan or to opt out and stay on traditional Medical Assistance (fee-for-service). There are many pros and cons to the issue and I would urge everyone to make a very informed decision concerning this mandated choice. I’ve been on an SNBC for many years and like it, but I can see where it would be a little intrusive for some people. There are many places online for more information; our online article will have links to many of the SNBCs and informational websites. And if you don’t have access to the Internet, the Disability Linkage Line has all the information available for you over the phone.
Finally, in his Charlie Award speech, Jeff Bangsberg recognized U.S. Representative Jim Ramstad as a mentor of his. But we can’t forget so many of Ramstad’s fellow lobbyists and legislators, including Minnesota Senator Linda Berglin. She has just retired and we’ll miss her tremendously. Let’s end the year with thanks to the many of our state and federal senators, representatives and governors who have worked tirelessly to create a Minnesota that is so inclusive for people with disabilities