Editor's Column - January 2007

The 2007 legislative session has started, and we have many new senators and representatives who need to become aware of disability issues. The Minnesota Consortium for People with Disabilities has issued its position papers, and with the help of many of the member organizations, we have synthesized them into a publishable agenda. Check out your organizations’ priorities. We need to plan to make an appearance at the Capitol and voice our own concerns. The new legislators, as well as the longtime incumbents, need to be reminded of what is important to your quality of life. Call the organization that you’re most involved with and ask them if there’s anything you can do to help them at the Capitol or in their offices. Most of the advocacy organizations rely heavily on volunteerism, so do your part.

The new Secretary of State, Mark Ritchie, has pledged to continue to educate election officials on the rights of voters with disabilities and to make every polling site in the state of Minnesota accessible. You can remind your legislators that you, your friends and families put them in office because of their commitment to you, and that you will be voting again soon to keep them in office if they listen and act on your behalf.

We have an article this month concerning guide dogs and the refusal of some Twin Cities airport taxi drivers to accommodate the service animals and their handlers. The issue seems to be that some religions have specific considerations about how believers have contact with dogs. (If you know more about these religious beliefs, please consider writing a short letter to the editor to explain.) Unfortunately for these drivers, we have civil rights laws that do not violate their religious convictions; they are required to give the dog and the handler the same consideration as someone without a dog. As the story’s author says, these dogs are extremely well-trained and create no threat of physical contact unless initiated by the taxi driver.

Some of these taxi drivers are also refusing to transport any kind of alcoholic beverage. Again, this is a civil rights issue, and a taxi driver is required to render service. You’ll see in the story what is being done by the airport commission. Right now, I’m not sure that we need to do more than educate ourselves on what our civil rights are, even while we respect others’ beliefs. It might be worth thinking as well about whether an individual who is unable to fulfill their job requirements because of their beliefs should find a different occupation.

The Year in Review recaps some of our more interesting articles from 2006. (Can you believe it’s over? As always, it’s going to take me a while to remember to write 2007.) Many of the articles in the review point out accomplishments; some explain threats or dangers for people with disabilities; and still others highlight outstanding leaders in our community. The one thing that most astounds me is that throughout the year, members of our own community have written to inform one another of important issues.

I mentioned last month that we’ve got to be thinking about new approaches to meeting the challenges of the “new media” environment. One of the new approaches that a lot of mainstream newspapers are considering is “citizen journalism.” Today, citizen journalism is the cutting edge in journalism. You’ve probably seen it in larger newspapers’ opinion pages and of course in blogs and online at YouTube.com. Access Press has been using citizen journalists for 16 years. Do you suppose Charlie Smith, the founder of Access Press, realized that what he was starting would soon be considered one of the successful ways to keep a community newspaper fresh and full of the news that a community wants to read?

So let me close with thanks for all the support through the past year, and a reminder to all of you citizen journalists: No matter what the news or issues, you are always welcome to submit an article or just call or write us with an article idea. We value your input and so do your fellow readers.