Editor’s Column – June 2010

I hope everyone is having a fine summer. Even though the solstice isn’t here yet, we’ve had a great early […]

I hope everyone is having a fine summer. Even though the solstice isn’t here yet, we’ve had a great early time of it in May. We can look forward to several more months of outdoor fun. For most people with disabilities, summer is a much easier time of year to be out of doors. I like being outside with my wife and our five-year-old German Shepherd dog who is afraid of his own shadow (as well as most people and other dogs). He loves to chase and retrieve a ball, even if it’s thrown into the middle of a lake. So besides a fabulous barbecue dinner on Memorial Day we took Feivel for a refreshing and fun-filled swim in Como Lake. I didn’t roll too close to the shoreline.

Not to rush right into fall, but don’t forget that November 5, 2010 is the Charlie Smith awards banquet. Do two things now: mark your calendar, and send in your nominations for an awardee. We will be doing a silent auction and raffle again, so if you have something you’d like to donate, please get in touch with us. The award banquet will be at the Airport Marriott in Bloomington again, except this year we hope to add another banquet room for all the terrific people who turn out.

The ‘Apology bill’ that passed in this year’s legislative session is the big news this month. This is truly important legislation, and many of the fears that legislators had about lawsuits will not be borne out. I do hope that this legislation will set a precedent for further actions on behalf of people with disabilities. We have to make sure that our state is held to the letter of law in this legislation; in it the state makes a commitment to continue to provide assistance to people with disabilities in the future. 

Remembering with Dignity (RWD) is the organization that has been marking with true headstones—rather than spikes with numbers—the graves of Minnesotans who were institutionalized at death. RWD had an event over Memorial day weekend in St. Paul, explaining the procedure of identifying who was buried under a numbered spike. I participated in a mock demonstration of how the process worked. The numbered spikes were hidden in the park and we found spike #162. 

Spike #162 was a child born in 1954, a twin. We first associated the number with a name, then we checked the name with the birth certificate and death certificate. ”Kevin” died in 1958, at four years old, of pneumonia. The family could not afford to keep their child at home, given his extra needs, and his death devastated the family. Kevin’s father worked full-time at the Hormel plant to support the others in the family. RWD volunteers and staff had been in contact with Kevin’s twin sister, who remembered the family going to St. Peter’s to see Kevin, often taking him on day trips. They’d also bring him home for long weekends. In fact, two weeks before his death he had been on an outing with his family. Kevin’s mother lived with the guilt of having to give up her child, but also the worry that having taken their child outdoors on a cold day may have caused his death. This is something that no one should ever have to live with.

There are so many other individuals who were mistreated, and so many sad and even horrific stories. One of them is told in our history note this month. Please note that this month’s story is one that needs to be told, but it is disturbing and may not be appropriate for some readers. In earlier times,  many treatments that were considered to be the ”best for the  person”  would be considered barbaric today. In fact, people would be jailed now for abuse if they provided the kind of “care” that was common just 50 years ago. It’s tough to make sense of it all, and I struggle with it. We’ve still got a long way to go to reach fully humane care.     

Our good friend Pete Feigal is back and writing for us regularly. This month, with humor and Feigal style, he wrote an explorative reflection of a crisis that took place just a few years back. We have an expanded version on our Web site and the condensed version here in the June issue. I look forward to working with Pete again and reading his wonderful reflections on his life’s journeys. I’m sure that longtime Access Press readers will join me in welcoming him  back, and new readers will enjoy getting to know this talented writer.

Remember: get outdoors, and stay safe out there!