Editor's Column - May 2006

This month we are beginning a series of articles on upcoming changes in the Personal Care Attendant (PCA) Program administered by the State of Minnesota’s Department of Human Services (DHS). The disability community will be impacted by these changes in many ways, but hopefully, none of these changes will impact safety and quality of care. By the time you read this issue, some of these changes will have been implemented, unless there is a last-minute postponement; but we are not anticipating that. We will continue to report on how DHS is being affected and how the agencies, PCAs and consumers are dealing with the new changes. Please send us your stories; we will print them and forward your stories to DHS and to legislators to make sure they see how these changes are affecting your independence and quality of life. I want to thank Laura Tally and everyone that contributed to this article and to the upcoming series.

May is Mental Health Month and of course, this issue encompasses such a wide array of topics that we have to apologize for only touching on a few. We all have to remember the stigmas society still attaches to mental illness and continue the pressure on legislators, health-care providers, and people in general to recognize, acknowledge and fund research and support. It is hard to convey the huge impact that mental illness has on our communities. It touches each of our families in one way or another and has destroyed many once very stable families. Thank you to all the contributors of these articles.

We have an article about the new iBot™ wheelchair that has been in the news. I was able to test the chair a couple weeks ago and was very impressed with its stability. I will have another opportunity to evaluate it in the middle of May after they have made the controls more suitable for my level of function. Moving into the standing and four-wheel-drive modes, the chair tips backwards. That made it difficult for me to reach the joystick, so we will see how well the controls can be individualized. Maneuvering up and down curbs and going across rough terrain was very easy, and I have to say kind of empowering—doing things I could never have done in a standard chair.

The iBot™ manufacturers boast of the chair being able to bring you to eye level with a standing person, giving the wheelchair user more parity in the able-bodied world. This thought kind of bothers me: first, is it really parity when the machine is raising you to the eye-level of people who are standing, or is it just another way of fixing a wheelchair user to fit into the norm of society? Second, isn’t it just as easy to be face-to-face with your peers when they are sitting next to you—and doesn’t courtesy dictate that if you are speaking to a seated person that you sit down to communicate with them? If this “standing eye-to-eye” advantage suggests that there is some kind of power in standing eye-to-eye with another individual—well, I am not sure I want to be involved with those kinds of power struggles. I am very comfortable and confident in my abilities to control the situation that I am in, in the seated position. And if someone is going to take a swing at me, I guess I would rather be closer to the ground!

We are making some modernizations at Access Press. We are developing new systems for day-to-day operations and a strategic plan that will ensure our longevity and self-sustainability. It is always exciting to make changes to create a better newspaper. If there is anything that Access Press is not doing that you would like to see us get involved with, please let us know. We are working on developing
new ways to increase our electronic capabilities using the Web site and blogs. We are also hoping to get more citizen journalists—like you—working with us on story ideas.