This month we hosted the 12th annual Charlie Smith Award banquet and were joined by a couple hundred folks in the community for a wonderful evening. Thanks to all of you who came out to celebrate Christine Marble and Wendy DeVore from Career Ventures, Inc. for their hard work at helping people with vision and hearing loss. The time goes by quickly at this event, and I always wish that I could spend more time speaking with more of you one-on-one. I hope everyone had a great time and got to win something in either the silent auction or the raffle.
The best part every year, of course, is hearing about our Charlie Award winners and their successes. As a reminder, Charlie Smith, founded Access Press almost 25 years ago, and was a strong disability community advocate. He had an influence on legislative initiatives that benefit all of us today. Charlie would be very proud of the work of these and all the past award winners.
All the remodeling at the capitol is making visits to your legislator, or attending and testifying at committee meetings, extremely difficult. Planning ahead will be much more important throughout the next several years; the renovation is not scheduled to be complete until 2017. Before the legislature convenes in January, you might want to test out your strategy for parking and maneuvering around the capitol construction.
For those of us with mobility difficulties, we’ll need to check for access to relocated committee meeting rooms. And it’s going to be difficult for able-bodied people to attend session activities as well. I’ve been told that rallies and events that usually take place inside the rotunda will be held at other locations or outside on the capitol grounds. In the winter, outside locations may not be a good option for most of us.
One important reason to make it to the capitol all winter long is to lobby for Medical Assistance. Equity in income standards and assets is again on the top of the legislative priority list for most self-advocates and disability support organizations. Last session, the income eligibility levels were increased for most people needing state-provided healthcare. However, people with disabilities and senior citizens still face the disadvantage of a 25% difference in income eligibility requirements. This year, we must insist on equity in eligibility for all people in state-run health programs. The current inequity must be re-examined and removed so that across the board, all Minnesotans needing healthcare are treated equally. Making this happen will be an uphill battle; we have struggled with this issue for many years.
Last session, the disability community was successful on the 5% Campaign that gave PCAs a boost in wages, in large part because we spoke up and told our stories. This year we have to do the same, speaking directly to our legislators and telling them our stories of being required to stay in poverty in order to be eligible for health programs. No Minnesotan should be left with so little spending power that they cannot receive healthcare and purchase the other essentials of life.
Please contact us if you’re interested in learning more about how Charlie Smith and Access Press influenced the change in how media portrays the disability community. Access Press, along with UCare, produced a documentary, The Real Story that does a great job of telling this story. It’s available for $25 and is a great conversation-starter for many community events concerned with inclusion and diversity.
Stay safe in the cold weather, enjoy Thanksgiving, and we’ll talk next month.