It’s time for the Charlie Smith Award banquet, a gathering that we all look forward to. It’s an evening of real camaraderie and good spirits for Access Press readers and supporters. This year is going to be extra special; we are at a new location with more space for wheelchairs and more available public transportation. We will be introducing the Access Press silent auction- with all kinds of fun items, including a vintage designer dress, tickets to all kinds of activities, and coupons for van rentals, just to mention a few. And of course we have the Charlie Smith award winner, who is someone I am very proud to call a friend.Many of you will agree. Anne Henry from the Minnesota Disability Law Center is our winner this year. Anne is a true representative of what the award stands for. She is a real inspiration and public servant for all of us, and like all of our past winners, was a respected friend of Charlie Smith’s. I know that she and Charlie were very close and that he thought the world of her and her abilities to advocate for our communities.
I recall Charlie wanting to have a sit-in at then-Gov. Arne Carlson’s office to protest cuts in the PCA program. But Charlie insisted that he needed above all to get an okay from Anne, so that the group could make sure that they would not break any laws. He also wanted to ensure that they’d have legal representation: most importantly so that there’d be someone reliable to get them out of jail if need be. I think Charlie’s intention was to go to jail that night but, as he said: not for all night! As it was, no one went to jail. The state troopers had no way to get the wheelchairs to the jail, and Metro Mobility needed a 24-hour notice, even if it was the state patrol making the request.
There’s been some controversy in the news this last month that is very concerning. A neighborhood in Centerville, in Anoka County, protested against the opening of a group home for some young developmentally disabled boys in their area. One of the neighborhood’s stated concerns was that these boys might include sex offenders. It was made very clear that none of the boys were sex offenders. They are simply young men who deserve to live independently in a community. The planners informed neighbors that there would be adult staff on hand 24 hours a day to help support and monitor the young men’s needs. It’s hard to imagine what would have taken place if it was another minority group.
Where was the outrage on these young people’s behalf? There are many who believe that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has solved all our problems, and that the disability community is not discriminated against. This is just one example of how our battle for equal rights and respect goes on.
The passing of two members of the Kennedy family in August has been a true loss to the disability community. Eunice Shriver and Senator Ted Kennedy were public leaders who worked with real commitment to bettering the lives of many, especially those with disadvantages and disabilities. Eunice Kennedy Shriver had a lifetime record of supporting and advocating for the Special Olympics, making the games a forum where people with disabilities could excel in athletics and get the accolades that they deserved for a lifetime of hard work in developing physical and mental prowess. Ted Kennedy was very involved in creating laws that outlawed discrimination against people with disabilities. He was a powerful legislator who also very obviously cared about the health of his country and about health care for its citizens. I do hope that his dream will soon come to reality with affordable healthcare for all Americans. But that’s another editorial.