Editor's Column - September 2014

I hope everybody who attended the state fair had a great time. The record-breaking attendance is probably related to the good weather for this year’s great Minnesota get-together. If you have an interesting story to tell about your experience, please send it to us; we want to share some fair memories online.

Our annual banquet is coming up in November. I hope you’re all planning to come to celebrate the 2014 Charlie Smith Award recipients, and have a great time visiting with all your colleagues while bidding in the always-popular silent auction. There are some great new items this year, along with some of the more popular items from previous years.

The Board of Directors of Access Press had a very difficult time choosing the award winner this year— every one of the nominees is absolutely deserving of our applause and appreciation. In this issue you can read about each one of them and the many ways they contribute to the Minnesota disability community. The award winners, Christine Marble and Wendy DeVore, of Career Ventures, Inc., have helped many deaf, blind, deafblind, low vision and hard-of-hearing people throughout the region to find rewarding employment.

On August 9, Gov. Mark Dayton issued an executive order to increase hiring of qualified people with disabilities in state jobs. Dayton is targeting a 7% employment rate by 2018, which would make Minnesota the largest employer of people with disabilities in the U.S. Over the last decade or more, the proportion of Minnesotans with disabilities employed in state jobs had declined considerably. In 1999, 10.1% of state employees were people with disabilities, but as of 2013 we had dropped to 3.2%, an unbelievable and unacceptable downward trend.

There are still many in the disability community who are on the fence as far as unionization of direct support workers. The concerns seem to vary. Some doubt that unionization will be an effective way to improve wages and working conditions; others voice concerns about clients’ freedom to choose their own support staff. Most of the questions are truly open; only time will tell. There are some statistics available from other states that have already unionized support staff, but they’re not conclusive or clearly applicable to Minnesota. While it’s clear that some other states require agencies to pay higher wages, there’s not good data on how much these states have increased their reimbursement rates to agencies.

There’s increasing talk and concern about the newly approved taxi networks in Minneapolis and St. Paul. For me, the biggest questions are: 1) Are the drivers able to understand the needs of people with disabilities and their vulnerabilities? 2) Will there be adequate numbers of taxis available for the service to be useful to the disability community?

The Honorable Donovan W. Frank, U.S. District Judge, has brought the 2011 Jensen settlement involving residents of the Minnesota Extended Treatment Options program back into the limelight. In an order the judge issued earlier this month, it seems that he, like the court monitor, continues to be unhappy with the Department of Human Services’ progress on the court-ordered settlement requirements.

The positive side of this multi-year fiasco is that the last resident of METO, newly renamed as Minnesota Specialty Health Systems—Cambridge, was released August 29, 2014. On the other side, however, Judge Frank said he was very frustrated with DHS’s non-compliance and delay in fully meeting the terms of the agreement and in progressing with the Olmstead Plan. Frank gave the court monitor two more years of oversight and more authority to report findings and make recommendations. The monitor now has the authority to apply damages for any violation and the ability to consider the appropriateness of contempt, sanctions, fines or additional relief as the monitor sees fit. The court monitor had reported to the judge that in some counties, “their services are more life-wasting than life-fulfilling.” The judge’s order makes it clear that he expects DHS to provide the individualized community supports that can maintain positive movement forward in quality of life.

We started with a cool, rainy summer, and September may bring a cool, rainy end to summer. I hope it’s not an indicator of a cold and snowy winter—but I’m getting ahead of myself. We’ll talk to you in a month.

 

 

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