Efforts to help counter educational cuts led to today’s AccessAbility

AccessAbility. Inc. is marking 75 years’ service to Minnesotans with disabilities. The Minneapolis-based nonprofit was to celebrate with a gala in […]

AccessAbility. Inc. is marking 75 years’ service to Minnesotans with disabilities. The Minneapolis-based nonprofit was to celebrate with a gala in February.

It’s striking to realize how many of our general service disability organizations came out of groups originally set up to help people with cerebral palsy. Those groups began in the 1940s and 1950s. AccessAbility is one. So is ConnectAbility, which has its roots in United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) of Central Minnesota. MSS began as UCP of Greater St. Paul.

AccessAbility began as the Cerebral Palsy Foundation, founded in March 1948 by mothers of children with cerebral palsy. Some news articles say six women were involved, others cite 11. The first president was Hellen Rocheleau, who was active in groups supporting Minnesotans with disabilities.

The foundation took shape after a funding shortfall caused the Minneapolis School Board to drop the Michael Dowling School preschool program in 1947. Dowling was then the Minneapolis Public School for children with physical disabilities.

“The 11 mothers in the Cerebral Palsy Foundation hope to be able to persuade the school board – faced by many financial demands – to reopen Michael Dowling to their boys and girls,” stated an August 15, 1948 Minneapolis Sunday Tribune article.

The group took its educational funding fight to the 1949 Minnesota Legislature, seeking more money for disabled students statewide. The group held monthly programs, with speakers, and raised funds through an array of activities.

The group in late 1953 changed its name to UCP of Greater Minneapolis, and affiliated with the UCP Association of the United States. In 1954 the local group moved into a former mansion at LaSalle and Franklin avenues in Minneapolis to  provide space for vocational and recreational program, a school for children and educational space for parents. The programs moved from smaller quarters on East 24th Street.

In 1982 the nonprofit became the Cerebral Palsy Center Inc., after what news accounts described as an amicable split  from the national UCP Association and the statewide United Cerebral palsy of Minnesota. By then the center had 44 workers, ran a sheltered workshop in Minneapolis with 175 employees, operated a preschool and an adult social development program.

Its name was changed to Accessibility in September 1987, to reflect its work to serve clients with an array of disabilities.

The nonprofit engaged in a wide range of activities and programs. One December 1985 Star Tribune article described how more than $400 in donated toys were used at a workshop designed to show parents and teachers how to modify battery-operated toys for use by children with disabilities. The five-hour workshop was sponsored by ABLENET, a center program that helped disabled children develop motor skills.

On that December day, more than a dozen volunteers made adapters for 200 toys. The adapters were connected to the toy batteries and to a control switch. The switches made it easier to start, control and stop the toys.

Countless employees and volunteers and clients have passed through the doors of what is now AccessAbility, and they are remembered on this anniversary. One to whom special tribute was paid was Bertha “Bert” Kramer, who died in 1984. She spent 22 years working with children with cerebral palsy. She was remembered as someone who started with an idea, then adapt her work to how a child responded. 

Learn more at https://www.accessability.org/

The History Note is a monthly column produced in cooperation with the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities. Past History Notes and other disability history may be found at www.mnddc.org

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