When I was injured more than 55 years ago, I knew of no state services for people with disabilities. I stayed at home with mother, dad and brother. Dad, mom and brother acted as personal care attendants (PCA) for me in the early years. Then my brother was drafted into Army and was killed in Vietnam in 1967. He had been a big part of my support system.
That’s when we discovered Ramsey County services and home nurses and what they could do to help me. I learned what they could provide, mainly visiting home nursing care, but no PCA services. In the 1970s the county did assessments of needs and then would give you a grant. A CASH grant! That was to pay for PCA services.
We had a system that respected and trusted people to use the grant to buy their needed services. So I did.
The late 1970s brought a new concept. Services provided by private companies was a way to get more services at the same cost. How? Prior to the privatizing and the advent of small companies, PCAs were employees of the county, were unionized and received paid vacations and had a retirement plan. PCAs received a living wage. That twist is when PCA wages began taking a dive. We continue that dive today. So, because the law says people with disabilities must receive services from the state and county government, we have become an expensive group.
In Minnesota we have a forward-looking Department of Human Services so we have a number of waivers. Our legislature has been willing to pass programs that give people with disabilities a chance to live a rewarding life with the opportunity for greater inclusion. When we compare Minnesota to other states, many that will not even provide wheelchairs, we need to continue this practice.
Some of the outstanding benefits we have here in Minnesota are dental care. In some states they pull your teeth out and give you false teeth, because of the lower costs with false teeth. (Remember when we rallied for full coverage?)
I have this wheelchair. I’m getting a new one. It’s on order right now. A Texas mother of two children with disabilities cared for her children for more than 20 years before she became too ill to do so. Her children needed wheelchairs but because her family wasn’t considered to be needy enough for assistance, her children had to scoot
around the floor. The family is now in Minnesota and the children are getting wheelchairs.
The Minnesota disability community organized and fought to persuade our policy makers to provide us with the services we needed. Now we need to fight policy makers who only want to maintain underfunded, almost obsolete services, that don’t serve well anymore.
So, let’s fight.
-Rick Cardenas is the retired co-director of Advocating Change Together