Time flies! Another year is in the books, so here is our annual look back at what Access Press covered in 2022.
The year began with optimism about the 2022 Minnesota Legislature, especially from disability organizations and institutions seeking state bonding. One set of asks came from the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf and the State Academy for the Blind. Requests included support for dormitory renovations and improvements to older buildings. But hopes of a bonding bill faded by the session’s end.
As of January 1, St. Paul-based Altair Accountable Care Organization (ACO) became an independent 501(c)(3) organization. Altair ACO began in 2013 with six home and community-based providers who joined together to share best practices, resources and information to provide better outcomes at less cost for clients. The collaborative grew to 14 providers supporting more than 20,000 Minnesota individuals with disabilities who have waivered services.
Disabled students at Hamline University were raising issues about access and equity, with some students transferring to other schools.
Electronic visit verification was being rolled out, but not without concerns about the federally mandated system. The system, intended to curb waste and fraud, was seen as a potential detriment to hiring as employees might object to being tracked.
The 2022 Minnesota Legislature was being asked to address the dire staff shortages Minnesotans with disabilities faced. A variety of solutions were proposed for state lawmakers to consider.
The Minnesota Council on Disability was among groups seeking additional state resources at the capitol. Council leaders pointed out that funding and staffing hadn’t kept up with demand for services.
Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Kris Ehresman was stepping down. Several state lawmakers also announced that the 2022 session would be their last, eventually leading to a mass exodus at session’s end.
ProAct program participant James Gelking was honored for 40 years with the nonprofit. He had many programs and activities under his belt, and enjoyed enrichment program classes and activities.
City leaders throughout Minnesota continued to debate about drive-through services such as coffee shops, pharmacies and fast food spots. A St. Paul Starbucks had removed a drive-through that had caused traffic tie-ups. Minneapolis officials were battling with the prospective operators of two shuttered fast-food restaurants over their quest to bring back drive-through service. While pedestrian advocates applauded the measures to cut back on drive-through services, people with disabilities who often rely on drive-through services for basic needs were worried.
Making disability community voices heard at the Minnesota capitol continued to be a virtual process. Two of the regular session’s largest rallies, Disability Day at the Capitol and Mental Health Day on the Hill, were held virtually. Those at both rallies called for state lawmakers to spend some of the budget surplus on disability needs. At both gatherings needs were voiced for supportive and accessible housing of all types.
Chrestomathy celebrated its new facility in Minnetonka.
One highlight of the Beijing Paralympics was a device made in Minnesota. Snowboarder and medalist Mike Schultz got to see other athletes using his inventions, the Moto Knee and Versa Foot. He is the founder and owner of St. Augusta-based BioDapt.
Many people with disabilities lack job opportunities and have had their housing upended because of Minnesota’s dire worker shortage. Service providers and allies were hoping that their needs will be addressed. More than 1,000 people from around the state and from local disability service organizations recently took part in rallying for legislative support during Disability Services Day.
A disability jobs creation program, poised to launch this summer, faced an uncertain future with the loss of its proposed space. Highland Popcorn was to announce a partnership with University of St. Thomas in St. Paul to use part of a campus building. But Highland Popcorn was informed that the business relationship was terminated.
Longtime WACOSA leader Steve Howard announced his retirement plans.
The legislative session drew to a close with much uncertainty over many disability-focused bills. One bright spot was when Gov. Tim Walz signed a bill funding ALS research, honoring Sen. Dave Tomassoni (I-Chisolm), who was battling the disease.
The care crisis, the health care worker shortage and rising rates of worker burnout, were documented in a Minnesota Department of Health survey and report, Minnesota’s Health Care Workforce: Pandemic-Provoked Workforce Exits, Burnout and Shortages. It highlighted the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on most of the licensed health care workforce in Minnesota. The report drew on a survey given at the time of license renewal for “frontline” providers including physician assistants, respiratory therapists, pharmacists, nurses, physicians, mental health providers and others. The report raised red flags in Greater Minnesota, where many workers indicated that they wish to retire in a few years.
The nonprofit Young Dance inspired a book about a dancer with disabilities.
PACER Center cofounder Paula Goldberg was remembered after her death as a compassionate yet tenacious champion for children with disabilities. She played a key role not only in building PACER Center, but in the national parent advocacy movement.
Excitement was already building for the 2026 Special Olympics. It was a proud day for athletes with disabilities as the announcement was made, led by Special Olympics Minnesota. The games will bring together athletes, coaches and fans who will showcase inclusion, competition and how to unify the world through sport. In June 2026, the Twin Cities will host as many as 4,000 athletes, 10,000 volunteers, 1,500 coaches and 75,000 fans from all 50 states, parts of Canada and the Caribbean.
Special Olympics is the world’s largest sports organization for children and adults with intellectual and physical disabilities, providing year-round training and activities to 5 million participants in 172 countries.
Special Olympics Minnesota sent a record 145 athletes to the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games, held in Orlando. During the closing ceremonies, the torch was passed literally and figuratively to Minnesota.
Central Minnesota’s Independent Lifestyles celebrated 25 years of service.
Minnesota’s legislative session had ended with chaos and disappointment, as many key bills weren’t passed at the end. Mental health fared well but other focus areas did not. Hopes were slim to none for a special session.
Accessible Adventures Await! was the theme of the annual Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) celebration in July. The virtual celebration highlighted the many ways that Minnesotans with disabilities could enjoy the great outdoors. Accommodations are available for a wide range of disabilities and at many parks and recreation areas throughout the state. Radio host Moon was the emcee and the event featured many special guests. The ADA was 32 year old in 2022 and Minnesota’s celebration was one of many held around the nation.
The groundbreaking Partners in Policymaking Program celebrated 35 years of work with self-advocates, with a reunion and anniversary event that drew a large crowd. One feature of the event was the display “Inclusion.” The Partners program also celebrated the graduation of another classes and announced that it would take applications for 2022-2023.
Metro Mobility and its clients were dealing with the challenge of service reductions throughout the system.
MOHR honored direct support providers who make a positive difference in the lives of their clients. Lynn Megan was feted with the “Tip of the Spear” Award for her work in advancing MOHR’s efforts. Megan is president and CEO of TSE, Inc. and a longtime MOHR board member and volunteer.
Longtime WACOSA employee Nancy Betts was named executive director of the disability service organization.
Can Do Canines was training another group of service dogs to fly with their people on commercial airlines, using a flight simulator.
Longtime Access Press Executive Director Tim Benjamin was mourned after his death. He was remembered as someone dedicated to shining a light on issues affecting Minnesota’s disability community. He also championed the rights of people with disabilities and used his own experiences to make key points. He was one of the first Minnesota journalists to shed light on the direct support staffing crisis. Benjamin had worked at Access Press for more than two decades. He was 69 and lived in Arden Hills.
His death saddened those who had followed his health challenges since 2019, and had cheered on his progress. “Tim Benjamin was a real asset to the disability community,” said Access Press Board Chairman Joel Ulland. “He had an ability to connect with everyone he met and use the power of the newspaper to make positive changes for people with disabilities. He will be missed.”
Another sad loss was that of Mike “Chevy” Chevrette, who championed employment issues and wrote travel guides for people with disabilities. The Michigan native was an active community volunteer including service on the Access Press Board.
Planning ahead was urged, to make the Minnesota State Fair a more enjoyable experience for people with disabilities and their family and friends. Minnesota State Fair Accessibility Services offers many services for fairgoers with disabilities. Access Press worked with fair staff to print the annual disability dining guide.
Gummies and chews were rolled out as the latest additions to the state’s medical cannabis program.
After almost six years, a lengthy class action lawsuit was coming to an end. The lawsuit, centered on living choice, should allow more than 1,000 Minnesotans to move out of group homes and into community settings. A preliminary settlement was announced by the Minnesota Disability Law Center. The case goes back to federal court this month.
Getting to know guardianship was part of a series of articles Access Press presented on voting and voter rights for people with disabilities. Guardianship is one of the most complex issues people with disabilities face. The series was sponsored by the Minnesota Council on Nonprofits.
The Minnesota Council on Disability paid tribute to its outstanding advocates, including legislators and dedicated community volunteers.
The Lake County DAC held a delayed 50-year anniversary celebration. The North Shore disability service agency had gone through many changes over the years.
Sen. David Tomassoni was one of many community figures who had died. Tomassoni, a veteran iron Range legislator, died after a battle with ALS. Wheelchair racer and activist Gary Weber was remembered for his advocacy and his work to promote wheelchair racing. Bruce Ario used his experiences with mental illness and traumatic brain injury to advocate for himself and many others. Benjamin “Benny” James was a well-liked reader for Radio Talking Book.
Moving disabled people out of subminimum wage work and into better-paying jobs is the goal of an $10.5 million initiative. State grants to service providers throughout Minnesota will help people earn competitive wages and ultimately, live more independently.
Funding was approved by the Minnesota Legislature in 2021 and was allocated by the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS). Provider Reinvention Grants went to 22 employment services providers. The University of Minnesota’s Institute on Community Integration received funding to provide statewide technical assistance, engaging with job seekers and their families, and helping providers with training and toolkits.
Seven Minnesota human services organizations were recognized for their commitment to providing housing, economic assistance, food, health care and other essential services to the state’s residents. The first award presentation was to Housing Matters in Bemidji, for its work to address the community’s growing housing crisis. Housing Matters’ mission is for every disabled person experiencing long-term homelessness to have a stable living environment in the community of their choosing, whether living alone or with family members. The group was a winners of the Commissioner’s Circle of Excellence Awards from the Minnesota Department of Human Services.
Access Press was preparing its new and improved website, highlighted by a presentation by disability community activist Belo Cipriani.
Disability advocacy organizations and their allies were putting the finishing touches on legislative proposals. Much focus will likely be on issues around the state’s support staff shortage.
Advocates will be back with an array of familiar asks, including higher wages, the ability for staff to be compensated for driving time, overtime pay, training and more. Competitive wages continue to be worrisome.
But looming over all were questions about the makeup of the 2023 legislature and state offices. All were on the ballot, and with retirements the capitol was facing one of its greatest changeovers in decades.
Vision Loss Resources’ move to its new home brought back memories of the early groups that supported services for the blind and those with other visual disabilities. The Mutual Aid Blind Association of St. Paul, founded by the city’s Council of Jewish Women, became an independent group 100 years ago.
St. Paul’s Hamm Clinic unveiled new office space.
Northfield-based Laura Baker Services celebrated 125 years of making life better for people with disabilities. Originally the Laura Baker School, it changed with the times to provide services for people with disabilities in that part of the state. It is said her spirit is still at the organization’s headquarters.
Jan Malcolm was stepping down as Minnesota Commissioner of Health. Her service and leadership, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, would be missed. She is also saluted for her long service to Minnesotans with disabilities.
Deafblind Poet John Lee Clark announced another publication of his work, the book How to Communicate.
Renae Oillette, who had recently retired from Lakeville Public Schools, was honored for her many years of service in special education. The group, Minnesota Administrator for Special Education, gave her an award for outstanding leadership.
NAMI Minnesota presented its annual awards to people who had a positive impact in the state’s mental health community.