U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank’s recent visits to ProAct facilities in Eagan and Red Wing have given clients and staff a chance to learn about the legal system. In turn, the judge learned more about the jobs people with disabilities do.
Frank is known for his work in helping to shepherd along the state’s Olmstead Plan, which is required to provide community inclusion for people with disabilities.
ProAct President Steve Distchler said the organization was honored by the visits from a long-time supporter of issues for people with disabilities.
“Judge Donovan Frank has probably done more for people with disabilities in the state of Minnesota from a judicial perspective than anybody I’m aware of,” said Ditschler. “His works, his court order, the Olmstead Plan … have ramifications and impact on us, today, tomorrow and well into the future.”
“It was a great learning experience for everyone, and we were so pleased to learn that Judge Frank believes in a person-centered philosophy,” said Sally Ogren, director of programs in Red Wing. “When considering options for people with disabilities, one size doesn’t fit all. It depends on the person’s needs and desires for community involvement. That really has always been ProAct’s philosophy.”
Frank was able to meet many people during the two visits. He also shared his own history, growing up in the southeastern Minnesota farming community of Spring Valley and the interactions he had with people with disabilities that helped shape his views.
The judge received facility tours led by ProAct clients, where he was able to meet workers and hear about what they do. He was also able to speak to clients in small and large group sessions. Frank spoke about equal justice under the law, listened to people who described their work and greeted many others as he visited the facilities.
In large group sessions, Frank said he has received a number of letters and phone calls from people saying that the Olmstead Plan and the court orders have been interpreted to mean that people cannot receive services in facilities like ProAct’s, that everybody has to live by themselves or with a roommate in the community, they have to go find a job in the community, and that government is going to eliminate facility-based options. “Absolutely false,” the judge said. “It’s personal choice … one size doesn’t fit all.”
Frank also heard from several people with disabilities who are working in the community. They talked about their jobs, dreams, and achievements, as well as disappointments. One woman described an employment rejection she had received at a fast food establishment.
Staff had said it would not be safe for her to work there because she was blind. The judge also spoke about his work in teaching attorneys about disability discrimination and stereotypes, and the devastating effect these have on people. He worked to provide free continuing education to more than 1,000 attorneys, which includes a panel discussion featuring people with disabilities.
“You can’t believe what happened, training all these highly-educated people,” said Frank. A number of lawyers said to the judge, “We had no idea we were carrying around these stereotypes.”
The Olmstead case was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1999 and was followed by the court approved Minnesota Olmstead Plan in 2015. It was revised and adopted by the Olmstead Subcabinet and submitted to the U.S. District Court in February 2017. Olmstead is a broad series of key activities our state must accomplish to ensure people with disabilities are living, learning, working, and enjoying life in the most integrated setting, according to the Minnesota Department of Human Services.
With facilities in Eagan, Red Wing, Zumbrota and Hudson, Wis., ProAct is a nonprofit corporation which has served the needs of people with disabilities for more than 40 years.