The December 10, 1990 edition of Access Press had an article on page 3 about the newly passed Americans with Disabilities Act; the cover story introduced “the newest Hennepin County Commissioner, Peter McLaughlin.”
Ten years ago, both the ADA and I were new on the scene. On this anniversary, it is appropriate to look at what we have accomplished and what challenges remain before us.
Hennepin County has a role as both a service provider and as an employer. Many of the investments and improvements that we have made have impacted both of these. Over the past decade, we have spent millions of dollars on capital improvement to ensure the physical accessibility of all of our buildings. Over one hundred assistive listening kits and fixed systems have been purchased and installed. Hennepin County employs a full-time sign language interpreter at both the Government Center and the Medical Center. We offer several workshops on ADA employment considerations and providing effective customer service to persons with disabilities. Each department has appointed an ADA liaison that has received special training and acts as a resource to staff and to the public.
Some of our efforts have been recognized as exceptional. Hennepin County developed a 120-page supervisor’s guidebook containing technical assistance on the Americans with Disabilities Act. This Guide was distributed to over 1,300 supervisors countywide as part of a multimedia workshop presented within departments. In 1999, the National Association of Counties recognized this guidebook with an award.
In conjunction with the Minnesota Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) Board, local police departments, Great Tapes and local organizations serving people with disabilities, Hennepin County produced the first comprehensive videotape training program that addresses law enforcement personnel attitudes towards persons with disabilities. Police and People with Disabilities is a 50-minute video with eight scenarios that may be incorporated into police “roll call” training anywhere in the nation. It has been purchased by over 200 organizations in the U.S. and Canada, including police departments, academies, security offices and community groups. This video received the “Community Partnership Award” from the National Organization on Disabilities in 1997.
In the past decade Hennepin County has made great progress in opening our jobs and services to persons with disabilities. A countywide Task Force, including members of the disability community, developed recommendations covering reasonable accommodation/employment, public notification, effective communication, training and information. Most of the recommendations have been completed. Others, such as providing training, creating centralized resources and identifying programs and activities to improve perceptions of disability are ongoing commitments.
Despite the progress we have made, there is much more to do. The Americans with Disability Act must be defended from attempts to weaken it. Changing perceptions of disability of the public and the media remains essential. Finding employment is still too difficult for many members of our community with disabilities. Ongoing discussions about health care, transportation, affordable housing and education must include the issues of persons with disabilities.
As our society ages and more and more of us confront issues of disability, I believe that we will build on the progress that began with the battle to enact ADA. Looking back on the past ten years and into the future, we have won many battles but victory in the war remains a task for all of us.