Looking back at 2021, another year in the pandemic

Looking back at 2021, another year in the pandemic

by Access Press staff 

2021 is in the books. It was a year of many challenges as well as key gains for Minnesota’s disability community. It was also a year when several key leaders were mourned. 

Enjoy our annual look back and visit past stories at www.accesspress.org 

January 2021 

The Minnesota Legislature had an early January 5 start. Most session work was done virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Vaccines brought some measure of relief, but there were worries that it could take many months to have protection for all. How priorities were set was debated. 

Maynard “Bo” Bostrom was remembered as a key figure in the development of housing options for people with disabilities, and for his work with Accessible Space Inc. 

February 2021 

Minnesota had lost eight disability service providers and was in danger of losing more due to the pandemic. Closings in rural area left people especially isolated, without income and in danger of losing skills. 

St. Paul Police Department’s COAST Unit was hailed for its work with people in mental health crisis, serving as an alternative to the typical law enforcement response to emergency calls. 

New leaders took the helms at MDI, Living Well Disability Services and BlueSky Designs. 


Self-advocates fought a funding cut to spinal cord injury research.

March 2021 

People with Down syndrome raised red flags about COVID-19 vaccine priority. Those living in the community and not in group homes had to wait despite being immunocompromised. Families and the Down Syndrome Association of Minnesota raised issues of health and equity in urging vaccines for those with Down Syndrome. 

Spinal cord and traumatic brain injury research was jeopardized by a looming state budget cut,. 

The MS Society celebrated 75 years. 

Nina Harrison was crowned Ms. Wheelchair Minnesota. 

April 2021 

Rick Cardenas was mourned as a fearless champion for people with disabilities after his death. Cardenas was a fixture at the state capitol and a mentor to many other activists.  

It was the end of an era in Minnesota disability circles with the retirement of Bob Brick: co-founder of the Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MNCCD), public policy expert, board member and leader of various disability service organizations including ALLY People Solutions. 

May 2021 

Clifford “Cliff” Poetz’s many accomplishments were recalled after he passed away. He was the first person with a developmental disability to testify before Congress and was a well-known and eloquent self-advocate. 

A May 17 bill deadline was looming at the capitol as advocates and state lawmakers raced toward the regular session finish line. 

Lutheran Social Services and St. Paul-based Lifetrack Resources prepared for a summer merger. Lifetrack began in 1948 as the St. Paul Rehabilitation Center. 

June 2021 

The clock ran out on the Minnesota Legislature with no budget or major bills passed, so it was off to a summer special session. The best Gov. Tim Walz and state lawmakers could do was reach agreement on general budget targets. 

Minnesota remembered a pioneer in recreation. James Alan “Jim” Christy was remembered after he lost a long battle with cancer. Christy was considered to be one of the fathers of adapted prep sports in Minnesota.  

July 2021 

Health and human services and public safety measures went down to the wire at the state capitol during a special session. Worries about a government shutdown briefly loomed but the result was major gains on a number of disability community issues, for one of the most productive legislation sessions in recent years. 

The Americans with Disabilities Act was commemorated with a virtual event featuring speakers and music. 

Disability Hub celebrated 15 years of service. 


The Minnesota State Fair was back but not everyone got together.

August 2021 

After one year’s hiatus the Minnesota State Fair returned. But not everyone went to the Great Minnesota Get-Together. The Minnesota Council on Disability announced it wasn’t bringing back its large information booth, citing pandemic and health concerns.  

New assisted living licensing changes took effect August 1. Residents of assisted living facilities and their families were urged to seek information on the changes, which affected residents with brain injuries and community access for disability inclusion waivers. 

September 2021 

As school bells rang, COVID-19 vaccine and testing options for students were announced. Health officials urged students, especially those in activities, to get vaccinated. 

Access Press partnered with Ramsey County elections to provide information about the upcoming elections, early voting, voting with accommodations and becoming an election judge. 

The late activist Ron Franke’s work on behalf of the MS Society and MNCCD was recalled, as was his long friendship with the “MS Gang.” 

October 2021 

Delays in implementation of the Community First Services and Supports (CFSS) program raised red flags for Minnesotans with disabilities. The earliest possible implementation date was pushed back to June 1, 2022. 

Personal care assistant (PCA) workers in Minnesota saw higher wages and other new benefits, starting October 1. The statewide minimum wage for PCAs rose from $13.25 to $14.40 per hour effective Oct. 1, then increases again to $15.25 on July 1, 2022.  

November 2021 

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continued to greatly affect Minnesotans with disabilities. The news that children ages 5-11 can get vaccinated was welcomed. But the National Guard was told that they would be helping at long-term care facilities as needed. 

The Institute on Community Integration announced the move of the Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain, from the University of Minnesota’s Pattee Hall. The move was to the former Shriners Hospital campus near the Mississippi River. 

December 2021 

Accessibility on many levels and in many forms was again seen as a theme at the state capitol for Minnesotans with disabilities. Organizations were hammering out final details of bills and legislative agendas, as the clock ticks toward the January 31 start of session. 

Minnesotans were urged to prepare for winter weather, in areas ranging from travel and home safety to getting sidewalks shoveled for better access. Many apps can help with needed alerts.