Minnesota Council on Disability marks 50 years of advocacy, service in 2023 

Light 50 candles and sing “Happy Birthday” to the Minnesota Council on Disability (MCD). The council is celebrating its founding […]

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Light 50 candles and sing “Happy Birthday” to the Minnesota Council on Disability (MCD). The council is celebrating its founding in 1973. Countless staff members, volunteer council members and allies have worked under the council’s umbrella on a myriad of issues over the past five decades. 

MCD advises the governor, state lawmakers, state agencies and local units of government on issues affecting Minnesotans with disabilities. One place where the council has a strong presence is at the state capitol, where staff and council members put in many hours advocating on various bills that affect Minnesotans with disabilities. Much time is also put in analyzing the impacts of proposed legislation. 

The council was one of many initiatives that came out of the groundbreaking 1972 Governor’s Conference on the Handicapped, which was championed by then-Gov. Wendell Anderson. Disability advocacy groups across the state supported legislation creating the Minnesota Commission for the Handicapped in 1973. Many were eager for state officials to take the next steps in the disability civil rights movement. 

The new commission was eyed as a replacement for two groups, the Minnesota Governor’s Commission on Employment for Handicapped Persons and the Minnesota Advisory Board on Handicapped, Gifted and Exceptional Children. Separate councils focused on employment and children’s issues were under the umbrella of the new commission. 

The commission was seen as providing two primary services – advocacy and information. Anderson appointed the first 30-person group. “Its purposes are to act as an advocate for physically, mentally, emotionally and behaviorally challenged persons to coordinate the delivery of services to the handicapped, to advise the governor and legislature as to needed services or delivery systems, and to provide information to the public at large regarding the needs and potential of handicapped persons,” an early press release stated. 

DFL labor leader Cliff Miller was the commission’s first executive director. His assistant, Dick Ramberg, succeeded him five years later. They worked in a tiny office at Metro Square in downtown St. Paul.  

John Myers, who then led the Hoerner-Waldorf (now RockTenn) paper milling plant in St. Paul, was the first board chair. 

One of the commission’s first big efforts was study of the state’s special education system, conducted with the Minnesota Department of Education. The study, which had a cost of $50,000, was to scrutinize all laws and executive and judicial opinions regarding special education, the level of compliance and noncompliance in Minnesota, and what methods should be undertaken to ensure that students in special education received good quality services. 

Other efforts followed, ranging from employment to access issues of all types. The commission’s work often mirrored what happened at the federal level, including the 1973 federal Rehabilitation Act and of course, the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

Name changes are part of the MCD history, as it also has been known as the Council for the Handicapped, Minnesota State Council on Disability and now the Council on Disability. The council itself also changed, going to 21 members in 1983 and 17 in 2013. 

The History Note is a monthly column produced in cooperation with the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities. Past History Notes and other disability history may be found at www.mnddc.org 

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