More awareness of independent living is goal of new state plan

More awareness of independent living is goal of new state plan

Keeping the independent living philosophy at the forefront throughout Minnesota is a focus for the Minnesota Statewide Independent Living Council (MNSILC). The 21-member council is preparing its 2021-2023 plan for submission to federal officials by June 30. 

The COVID-19 pandemic forced the first-ever online hearing. The council heard about gaps in services such as housing, transportation, technology and accommodations for the deaf, deaf/blind and hard of hearing communities. 

The online hearing was successful, said Council Chair Anita Olson. “I was very pleased with the response we received.” 

Olson said more virtual options will be pursued in the future for information-gathering forums as well as hearings, to give people throughout Minnesota the chance to weigh in. “We are eager to collaborate with people around the state and we’re interested in hearing their ideas for future plans.” 

Council members were also pleased that a number of disability service professionals listened in. 

The council heard a wide range of comments May 19. The lack of accessible, affordable housing, in greater Minnesota, is one issue. So are transportation options, especially outside of the Twin Cities metropolitan area. 

Another need raised is that of services for people who are deaf, deaf/blind or hard of hearing, a need pointed out by Jeanne Kolo- Johnson, Minnesota Department of Human Services specialist for the deaf and hard of hearing in northwestern Minnesota. 

Not all centers for independent living offer American Sign Language services on a regular basis. “Some of our deaf and hard of hearing consumers struggle to receive services,” said Kolo-Johnson. 

In the state’s autism community, one issue to be addressed is that of adults who should be living and working on their own, yet end up living with family and not being eligible for supports. Jeanne Bender, a longtime volunteer for Autism Society of Minnesota, said that in some cases adults with autism found themselves in crisis and were forced to move back home. Helping these adults connect with independent living centers is important. 

The council promotes the vision that the independent living philosophy is fully integrated into communities and systems throughout Minnesota. Individuals with disabilities should have every opportunity to be self-directed, to live a lifestyle of their choice that is free from discrimination. People with disabilities should thrive as members of inclusive and diverse communities. 

Minnesota has eight centers for independent living. Drawing attention to the centers and the independent living movement as a whole is important, Olson said. “We want to promote and reignite interest in the independent living movement.” 

That is one of the three goals of the new plan, to encourage people to communicate about independent living and to help Minnesotans have awareness of and access to disability services. Forming a communications committee to have a strong message and provide public education are among the ambitions outlined. 

Another purpose of a communication committee is to generate stories about individuals living, learning, working and playing as they choose. These stories will include information about the services provided by centers for independent living and be distributed using social media, the MNSILC and CIL websites, and other means. Additional material will be created to educate elected officials and community leaders about the centers’ financial needs, to increase services to underserved and unserved populations in the state. 

A study, based on 2020 Census data, will be used to determine the amount of funding necessary to fully fund the Minnesota’s centers. Needs will be looked at for clients ages 14 and older. Information from the study will be shared with elected officials and others to an create awareness about the needs of people with disabilities and the necessity to increase funding for the CILs. 

Other goals are to provide Minnesotans with awareness of and access to independent living services, and for MNSILC to demonstrate its operational effectiveness and meets its statutory responsibilities. 

To learn more about the council, its work and where centers for independent living are located, go to the Statewide Independent Living Council website.