Never gives up - Commitment to social justice guides 2012 Charlie Smith Award winner

Tenacity, a passion for social justice and a belief that people can make change are what guide the latest winner of the Access Press Charlie Smith Award. The Access Press Board of Directors and staff are very proud to announce that Charles “Chuck” Van Heuveln is the 2012 honoree.

“Chuck Van Heuveln embodies so well the qualities of Charlie Smith, for whom this award is named,” said Anne Henry, a previous award winner and one of Van Heuveln’s nominators.

“It was Chuck’s refusal to be put out to pasture, coupled with his stubborn and meticulous advocacy and belief that people can make change that gives him the qualities that Charlie Smith championed and why he would make the perfect Charlie Smith award recipient,” said veteran activist Mel Duncan, another of Van Heuveln’s nominators.

Both Henry and Duncan are among those who have worked with Van Heuveln on legislative issues. Taking on injustice, be it in the polling place or in the workplace, is a longtime passion for Van Heuveln. “Chuck ushered in the dawn of the disability rights movement in Minnesota,“ said Duncan. “I well remember how the indignities and barriers he witnessed in registering voters for the 1972 election propelled him to seek changes in the 1973 legislative session.”

Access Press Executive Director Tim Benjamin praises Van Heuveln as a “fine man,” noting that he unselfishly works to better the lives of others. “Chuck is always busy but he always has time for a friend in need or anyone that he sees unjustly discriminated. He has always been one of those guys that everyone knows but is always in the back of the room avoiding the spotlight,”

Van Heuveln not only is a veteran activist, he has always worked and created an independent life for himself. He worked, as an accountant and then for St. Paul Public Schools. For 20 years he has worked with students with disabilities, helping them make the transition from school to work. “Now, 40 years later, he once again meets the indignities of an inaccessible community with the same courageous activist spirit,” said Duncan

Van Heuveln was caught in a bureaucratic dilemma that could have resulted in the loss of his home and other assets. During the 2012 legislative session he led the fight for changes to Medical Assistance for Employed Persons with Disabilities (MA-EPD).

MA-EPD is a program that permits people with disabilities to pay a percentage of their earnings, as an insurance premium toward medical expenses to county human services. Van Heuveln needs services to cover his personal care attendant needs, which are not covered under his employment insurance.

But under state rules, he would be cut off at age 65 and placed on Medical Assistance, even though he wanted to continue working. He would have lost his job and most financial assets, and ultimately his home due to income restrictions that would have made it impossible to continue to pay his mortgage.

Undeterred he pushed for changes to state law to allow MA-EPD recipients to keep working, taking his case to the news media and raising awareness of this important issue. In many ways he became the face of working Minnesotans with disabilities who want to work and want to continue to contribute to society. He finally succeeded in making his case and getting the law changed. This will help many Minnesotans with disabilities continue to work and contribute to our tax base.

He is no stranger to the state capitol and issues important to the disability community. Van Heuveln worked on several major bills in the 1970s. He was a leader in the effort to get all Minnesota public buildings built after 1972 to be accessible to everyone. This was years before the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed.

Another key piece of state legislation Van Heuveln was closely involved in was to add the word “disability” to state human rights law; removing demeaning language from much legislation.

He led efforts to make all Minnesota polling places barrier-free and worked on grassroots voter registration activities. He was involved in efforts to change a past practice that had required that all absentee ballots be notarized before submission, a rule that made it difficult for many people to vote. He also led the push to ensure that public transportation and transit would be accessible to people with disabilities.

Many people may not remember that Van Heuveln was instrumental in efforts to pass the signature stamp bill, making a rubber stamp a legal signature. That has helped many people who otherwise couldn’t sign for themselves.

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