Pandemic on top of pandemic for people with disabilities

All of the amazing and historic progress that has been made over the last 40 years for Minnesotans with disabilities […]

All of the amazing and historic progress that has been made over the last 40 years for Minnesotans with disabilities is now threatened at an epic proportion. We are in jeopardy of sending people with disabilities back in the shadows and into the dark ages at an alarming pace. 

The actual disease caused by coronavirus, COVID 19, has had a devastating effect on us all, but most profoundly on the community of Minnesotans experiencing disabilities. 

At a time when we need superb leadership to address this crisis, those with disabilities, along with their nonprofit support providers, find themselves unduly alone and dismissed by the very arm of government charged with protecting, supporting and serving them—the Minnesota Department of Human Services (MN DHS). Instead of optimism, we were met with chaos. Instead of guidance, we were met with silence. 

Unfathomable and unforgivable, the unwillingness of DHS, the Minnesota Legislature and Gov. Tim Walz to address any form of relief, guidance or support for Minnesotans with disabilities, along with the programs that serve them, highlights not only the long-standing systematic incompetence of the DHS, but a total lack of recognition and trust in the self-determination of those with disabilities and the competent altruism of service providers. 

The 30,000 individuals working in the community and attending over 100 day programs in the state will suffer even greater isolation during this time. 

As a result, every day program in the state of Minnesota is now threatened with permanent closure, leaving individuals with disabilities with no community integration and job supports. 

The irony of all this, is that every day program shut down immediately to protect the health and safety of each one of the beloved clients they are honored to serve. They have been preparing exhaustively for nearly two months, absent DHS guidance until recently, with a plan to resume services safely, gradually and carefully, focused on supporting individuals served to re-integrate back into the community and into their jobs. 

This broad stroke of the brush by DHS, and state government, eviscerated both the individualism, and civic rights afforded every Minnesotan. This has now forced those with disabilities, into additional isolation, inequitably deprived of the right to make decisions for themselves. 

This is an opportunity to be forthright, and candid in your communication to the DHS commissioner, state legislators and Walz. Now is the critical time to demand better and more! 

This is the moment, an historic moment, that will have a profound effect on Minnesotans with disabilities, loved ones, service providers and advocates. It will irrevocably impact the life, choices and liberties of every individual experiencing a disability for years to come. 

Norman Munk is a retired CEO of a disability service organization. 

From our community
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