Regional News in Review – December 2016

Girl with disabilities found alive A 12-year-old girl with disabilities, who was the subject of an extensive search, was found […]

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Girl with disabilities found alive

A 12-year-old girl with disabilities, who was the subject of an extensive search, was found in November, alive and clinging to a tree above a feeder creek to the Minnesota River near St. Peter. Mya Ann Arriaga was found by a deer hunter. A rescue boat was able to get to her and she was taken to a hospital for treatment.

St. Peter Police Chief Matthew Peters said that he was amazed that the girl was conscious, after being out in the elements for more than 24 hours. Arriaga had been spotted early the morning before, on a bridge over the Minnesota River, before her family reported her missing.

Arriaga has developmental disabilities and is non-verbal. Family members, friends and police were worried that she was in the river. The girl has a fascination with water and was about chest-high in the creek when found. Temperatures were chilly and the girl was not dressed for the elements. Officers from St. Peter Police, the Nicollet
County Sheriff’s Office, the LeSueur County Sheriff’s Office, Minnesota DNR and Minnesota State Patrol were involved in the extensive ground, air and water search. (Source: KARE 11 News, Star Tribune)


Candidate falls short in council race

A City Council race in a Greater Minnesota community this fall had a focus on one candidate’s disabilities. Noah McCourt is 22 years old and lives with Asperger’s syndrome. His ability to hold elected office was questioned by other elected officials, including his opponent, and the local newspaper. Until recently he had been under parental guardianship, an issue that was also raised.

But McCourt’s supporters said he would have brought unique knowledge and passion to the Waconia City Council, and that he is paving the way for a generation of leaders with developmental disabilities. These leaders are seen as bringing diversity to public office, as well as an understanding of social service and community health issues. The council race was followed nationally by groups that advocate for people with autism and Asperger’s.

“I think we are on the edge of a great wave of young adults with an autism or Asperger’s [syndrome] diagnosis entering the public eye, going to college and into the workforce,” said Jonah Weinberg, executive director of the Autism Society of Minnesota. “Somebody who has … learned to maneuver the social society we’ve created despite an autism diagnosis — they’ve developed a real skill set.”

McCourt lost the City Council race to incumbent Charles Erickson, 1,462 to 1,121. (Source: Star Tribune, Waconia Sun Patriot)


All-terrain wheelchairs are offered

Olmsted County is providing all-terrain wheelchairs to hunters with disabilities in an effort to give them a high-tech way to enjoy their hobby. The chairs can also be used by people with disabilities who are simply wishing to enjoy the great outdoors.

The county has invested in two of the chairs, according to the Rochester Post-Bulletin. The newspaper reported that four hunters recently used the modes of transportation, which resemble a cross between a wheelchair and a tank, during a hunt in Chester Woods Park, which is east of Rochester. The chairs allow users to go off-round and even off-trail, through woods and fields. The chairs have a battery life that allows for up to 10 miles of travel at a time.

Olmsted County Parks Superintendent Tom Ryan said one chair at Oxbow Park and another at Chester Woods will be available every day year-round. The county spent $20,000 on the chairs, and area veterans groups raised nearly $25,000 for the program. (Source: Rochester Post-Bulletin)


Somali parents complete autism classes

The first class of parents to complete a 12-week course on supporting children with autism spectrum
disorder celebrated its graduation recently in Minneapolis.

The training was a collaborative effort of the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS), A Global Voice for Autism and the Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota. DHS recruited training participants, arranged for a location, engaged parent volunteers to help, provided family-wide social and emotional supports, and connected them to existing resources and services and provided interpreter services during training sessions as needed.

A Global Voice for Autism developed and provided a 12-module culturally appropriate, evidence-based training curriculum, a board-certified behavioral analyst to conduct the training and other professionally trained volunteers. The Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota provided free space for the training.

Parents met with trainers twice weekly for a total of 60 hours over 12 weeks. Both theoretical training and practical sessions with the children were included. Topics covered included function of behavior, reinforcement, expressive and receptive communication, violent and self-injurious behaviors, meal skills, teaching and practicing new skills and creating schedules and understanding time.

“The positive outcomes of this training highlight the need to support and continue such innovative efforts to help parents engage with their children with autism in a culturally meaningful way,” said Alex Bartolic, director of the DHS Disability Services Division. “This engagement and education increase the quality of life of children with autism while decreasing stress levels of parents and siblings.” (Source: DHS)


City addressing discrimination in public accommodations

The City of Minneapolis is addressing discrimination in businesses through education, extensive investigation and enforcement. All people have the right to receive service, free from discrimination, from any business that obtains or solicits customers from the general public. Minneapolis bans discrimination in public accommodations based on disability as well as race, color, creed, religion, ancestry, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, and status regarding public assistance.

Public accommodations are establishments that provide goods and services to the general public; these include taxicab and on-demand ride services; restaurants, bars and food vendors; theaters; hotels;health and fitness clubs; hospitals; libraries; gas stations and retail stores.

Members of the community can learn about their legal right to file a complaint of discrimination. Go to or call 311 for more information when it becomes available.

The investigations will include using “testers” with diverse racial, gender, sexual orientation and economic backgrounds who also represent people with disabilities to act as patrons and document the treatment they receive. Businesses that do not cease discriminatory practices are subject to fines, damages and penalties; prolonged monitoring and ultimately license revocation. (Source: City of Minneapolis)


Maltreatment complaints not investigated

The Minnesota Department of Health has not investigated most maltreatment complaints under a legally mandated time frame, according to records obtained by a Twin Cities television station. The KSTP-TV investigation has led one state lawmaker to ask what is going on.

KSTP-TV has been looking into delays of state scrutiny of maltreatment complaints filed against health care facilities, including nursing homes. “People should be upset that these are going months and months without even being addressed,” said Rep. Joe Schomacker (R-Luverne).

Minnesota’s Vulnerable Adults Act states that, “The lead investigative agency shall complete its final disposition within 60 calendar days.” Over a five-year period, 60 percent to 84 percent of the Minnesota Health Department’s maltreatment complaint investigations weren’t completed under the 60-day window, according to records.

According to a March 2016 report to the Minnesota Legislature, there were 16,954 complaints filed by residents, families and health care facilities in one year. The department has been short several investigators and is looking at ways to more quickly and efficiently handle complaints.

Schomacker, chairman of the Minnesota House Health and Human Services (HHS) Reform Committee, said he will be expecting health officials this session to address their investigative shortfalls. (Source: KSTP-TV)


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