Regional News In Review - May 2010

Target Field wins on accessibility

Baseball fans with disabilities and accessibility specialists say the new Target Field in Minneapolis has scored a home run. Dominic Marinelli, a national consultant who has worked on a number of new stadiums, told the Star Tribune that Target Field is “the most accessible one in the country.”

“It sets a standard for the next ones,’’ said Marinelli, vice president for accessibility services with New York-based United Spinal Association. “We’re trying to use tricks from Target Field at Madison Square Garden [currently under renovation].”

Fans in wheelchairs will have unobstructed views of the game. Outlet box to recharge electrical wheelchairs are in accessible seating areas throughout the ballpark. Margot Imdieke Cross, an accessibility specialist with the Minnesota State Council on Disability, said ballpark planners agreed early in the process not to settle for the bare minimum.

The first step was to form the Target Field Access Advisory Committee, which included Imdieke Cross and 19 others who developed design recommendations. Getting it right was important to the Twins because that’s the team’s philosophy and it cares what the public thinks, said Ed Hunter, project manager for the Minnesota Ballpark Authority.

In addition, the Metrodome was built before the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act. Target Field was a controversial project built with public dollars, and the Twins knew they had one chance to get it right.

“We were going to do everything in our power to absolutely satisfy the local community here,” Hunter said.  Every gate at Target Field is accessible to wheelchairs. The approach from First Avenue is one big long ramp instead.

Inside, there are nearly 800 accessible seats available at all ticket levels. All elevators and restaurants accommodate wheelchairs. Most large restrooms have more than one accessible stall, and there are eight family restrooms where people can get private assistance. Stalls are provided for people who can walk but may need grab bars.

Concession counters are shorter, many with large-print or Braille signs. Speaker box placement allows for lip-reading and hearing aid amplification devices are also available. Ample curb cuts, elevators and Metro Mobility drop-off space are other features. [Source: Star Tribune]

 

Dowling pool rededicated

One of Minnesota’s first accessible school swimming pools was rededicated in April, following an extensive renovation and upgrade.

School officials at Dowling Urban Environmental Learning Center in Minneapolis rededicated the school’s therapeutic swimming pool, originally built in 1936. The pool was renovated to update the facility and make it more accessible for all students, but still keeping elements of its original design.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt visited the school and pool in 1936. Students reprised an account of his speech for the rededication ceremony. According to that account, Roosevelt said “the cheerful faces and warm welcome reminded him very much of the children at Warm Springs, Georgia. The president also said he was glad to see the new pool, as swimming was the only exercise he could do and enjoy.”

Dowling serves nearly 500 students in kindergarten through 5th grade, and was founded in 1924 to provide education to children with disabilities. [Source: KSTP-TV]

 

Caregiver is charged

A former Rosemount group home worker has been charged with three counts of financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult. The charges were filed April 22 against 29-year-old Nichelle Francine Sather.

The Dakota County Attorney’s Office announced the charges last month. Police say Sather worked at a group home in Rosemount and was responsible for the finances of three men with brain injuries or disabilities. According to the criminal complaint, almost $5,000 was taken from one of the residents’ bank accounts between December 2006 and April 2009. Sather admitted to authorities that she used some of the money for her own benefit, spending part of it at as casino. [Source: Pioneer Press]

 

Autism center is moving

The Minnesota Autism Center is opening of an additional state-of–the-art Autism Center on Radio Drive in Woodbury this month. The New Woodbury Center will provide more than 22,000 sq. ft. of therapy space.

The Minnesota Autism Center has been providing quality services to children and youth ages 2-21 for over 15 years. The center is based in Minnetonka. Its mission is to promote and provide intensive behavioral therapy for children, youth and families affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders. The New Autism Center in Woodbury will allow more families to access these life-changing therapies.

The new Woodbury Center will provide speech therapy, School readiness, music and dance therapy, group time instruction ad many services for siblings and parents. The facility is designed to be secure and features two gyms, a fenced outdoor play area with lots of equipment and multiple reinforcement rooms. The center also boats a 1:1 therapist to child/adolescent ratio. For more information on the new Woodbury Center or any of Minnesota Autism Center’s services, please contact the intake coordinator at 952-767-4204. [Source: Minnesota Autism Center]

 

PTSD fraud claims studied

Moved by a huge tide of troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD, Congress has pressured the Department of Veterans Affairs to settle their disability claims—quickly, humanely, and mostly in the vets’ favor.

The problem: The system is dysfunctional, an open invitation to fraud. And the VA has proposed changes that could make deception even easier.

PTSD’s real but invisible scars can mark clerks and cooks just as easily as they can infantrymen fighting a faceless enemy in these wars without front lines. The VA is seeking to ease the burden of proof to ensure that their claims are processed swiftly.

But at the same time, some undeserving vets have learned how to game the system, profitably working the levers of sympathy for the wounded and obligation to the troops, and exploiting the sheer difficulty of nailing a surefire diagnosis of a condition that is notoriously hard to define.

“The threshold has been lowered. The question is how many people will take advantage of that,” said Dr. Dan G. Blazer, a Duke University psychiatrist who has worked with the military on PTSD issues. PTSD, he adds, is “among the easiest (psychiatric) conditions to feign.”

Mark Rogers, a longtime claims specialist with the Veterans Benefits Administration, agrees. “I could get 100 percent disability compensation for PTSD for any (honorably discharged) veteran who’s willing to lie,” said Rogers, a Vietnam-era vet who is now retired. “I just tell him what to say and where to go.”

Some claims are built on a foundation of fake documents; in other cases, the right medals-plus a gift for storytelling-secure unearned benefits. Each of these cases represents potentially millions of dollars in tax-free benefits over the veteran’s lifetime-benefits that may continue while the veteran works and even into retirement.

“There’s pressure from the public to sympathize with veterans and treat them with respect,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig J. Jacobsen in Roanoke, Va., who prosecuted Barnhart and has handled other such “stolen valor” cases. “And you don’t want to go questioning their stories unless you have a very good reason to do so. … So I think it’s hard to sift out the phonies from that.” 

PTSD is an undeniably real sickness whose symptoms—flashbacks, vivid nightmares, intrusive thoughts, exaggerated startle response, emotional numbness—can be debilitating. As of fiscal year 2009, nearly 390,000 veterans were receiving benefits for PTSD, making it the fourth-most prevalent service-connected disability, according to the VA. [Source: Associated Press] 

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