Regional News in Review – May 2011

Minnesota parent attends conference Back in high school, Idil Abdull remembers, she once posed in front of the White House […]

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Minnesota parent attends conference

Back in high school, Idil Abdull remembers, she once posed in front of the White House for a photo. It was the only time she was there—until last month, when she returned as a guest.

Abdull, the mother of an autistic child in Burnsville, found herself surrounded by some of the top scientists, advocates and health officials in the country at a White House conference on autism awareness in April.

As co-founder of the Somali American Autism Foundation, Abdull has spent three years trying to call attention to the needs of autistic children, especially among immigrant families. She has overcome her own cultural inhibitions, which once kept her from admitting her son’s condition to her own family, to press her case in the halls of power—from the Minnesota Legislature to the governor’s office and now, to the home of the president.

One of her biggest concerns is what appears to be the soaring rate of autism in Minnesota’s Somali community. Her lobbying paid off with a study to examine the problem. That got her invited to the White House.

At the White House, she said, she mingled with assistant secretaries from Justice and Labor and Health and Civil Rights, talking about how children with autism can get the medical help and support they need.

“That means autism is in the minds of the leaders of this country, which is important,” she said. In today’s world, their plates are full, there’s a crisis everywhere.” To devote a day to talking about autism, she says, was “monumental.”

“Who would believe,’’ she added, “that I could take this story all the way to the White House and they would listen?” [Source: Star Tribune]


Telephone equipment is available

Many people struggle to use the telephone due to mobility limitations, speech impairment and hearing loss. Telephone Equipment Distribution (TED), a program of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services Division, under the Minnesota Department of Human Services provides assistive telephone equipment at no cost to qualifying applicants. This equipment allows people to live more safely and independently.

Some of the equipment the TED program offers includes hands-free remote controlled speakerphones; speech amplified phones and devices; amplified

phones; wireless cell phones for those with a hearing loss; text telephones (TTYs); captioned telephones and loud/visual telephone ring signalers.

To learn more about the program and to download an application, visit Call 651-431-5945 or e-mail at [email protected]  with questions about the TED program or to schedule a presentation.  [Source: TED Program]



Employing people with disabilities pays

Minnesota Diversified Industries (MDI), serving the St. Paul, Grand Rapids and Hibbing areas of Minnesota, provides employment opportunities for people with disabilities that return $3 for every $1 invested, according to a new Social Return on Investment (SROI) study conducted by St. Paul-based Wilder Research.

“MDI commissioned Wilder Research to quantify the economic benefits to the community of MDI’s unique social enterprise model of serving people with disabilities. Although highly self-sufficient, MDI does require community support, and we wanted to determine the value our enterprise delivers,” said Peter McDermott, president and CEO of MDI. MDI employs individuals with disabilities who work in an integrated setting, and also provides vocational rehabilitation and job placement services. Employees are held to competitive employment standards and receive training, development and advancement opportunities.

The study finds that MDI benefits society in many respects. Benefits to employees with disabilities include increased wage earnings and job-related fringe benefits.

Benefits to taxpayers include a reduction in public assistance use and increased tax contributions resulting from the higher wages earned by employees with disabilities. The study estimates the annual value of these benefits to be $19,096 per participant. The annual cost per participant is estimated at $6,281 including development and support costs. Thus, the benefit-cost ratio is $3 for every $1 spent.

Also identified in the study are additional benefits that cannot be easily measured in monetary terms. For employees with disabilities, these include acquisition of life-long marketable skills; increased interpersonal and social skills; and increased self-confidence, self-determination, and greater quality of life. Additional benefits to the communities.

MDI serves include a reduction in the historically high unemployment rate for people with disabilities, a decrease in negative perceptions on the work abilities of people with disabilities, and increases in spending in the community and economy.

A copy of the full report can be viewed at or [Source: Wilder Research, MDI]


Vale Educational Center will close

A highly-regarded Eagan educational center for students with disabilities will close due to a dip in enrollment. Vale Educational Center in Eagan, the Burnsville school district’s program for students with emotional and behavioral disabilities, will be missed by many students and their families. The closing mirrors a statewide trend as fewer students with disabilities, ranging from severe depression and anxiety to bipolar and obsessive-compulsive disorder have attended full-time programs such as Vale.

While some advocates see that as an encouraging sign about mainstream education, others say that the loss of small, highly personal schools will hurt some special needs students Several years ago the

Vale Center served as many as 90 students, from kindergartners to seniors. Enrollment at the center, which shares a building with the district’s alternative high school, has dropped to about 50 students. Vale offers small classes, including social skills classes that help student maneuver through difficult real-life scenarios through games and lessons.

In the age of the federal No Child Left Behind law, Principal Jayne Tiedemann said, covering standards in English, math, science and social studies with a smaller staff is tough. And high school teachers licensed for those courses as well as special education have become tougher to find.

More than 15,000 students ages 6 to 21—or about 12 percent of Minnesotans that age—were diagnosed with emotional behavioral disabilities, or EBDs, last year.

Statewide 10 years ago, almost 20 percent of students with emotional disorders attended the special classes. This year, slightly more than 11 percent do, with the remainder spending at least some time in mainstream classrooms.

Reasons for the decline vary, said Barbara Troolin, the Minnesota Department of Education special education director. Many students with previously diagnosed emotional behavioral disabilities are now diagnose with autism and directed to different programs. And budget-strapped districts are scaling back programs that require separate facilities. [Source: Pioneer Press]



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