Regional News in Review – November 2018

Websites become access target Parking lots and building need to be accessible, so websites should be, too. Minnesota has its […]

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Websites become access target

Parking lots and building need to be accessible, so websites should be, too. Minnesota has its first lawsuit centered on inaccessible government websites.

This fall Noah J. McCourt, a disability advocate with autism from Waconia, sued Carver County and the cities of Norwood Young America and Chanhassen in U.S. District Court. McCourt contends that the websites’ lack of access for users with disabilities violates both state and federal law.

Violations are cited of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, the Minnesota Human Rights Act, and a lesser-known federal law called the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The 1973 law makes it illegal for entities to deny people with disabilities access to programs or activities that receive federal funding.

McCourt, who serves on state-level disability groups and has run for public office, told the Pioneer Press, “I really think that this kind of issue is really a question of who we want to be as a community. Do we want a community that says we’re open to business or we’re closed?”

Officials haven’t commented on the access lawsuits. Businesses and lack of physical access have been targets in Minnesota for several years, but this is believed to be the first time that website access has been a focus.

Lawsuits have been filed in other states, and at the national level. About a decade ago, Target settled a lawsuit focused on its website. The National Federation for the Blind contended the site was inaccessible to people with visual disabilities. Most cases involved people with visual or hearing disabilities. Having a case focused on autism is less common.

The Americans with Disabilities Act doesn’t include language specific to websites, but cases elsewhere have been settled in the plaintiffs’ favor. Nationally, the number of lawsuits is increasing. That may be in part to delays by the U.S. Department of Justice to issue its interpretation of the ADA to websites. That hasn’t happened. The deadline to do so was last extended in 2015. (Source: Pioneer Press)


Social Security announces benefit increase

Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for more than 67 million Americans will increase 2.8 percent in 2019, the Social Security Administration announced.

The 2.8 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) will begin with benefits payable to more than 62 million Social Security beneficiaries in January 2019. Increased payments to more than 8 million SSI beneficiaries will begin on December 31, 2018.

Some people receive both Social Security and SSI benefits. The Social Security Act ties the annual COLA to the increase in the Consumer Price Index as determined by the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Some other adjustments that take effect in January of each year are based on the increase in average wages. Based on that increase, the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax (taxable maximum) will increase to $132,900 from $128,400.

Social Security and SSI beneficiaries are normally notified by mail in early December about their new benefit amount. This year, for the first time, most people who receive Social Security payments will be able to view their COLA notice online through their “my Social Security” account. People may create or access an account online at

Information about Medicare changes for 2019, when announced, will be available at For Social Security beneficiaries receiving Medicare, Social Security will not be able to compute their new benefit amount until after the Medicare premium amounts for 2019 are announced. Final 2019 benefit amounts will be communicated to beneficiaries in December through the mailed COLA notice and my Social Security’s Message Center.

The Social Security Act provides for how the COLA is calculated. To read more, please visit (Source: Social Security Administration)


New funds help adults with disabilities find, keep housing

Grants totaling $2.97 million have been awarded to 46 counties and three American Indian tribes to help more people with disabilities have housing of their own through a new initiative from the state of Minnesota. Community Living Infrastructure Grants will fund initiatives aimed at helping people with disabilities with housing instability get housing, move out into the community or remain in their own homes.

“Too many people with disabilities are stuck in institutions or group homes, bouncing between friends’ couches and crisis beds, or sleeping in homeless shelters,” said Minnesota Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper. “Minnesota needs to shift away from over-reliance on group homes and other facilities by supporting and helping people to live in their communities.”

The grants, which will be distributed over four years, support people with disabilities by providing outreach to people who are homeless, unstably housed, or who want to relocate from hospitals, treatment centers, corrections or other facilities. Local experts to provide information and resources for individuals who need housing will also be funded, as will support for counties and tribes to administer and monitor effective housing support programs.

These grants aim to help people with disabilities know what housing resources are available to them in their area and how to get them. Moving people to more appropriate housing is expected to open beds in high level-of-care facilities for people with greater needs, reducing waiting lists.

Funding for the grants was appropriated by the 2017 legislature within the Minnesota Housing Support Act. Additional funding will be awarded through a new competitive grant process next year, for a total of $7.07 million over four years.

The grant recipients include Anoka County ($191,027), Carver County, ($118,820), Dakota County ($140,088), Hennepin County ($212,842), Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe ($102,720), Olmsted County ($150,000), Ramsey County ($214,357), St. Louis County with the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa ($256,175), Scott County ($79,750), Stearns County ($187,211), Washington County ($185,447) and White Earth Band of Chippewa ($169,296).

Several consortiums were also funded, including Clay, Becker, Douglas, Grant, Otter Tail, Pope, Stevens, Traverse, Wadena and Wilkin counties ($385,875), Marshall, Kittson, Mahnomen, Marshall, Norman, Polk and Red Lake counties ($191,908), Minnesota Prairie County Alliance of Dodge, Steele and Waseca counties ($102,580), Regional Metro Committee (Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, Scott, and Washington counties ($181,904) and Southwestern Minnesota Adult Mental Health Consortium (Big Stone, Chippewa, Cottonwood, Jackson, Kandiyohi, Lac qui Parle, Lincoln, Lyon, McLeod, Meeker, Murray, Nobles, Pipestone, Redwood, Renville, Rock, Swift and Yellow Medicine counties ($100,000). (Source: Minnesota DHS)


Spotlight on mental illness

The Minnesota Vikings’ three-time Pro Bowl defensive end Everson Griffen’s time away from football this season put a spotlight on mental illness. Griffen missed more than a month of practices and games this fall, after exhibiting erratic behavior.

Speaking to reporters after his return, Griffen said, “I feel everything happens for a reason and I needed this, to figure out myself and it was a good thing.”

Griffen told reporters that he is feeling good and taking it one day at a time. Mental health advocates said Griffen’s situation draw attention to mental illness and its challenges. “I often tell people we all have mental health – some of us struggle with mental illness,” said Jill Wiedmann-West, executive director of People Incorporated.

Wiedmann-West said that when accomplished people such as Griffen admit their mental health struggles, it makes it more relatable to the common person. And that can go a long way to strip away a reluctance to talk about it.

“It does not define the individual. Depression or anxiety or any mental illness does not define the individual,” Wiedmann-West said.

“What that tells our community is that it can happen to anyone,” Sue Abderholden said. She is Minnesota’s executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. She praises both Griffen and the Vikings organization for giving a mental health crisis the proper medical response and for giving Griffen the time he needed to address his mental health challenges without jeopardizing his place on the team. (Source: WCCO TV)


Mannequins light up lives

When the Winona J.C. Penney closed last year, Sheryl Miller saw an opportunity. The Winona resident didn’t know exactly what she wanted to do with the mannequins for sale in the store, but she knew she wanted to do something. So, she bought them, took them home and decided to give them a new purpose.

Winona area artists and organizations have turned 12 mannequins into unique artistic lamps that were auctioned off, with all the money going to four local organizations who serve people with Down syndrome or other developmental disabilities.

The Light Up a Life fundraiser helped organizations including Home and Community Options, Down Syndrome Association of Wisconsin in La Crosse, the Winona ORC and Winona County Developmental Achievement Center.

Local artists took on the task of recreating each mannequin, with a special theme. Each was unique. The artworks were displayed at a local bank before being auctioned off. “We Nohah” is a mannequin lamp that depicts landscape scenes from around Winona, painted by Mary Singer. And there’s the steampunk themed “Erstwilla” mannequin outfitted with painted gears, a few actual springs, black braids and a round globe for a head with a metal gear fashioned mask — made by Christine Petersen.

Whether the lamps end up in businesses or homes, fundraiser organizers expressed excitement about finding a way to raise funds for organizations that help individuals with Down syndrome or developmental disabilities find jobs, learn life skills and/or find housing. (Source: Winona Daily News)


Mental health grants awarded

The Minnesota Department of Human Services has awarded 57 mental health providers a total of $33 million – $11 million per year for three years – to bring mental health services to more than half of Minnesota schools.

Minnesota’s School-Linked Mental Health program is a critical piece of the state’s mental health services for children. Programs help identify mental health needs early, make services available to more children in need, and improve outcomes for children and youth with a mental health diagnosis. Services include assessment, treatment and care coordination, teacher consultation and school-wide trainings. Placing children’s mental health services in schools provides an opportunity for mental health promotion, prevention and early identification and intervention in a place that is familiar and comfortable for them and their families.

“School-linked mental health services meet kids where they are at,” said Minnesota Department of Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper. “These grants will help us provide needed services to those in need, which is good for parents and kids.”

The School-Linked Mental Health Program began in 2006 and has since expanded to serve schools in 83 of Minnesota’s 87 counties. Over the previous five-year grant that ended June 2018, 15,000 students received mental health services from 953 school programs in 287 school districts across the state.

These services help children who have mental illness stay in school and be successful. The program has proven particularly effective in reaching children who have never accessed mental health services, and many children with mental illness are first identified through this program.

“We know that untreated mental health issues make it harder for kids to learn,” said Piper. “Children need a good start, and if they get the right help at the right time, they can be successful in school and in life.”

A full list of grantees is available on the DHS website, along with more information about the School-Linked Mental Health program. (Source: DHS)


Getting back to work is grant’s goal

The U.S. Department of Labor has awarded a $2.5 million grant to a project that helps injured employees get back to work faster. Funds were awarded to the Minnesota RETAIN project, a group of organizations and government departments serving Minnesota residents with work-related disabilities.

Mayo Clinic is a participant in the RETAIN project, and eligible to receive part of the grant. Dr. Laura Breeher, a senior occupational medicine physician at Mayo Clinic, described their contributions to the project as threefold: keeping employees at work if they can, getting them back to work if they cannot and educating employers to tell the difference.

Breeher described a proactive approach to helping employees suffering from injury or illness. “One of the things that we do is we focus on what they can do instead of what they can’t do,” she said. “Just because this person had an injury, or just because they had an illness doesn’t mean they can’t do anything at all.”

Mayo Clinic will also supervise programs that help employees readjust after an injury. She said that these programs are adapted from ones already in operation within Mayo Clinic, and that they will send out return-to-work coordinators to work with employers.

“If an employee is injured and can’t do their regular job, we will look for another temporary job within the clinic here to help her stay engaged and keep coming to work until she heals enough to go back to her regular job,” she said.

Breeher added that Mayo Clinic is trying to break a vicious cycle that typically starts with employees suffering injuries that keep them from work and ends in prolonged unemployment.

“Not being able to work can be very stressful for someone. It can have financial impacts,” she said. “So, this program is basically bringing together a bunch of existing programs and knowledge to give that injured worker a whole team behind them to help get them back to work.” (Source: Minnesota Public Radio)




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