Regional News in Review - September 2011


Obama wants to help veterans



During a speech at the national American Legion convention in Minneapolis Aug. 30, President Barak

Obama vowed to ensure that returning soldiers have the job skills they need to succeed. He pledged to create a job training “boot camp” for veterans who are struggling to find employment in the private sector, a rising problem nationally. He also said he will press states to make it [a priority] for vets to get professional licenses.

The president’s speech came after a fierce budget battle in Washington and expensive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan created mounting political pressure to get military spending under control. The president described a “sacred trust” between citizens and the military, expressing grave concern about returning veterans going straight from combat to the unemployment line.

Obama also highlighted administration efforts to reduce a backlog of benefit claims through the Department of Veterans Affairs. Those efforts include acknowledging new claims from Vietnam vets suffering from the effects of Agent Orange, a chemical widely during the conflict to clear jungle foliage.

He also called on the private sector to hire or train 100,000 returning veterans, proposing to offer tax credits for companies that hire vets or their spouses and veterans with disabilities.

With advancements in technology, veterans are returning with injuries that would have killed them in previous conflicts. The severity of those injuries often brings additional problems.

“Put simply, we’re saving more lives, but more American veterans will live with severe wounds for a lifetime. So we need to be there for them”for their lifetime,” Obama said. [Source: Star Tribune]



Polling place accessibility improvement grants announced



Are there accessibility issues at your polling place? Do you have to navigate a step or steps? Is there a lack of accessible
parking? Does the polling place lack basic devices such as magnifiers, to help you read a ballot?

Help could be on the way. Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie announced that his office is currently seeking grant proposals from cities, townships and counties for accessibility improvements to polling places in Minnesota. The approximately $400,000 in Federal Election Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities (EAID) grants are provided through the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002.

Funds must be used to improve polling place accessibility for voters with disabilities and cannot be used for general improvements to structures.

“I am pleased that again this year we are able to use funding from the Help America Vote Act to help local election officials remove accessibility barriers and improve access in polling places throughout our state,” said Ritchie.

Any requests have to come through local election officials, such as city or county officials, and not from the general public.

The office is asking local election officials to submit grant proposals for accessibility improvements and tools that will provide privacy and independence for the voter, such as automatic door openers, disability parking spaces, ramps, accessible voting booths, and magnifiers. In past years grants have ranged from approximately $100 up to $6,000. The deadline for grant applications is 4 p.m. Monday, Oct. 31. Grant recipients will be notified by the end of the year.

“Minnesotans can be very proud of our local elections officials’ strong commitment to eliminating accessibility barriers in polling places and ensuring that every eligible voter can participate in our democracy and successfully cast a ballot,” said Ritchie.

Minnesota polling places get mixed reviews, when it comes to accessibility. All polling places must be accessible under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) but problems have been reported throughout the state in the past. Some communities lack adequate public space in or near a precinct for an accessible polling place. At other places there is a lack of signed handicap parking.

Inside a polling place, election judges need to provide at least one accessible polling booth. Most Minnesota polling places to have the AutoMark ballot marking system, which is for voters who have disabilities. Or voters may bring a helper to the polls, or ask for election judges from different parties to help them mark ballots.

For more information on the EAID grant application process contact Adam Aanerud by email: Adam.Aanerud@state.mn.us or phone: 651-556-0644.



Blind traveler faces obstacles



Susan Barton is legally blind and uses a wheelchair, a result of her 40-year battle with multiple sclerosis.

But she doesn’t let her disability hamper her love of traveling with her husband. So she was unhappy this June when she tried to book two tickets on Delta Air Lines for a long weekend in Chicago and the airline told her she’d have to pay an extra $50 — $25 per person — to buy the tickets over the phone instead of online. After Barton explained that she was blind and couldn’t use the website, the call center representative insisted that the fee couldn’t be waived. That person’s supervisor said the same thing. So did the two people she called at the airline’s Atlanta headquarters.

“For years I’ve been arranging our travel and doing it by phone,” said Barton, 64, of Minneapolis, who retired as director of human resources for the Prudential Insurance Co. She described her dilemma to the Star Tribune Whistleblower. “Northwest charged me $5 extra for arranging those tickets by phone. [Delta was] going to charge me $25 extra for each ticket.

That just seemed, quite frankly, outrageous to me.” Barton said her husband, Vincent, a retired Prudential executive, will be 80 later this month and isn’t adept at navigating the airline’s website.

When Whistleblower called Delta’s corporate communications office in Atlanta, spokeswoman Ashley Black said the four people Susan Barton spoke with were wrong. “Our policy is that any customer with disabilities that cannot use delta.com, that fee will be waived,” Black said.

Chris Danielsen, director of public relations for the National Federation of the Blind, said Delta’s refusal to waive the fee violated federal law. Under the Air Carrier Access Act, an airline must waive call-center fees for a blind person if they cannot use the airline’s website. An airline also must charge a blind person the same fare that is available on the Internet, he said.