Regional News – November Issue

Changes to student center The fall semester brought the establishment of the new Center for Race, Indigeneity, Disability, Gender and […]

Changes to student center

The fall semester brought the establishment of the new Center for Race, Indigeneity, Disability, Gender and Sexuality Studies (RIDGS) at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus. It arose from a 2015 initiative and years of work, looking at the center’s work and intersectionality with disability.

The new RIDGS Center will be headed by Director Keith Mayes, the Minnesota Daily reported.

“The reformation of the center around disability … I think becomes an opportunity for students to understand that there are opportunities to communicate and share interests, research and other ideas about disability in that framework,” said David Johnson, chair of the University’s Disabilities Issues Committee.

The Critical Disability Studies Collective was ultimately responsible for the incorporation of disability into the formal title and scope of the new center.

“The (collective) is really an organization that’s working to enhance and foster an intellectual and academic community, in the Twin Cities and at the University of Minnesota, around complex understandings about disability,” Angela Carter, the founding chair of the CDSC, said. “We think of disability as a social, historical, economic and political category rather than a medical problem that an individual needs to fix or address.”

During her graduate studies at the University, Carter said the lack of disability community groups for students was the reason she founded the collective. “I just didn’t have that community that I needed.”

In 2015, a few of Carter’s friends and colleagues joined in the creation of the group. The following year, Jessica Horvath Williams, a postdoctoral associate in English, became a co-chair of the group. Carter and Horvath Williams’ worked together to make the collective an official affiliate of RIGS in 2017.

For the past four years, Carter and Horvath Williams worked alongside others to formally include disability in the title of the center.

Learn more about the center at

Website outlines rights, responsibilities

The Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry is urging personal care attendants (PCAs), Community First Supports and Services (CFFS) workers and employers to use a new online resource. The new web page is

The state agency created the web page to provide relevant information for workers and their employers.

In addition to the webpage, the state has created a published a new informational video geared toward PCAs, home health care workers and employers.

State officials remind community members that employees such as PCAs or CFSS workers who are covered by a collective bargaining agreement may have different or additional rights not listed above. Employees should check their bargaining unit for details or visit Service Employees International Union Healthcare Minnesota’s website

Employees have rights, including the right to be paid the minimum wage; receive pay at least once every 31 days; get work breaks and rest periods; receive overtime pay; et accurate pay stubs and get final pay when terminated or quit.

Employers must follow applicable laws, including providing employees with employee notices upon hire and when any changes to the notice are made. Employers must classify workers as exempt or non-exempt. They must complying with recordkeeping requirements and follow sick and safe leave requirements.

Contact state officials at [email protected] or 651-284-5075.

(Source: State of Minnesota)

(Source: Associated Press, Minnesota Daily)

Mental health unit announced

Children’s Minnesota has announced plans to open an inpatient mental health unit for kids and adolescents at the hospital’s St. Paul campus. The goal is to open the facility at some point in 2022.

Marc Gorelick, president and CEO of Children’s Minnesota, said the mental health center will serve about 1,000 adolescents and children a year with severe mental health issues. By rearranging clinical programs, Gorelick said the hospital will be able to repurpose space in order to make room for 22 mental health rooms, which will be large enough for parents to stay with their children. Those beds will also be located in an area with outdoor access and group programming capabilities.

“We do have other health systems that provide mental health services, but there aren’t enough,” Gorelick “said in an interview with KARE-11. “What we have now is an expanded capacity in the community to deal with kids who have the most severe problems. That’s been lacking in this community and we’re stepping in to help meet that need.”

The pandemic has exacerbated growing mental health problems among young people. Gorelick said that the Children’s Minnesota Emergency Room has seen a 30-percent increase in kids with suicidal thoughts over the past year, mirroring nationwide trends at other hospitals.

According to Children’s Minnesota, the new unit in St. Paul will be the first in the east metro to serve children under 12 years old, in addition to being one of the few in the state to admit all children, even those with other complex medical conditions.

(Source: KARE-11)

Remote work option hailed

In the early weeks of 2020, when a mysterious new virus began making headlines, South St. Paul resident and St. Olaf College faculty member Steve Romenesko watched the news closely. With many things still unknown about the rapidly spreading coronavirus, it became apparent the infectious disease would prove more deadly for organ transplant recipients like Romenesko.

Today, Romenesko, 32, is continuing his work with students at the college through remote work accommodations. he’s one of many Minnesotans urging that remote work and public meeting options adopted during the pandemic continue after the pandemic subsides.

“When set up the right way, I think we’re at a crossroads of a wonderful opportunity to allow the disabled community to be involved,” Romenesko said.

The call for more teleworking and participation opportunities is nothing new for the Minnesota Council on Disability. David Dively, the executive director of the council, said people with disabilities have sought teleworking capabilities for many years.

The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Minnesota Human Rights Act both broadly address issues of discrimination and workplace accommodations. However, Dively said it’s been difficult over the years for people with disabilities to be granted teleworking capabilities out of necessity for their health.

“There was extreme hesitancy by supervisors and human resources managers,” he said, adding employers often raised concerns about whether or not they had the capacity to accommodate telework for a disabled employee.

Dively said the community of those with disabilities hasn’t missed the irony of often being denied individual accommodations in the past, and now, during the pandemic, watching entire corporations switch to remote work. But that’s how many issues have played out for decades.

“For some reason, the framing of it as a disability rights issue automatically makes it a harder thing to achieve, and that shouldn’t be the case,” he said.

Having equal access to government at all levels, thanks to virtual meetings, has been one of the few bright spots during the pandemic.

A wide range of disabilities carry protections under the ADA, including some individuals experiencing long-term effects from COVID-19. Dively, an Eagan resident who himself is hard-of-hearing and grew up with deaf parents, said the pandemic creates an opportunity to reshape public policy in a way that better serves people with disabilities.

“It is a pivotal moment for us and the work that we do,” Dively said.

(Source: Southwest Media)

Mobility devices reimagined

Growing up, Steven Bleau saw how multiple sclerosis complicated his dad’s mobility. Bleau said he noticed how others with the same condition used mobility devices when he volunteered at the MS Society’s youth camp.

“You’d see all the parents using a wide range of products that helped with their mobility and other symptoms,” he said. But while the products were helpful and improved quality of life, there was something missing from the helpful, ubiquitous walker with wheels. Rollator walkers are typically designed with elderly patients in mind,

He began tinkering with mobility aids in his design class at the University of Minnesota and began to redesign the rollator walker for younger users. He took the design to a Carlson School of Management course called entrepreneurship in action. There he joined three other classmates, Morgan Kerfeld, Rick Pradhan and Beth Urbanski.

The group loved the idea of a rollator walker for younger people and began meeting with potential customers and physical therapists. The students founded the company Telo.

“”We decided to flip the frame from living in front of you to behind you,” Kerfeld said. “So it has integrated back support allows you to have proper posture, but also gives you enough room in front of you so that you can take natural strides and maintain your proper walking posture and habits.”

The students won several competitions and grants with their project. They’ve since graduated and started their company, Telo.

Now they are adding technology to measure speed, distance and weight reliance on the device. The upgrades are meant to give accurate readouts of physical therapy progress. They also like that the design puts people and not the walker out front.

The Telo team’s current prototype is made from a humble, nonload-bearing material: bent PVC piping. They hope to build metal devices by early spring and begin testing them.

The team came together in the virtual classroom last December, and never actually met each other in person until April.

If all goes as planned in testing and development and with a crowdfunding campaign they hope to start early next year, they expect to sell to customers by fall 2022.

(Source: Minnesota Public Radio)

Street to be renamed

Following a petition drive launched by the Minnesota Disability Justice Network that garnered 30,000 signatures, Minneapolis officials have announced that Dight Avenue will be renamed this fall.

The current street name honors a former Minneapolis City Council member, who was a supporter of eugenics. Charles Fremont Dight, a professor at the University of Minnesota who is considered the leader of Minnesota’s Eugenics movement. Dight not only founded the Minnesota Eugenics society but actively pursued the same type of eugenics as Nazi scientists such as Josef Mengele. In 1933, Dight wrote a letter to Adolf Hitler praising the Third Reich’s efforts to “stamp out mental inferiority.”

The current City Council will announce a new name. Residents living on Dight Avenue were asked to select among a few options to honor an individual who better reflects the community, which is one that welcomes and values all residents.

Receiving the most votes is Cheatham Ave, in honor of Captain John Cheatham, one of the first Black firefighters in Minneapolis who was stationed at the first all-Black fire station, which was located at 45th Street & Hiawatha Ave..

The Dight name is seen as inappropriate in an increasingly diverse city. “That’s 40 percent of the City that the namesake of Dight avenue felt shouldn’t exist and actively sought to cleanse from the gene pool” said Noah McCourt, executive director of the Disability Justice Network. “We commend the city for choosing to honor an individual who is more reflective of our community’s commitment to equity and passion for justice.”

(Source: Disability Justice Network)

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