Minnesota, as told through the pages of Access Press, is one of victories and defeats, activism and accolades. Come with us on a trip back through the past two decades. This installment covers the second five years of newspaper coverage.
Debate continued at the capitol over programs for people with disabilities, with most attention focused on proposed PCA cuts and cuts to children with disabilities and their families. The latest proposals raised the possibility of delaying the PCA cuts and set up a home care task force to look at ways to reduce spending. The number of children and families affected by TEFRA cuts was reduced to 1,600. Alternative care for the affected children was being sought. What angered many disability activists was that while the state was proposed to slash human services programs, lawmakers were also working to bring professional hockey back to Minnesota
Minnesota faith-based organizations were working together to create a brochure to allow everyone to participate in each denomination’s activities.
Months after his visit to Minnesota, Justin Dart wrote a guest article explaining how attacks on the ADA had escalated in Congress. Activists had ensured that the unfunded mandates bill didn’t affect services for people with disabilities but other threats loomed in Washington, D.C. The ADA and IDEA were still subjected to attacks in the news media. Dart urged community members to fight back when their rights were being attacked.
The 1995 Minnesota Legislature enacted 15 percent cuts to PCA services, effective in July 1996 and cuts to TEFRA that would affect almost 2,000 families.
The University Minnesota Disabled Student Cultural Center hosted Lew Golan, author of Reading Between the Lips: A Totally Deaf Man Makes it in the Mainstream.
DRAGnet, which was serving people across the country with its program, was moving to a larger space in downtown Minneapolis. The organization needed space for its computer recycling programs, which provided equipment for people who couldn’t otherwise afford it. Equipment that couldn’t be reused was recycled. The program also provided jobs, equipment and software for people with disabilities and for rehabilitation agencies. Its online disability network would remain in Andover.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole called for a “retooling” of the ADA. Dole, who supported the act, said that “maybe we’ve gone too far in some areas” of implementation. Community members were urged to contact Dole with their concerns.
A national survey showed that 70 percent of business leaders believed the ADA should not be changed. By an 82 to 5 percent margin, those surveyed also said the opportunities provided by the ADA are worth its costs of implementation. The survey generally had a favorable response to hiring of persons with disabilities. It was released by the National Organization on Disability (NOD).
More than 400 people attended a legislative public hearing to air concerns about Metro Mobility. State Rep. Dee Long told the group that metro area legislators weren’t in agreement as to how to improve the service, but agreed with the demand for long-term support for paratransit.
The Twin Cities’ first aphasia support group marked its 25th anniversary. The group, based at Sister Kenny Institute, helped people affected by the speech and language disorder.
Minnesota CCD and the Minnesota Senior Federation hosted a form on the effects of pending federal cuts to Medicare and Medicaid. The only two members of Congress to attend were Sen. Wellstone and U.S. Rep. Bruce Vento. Many people who testified expressed fear about how the radical changes they would have to make if the programs were cut.
Metropolitan Council approved a 30-cent fare increase for Metro Mobility, to help close a $5.7 million budget gap. The one-way fare for rides during peak periods would now be $2.50. But the council also approved a number of incentives to encourage more people with disabilities to ride regular route buses. Decisions on service reductions hadn’t been made yet, although several suburban communities were again targeted for cuts.
The DHS Home Care Task Force, formed during the past legislative session, was charged with studying ways to stave off $13 million in pending state budget cuts to PCA services. Concerns were raised that the task force hadn’t started meeting until late summer and lacked enough information to make recommendations to state lawmakers in 1996.
Community members continued to focus on possible Medicare and Medicaid cuts at the federal level, working with Minnesota’s Congressional delegation to make their voices heard. MCIL, Courage Center, Arc of Hennepin County and many other groups and individuals weighed in.
Perfect Squares, a wheelchair square dance group, invited newcomers to join them for the fall season at Courage Center.
In his editorial Smith pointed out the very real threats facing the community. If the state home care task force couldn’t reach agreement and if proposed cuts at the federal level took effect, the PCA program in Minnesota would actually be cut by as much as $50 million. This would force many people into nursing homes or into state-run institutions.
Courage Center hosted its annual award ceremony. Smith received the Judd Jacobson Memorial Award for people who use computers to enhance entrepreneurial potential. Winners of the Phillips awards were Bob Bardswell of Stewartville, Victoria Carlson of Brooklyn Park, Jimmie Hanson of Minneapolis, Diane Manowksi of Chisago Center and Mark Mertens of Spicer. The awards honored Minnesotans with disabilities who achieve career success.
Minnesota had a projected $824 million surplus in 1996. Disability activists urged that part of the funding be used to restore potential cuts in PCA, TEFRA, Metro Mobility, education and other programs but state lawmakers were resistant. Instead it was proposed to either return the money to taxpayers or create a rainy day fund.
A new City of St. Paul parking policy at 15-minute parking meters was hitting persons with disability parking placards or license plates in the pocketbook. The city had announced that any vehicle violating the time limit would face a ticket, in contradiction to state law that allowed vehicles with placards to park for an unlimited amount of time. Community members were asking city officials to re-evaluate the policy change, which had resulted in fines to unsuspecting motorists.
Access Press co-founder Bill Smith Jr. passed away. The entrepreneur and former banker felt strongly that the disability community needed a way to get its message out and make itself heard. In his column, Charlie Smith said he wasn’t sure about the future of the newspaper. “I know my father would want me to continue Access Press and I will try to keep it going,” he wrote. Ways to continue publication, possibly by reorganizing, were considered.
A DHS task force set up to examine PCA issues was criticized as a means of simply finding a way to further cut PCA services. The task force did recommend that a cut slated for July 1,996 be repealed, but that was buried in the final report.
Cuts to TEFRA were delayed by the Minnesota Legislature. TEFRA helps disabled children stay in their homes with support services, Last year Gov. Carlson proposed eliminating the program; instead state lawmakers cut it dramatically. Advocates argued that the information DHS used to justify program cuts and higher fees was flawed. Legislators wanted more time to review information about children impacted by the cuts. About 850 families had opted out of the program already; another 1,645 children were at risk of cuts.
Community members rallied at the capitol on a bitterly cold winter day to speak for preserving TEFRA and for minimizing impacts of PCA service cuts.
Access Press was in the process of restructuring from a for-profit newspaper to a non-profit. DRAGnet would serve as fiscal agent.
As the paper went to press, Carlson was threatening to veto the health and human services omnibus bill. The bill included language to restore past cuts made to TEFRA and PCA services. A veto would impact more than 5,000 children and adults with disabilities. Many would lose all or part of their PCA services. The threatened bill would have delayed the cuts until July 1 1997. Community members rallied to flood the governor’s office with calls and letters.
Remembering With Dignity saw its efforts to get a public apology stall at the 1996 Legislature. A bill asking for an apology to the tens of thousands of Minnesotans with developmental disabilities who had been treated poorly in state institutions was withdrawn due to lack of support.
In a last-minute move the Minnesota Legislature restored cuts to TEFRA and PCA services. Carlson had indeed vetoed the health and human services omnibus bill but agreed to restore the programs important to the disability community if another unrelated section of the bill was removed. The Senate voted to override the veto of the original bill but an override in the House fell short. Smith said the restoration of the programs was proof that people could make a difference through organizing.
Major changes were proposed in the way the Minnesota Department of Economic Security delivered vocational rehabilitation services. Reductions in funding dedicated to serving people with disabilities, eliminating service priority for people with severe disabilities and removing other provisions that served the community drew protests.
Many changes had been made to the Social Security Administration’s Plan for Achieving Self-Support or PASS Program. The changes were seen as making the program access more challenging and affective. The DisAbility Works organization was asking affected persons and organizations to contact them.
Sen. Paul Wellstone was involved in the fight to guaranteed parity in insurance coverage for the mentally ill. The Wellstone legislation would be part of a larger health care reform bill that was pending in Congress.
Access Press published a list of Twin Cities parks that are accessible. These included Hidden Falls/Crosby Farm regional parks in St. Paul and the St. Anthony Falls Heritage Trail in Minneapolis.
A new program sponsored by Arc of Hennepin County would assist persons with developmental disabilities who wanted to become home owners. The project was the first of its kind in the region and one of the few of its kind in the country. It would provide financial assistance and counseling for up to 10 prospective Hennepin County home owners.
In the Religion and Disability column, the upcoming visit of Bill Graham was highlighted. Graham was on his final crusade as he was battling Parkinson’s disease. The event, held at the Metrodome, was planned by a committee that included several members with disabilities. Many accommodations were being planned, including American Sign Language interpreters, additional accessible parking and loaner wheelchairs.
A strong disability sub-caucus attended the state DFL convention in St. Paul. Americans for Disability Rights Minnesota brought forward several resolutions including measures to maintain and strengthen the ADA and IDEA; support independent choice in the management of health care options and support community-based living for people with disabilities.
Access Press also worked with the group Voices for Disability Rights to profile U.S. Senate candidates Paul Wellstone, Dean Barkley, Rudy Boschwitz, John Herman, Bert McKasy, Monte Moreno and Steve Young. This month’s focus was housing and health care issues.
Opportunity Workshop, a group serving adults with developmental disability and brain injury, opened a new facility in Plymouth. Karlins Center would provide a wide range of services and programs.
Six years after its passage, the ADA has made a difference, said disability rights activist Wendy Brower. Brower, who was present when then-President George H.W. Bush signed the act into law, said the bill had succeeded in literally and figuratively opened doors for people with disabilities. But she also warned that it was under constant attack by special interest groups, the media and politicians. The attacks usually centered on ADAS costs but failed to recognize its benefits.
After surviving a stroke, Gary Vizoner of Stillwater developed new grab bars for personal use. He modeled them on large, suction cup-equipped bars used to life large, heavy panes into window openings. He incorporated his company as Grabit and named the bars Port-a-Bars.
Access Press moved to the Griggs Midway building from its longtime home in southeast Minnesota. Scott Adams’ cartoon showed an Access Press moving van following a Route 16 bus east on University Avenue.
“When Billy Broke His Head . . . and Other Tales of Wonder” won Best of Show at the New Mobility magazine Disability Film Festival in Atlanta. The American Paralysis Association presented the award to Twin Cities filmmaker Billy Golfus.
The Metropolitan Center for Independent Living and Americans for Disability Rights-Minnesota announced a get out the vote drive. More than 280 disability-related organizations received voter registration information. Everyone was urged to register to vote and to volunteer for phone banks and other voter outreach efforts.
Ability to Hire was the theme of the education and awareness program overseen by the President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities. The campaign emphasized the talents and abilities of the nation’s 49 million people with disabilities. Attitudinal barriers and narrow-minded assumptions about what people could and could not do were cited as obstacles to employment. The committee was making its push during October, National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
CLIMB Theater, West Hennepin Community Service and Arc of Hennepin County helped a group of actors with disabilities film scenes for “It’s a Job Finding Work,” a video to be shown on cable television and distributed to community groups.
Courage Center’s annual National Courage Award sparked controversy when actor Christopher Reeve was the recipient. Reeve was paralyzed in a horseback riding accident. Disability community activists objected to Reeve as an honoree, citing his emphasis on “curing” paralysis, as well as the large sum of money Courage Center was spending on the event. Courage Center Executive Director David Phillips and Metropolitan Center for Independent Living Executive Director John Walsh set up a meeting prior to the event to hear the concerns but the debate embroiled all sides for weeks before the event and a protest outside of the event itself.
Hundreds of people attended the first-ever statewide self-advocacy conference in New Ulm. Keynote speaker was television actor Christopher Burke from the show Life Goes On.
Congress made major changes to Supplemental Security Income (SSI) that would have a major, negative impact on people across the country. The program, which provides $70 per month payments to low-income elderly and people with disabilities, was targeted for change by Congress. The changes in eligibility could mean that more than 3,000 people would lose their payments. Reviews of cases would get underway next year. The changes would most impact children, immigrants and persons with substance abuse issues.
The state’s first day health center for people with HIV/AIDS opened in Minneapolis. Park House provided quality care and socialization for persons with HIV/AIDS and support services for their families and caregivers.
Bills involving consumer protection in health care, a possible repeal of MinnesotaCare, managed care for people with disabilities and funding for Metro Mobility and paratransit were just some of the issues pending before the 1997 Minnesota Legislature. Disability community members were supporting a citizens’ commission to run the transit system.
Sit-skis were flying along the trails of Hennepin County. The skis were designed for people with mobility impairments. Skiers could sit on a sled-like device and push themselves along with poles.
The Minnesota News Council hosted a forum, Words Count, at Courage Center. The topic was media coverage of the disability community and how it perpetuated stereotypes. It provided an opportunity to meet with Twin Cities media representatives.
Administration of the PCA program was described as inhumane and unlawful. Complicating matters was how DHS staff would incorrectly interpret legislative mandates to cut even time from people in need of PCA services. The Disability Law Center reported it was winning about 95 percent of the PCA services appeals filed, but questioned having to file appeals and why the DHS was investigating some cases.
Courage Center continued to respond to the aftermath of controversy over the National Courage Award given to actor Christopher Reeve. Issues Courage Center officials were discussing included a perceived isolation from Courage Center and the rest of the disability community, models of programming and fundraising. A coalition of disability organizations was involved in the meetings, described as productive and positive.
The Patient Protection Act of 1997 was pending before the Minnesota Legislature. It would provide centralized information for consumers in the health care system, as well as advocacy help and oversight. Complaints would be handled in a more expedient manner and health care providers would have to disclose more information about provider payment plans. Improvement access to emergency care and a clearer procedure for specialty referrals were also spelled out in the act.
Minneapolis Advisory Committee on People with Disabilities won a $10,000 national award for community involvement.
The story of Kathy, a developmentally disabled woman, outlined the risks of home ownership. Kathy’s home faced foreclosure through a series of actions by her banks and a scam artist. Legal Aid was trying to help Kathy stay in her home.
Opportunity Partners’ Senior Options Group was involved with “senior day” at the state capitol. Seniors involved with Opportunity Partners’ day training and habilitation program got the chance to meet legislators and share concerns, as part of the program meant to keep people physically and mentally active.
Advocating Change Together developed a video-based curriculum series called Tools for Change. The participatory and accessible program was meant to educate self-advocates and encourage them to draw on their life experiences in telling their stories. It included videos, a facilitator’s guide, training manuals and other materials.
Metropolitan Center for Independent Living Director John Walsh resigned after more than 11 years. He was replaced by David Hancox.
Rep. Torrey Westrom was profiled. He was the first blind person to serve in the Minnesota House of Representatives. Just 24 years old, he was a rare combination of youth and fiscal conservatism. His response to disability issues during the session was described as “calculated.” For example, while he voted for increased funding for Metro Mobility, Westrom expressed concern that state officials not throw good money after bad. He attached an amendment to the Metro Mobility funding legislation that called for a study of Metro Mobility’s efficiency and ADA compliance.
Controversy flared over a proposed $55 million monument to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The statute, to be placed in Washington, D.C., would not depict FDR in his wheelchair – a decision that angered and baffled many.
The legislative session was seen as a successful one for the disability community, with a 5 percent cost of living adjustment to PCAs and other community support workers, $36.4 million to Metro Mobility, more protection for medical patients, more money for supported employment and two demonstration projects for managed care for people with disabilities. Remembering With Dignity obtained $200,000 to replace grave markers at regional treatment centers.
But not everyone left the capitol happy. Officials at DRAGnet questioned why the K-12 omnibus education bill and plans for computer recycling left the agency out. DRAGnet or Disability Resources Affiliates and Groups network was shut out of state-funded computer recycling programs involving schools. Instead of using DRAGnet state officials named a California nonprofit to head up the computer donation drive.
A survey of state parks and accessibility was underway, led by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The 1996 Legislature required at least one trail in each state park to be accessible. The changes were to be implemented in five years. Wilderness Inquiry was assisting the DNR with the project. The challenge was to keep parks natural while making trails accessible, according to DNR officials.
Problems during recent floods in the Grand Forks/Devils Lake area were described. The area was home to almost 100 deaf citizens, including 50 students at the North Dakota School for the Deaf. Lack of closed-captioned information on television proved frustrating, as did a lack of clear information for those displaced by flooding.
Help Yourself Inc. celebrated its 10th anniversary.
Courage Center residents aired their concerns with what they saw as understaffing in the facility’s resident assistant ranks. RAs were certified nursing assistants who help residents with everyday care needs. Residents indicated they were very happy with the therapies they went to Courage Center for, but concerned that the scarcity of RAs made it difficult to get to therapy on time. Courage Center was one of many agencies facing a nationwide shortage of nursing assistants.
The Disability Institute opened its doors in the Twin Cities, to be a catalyst bringing together people with disabilities, community leaders and policy makers. The new organization wanted to serve as a reliable clearinghouse for information and a collaborator among many community organizations. The institute was based in Minneapolis.
Tenants at Holmes Greenway in Minneapolis were trapped for hours one summer night by power outages and flooding. Some residents were unable to get to their apartments and had to sleep in wheelchairs in the lobby, because elevators didn’t work. Others were trapped in their apartments for more than 20 hours. Holmes Greenway was designed to be wheelchair accessible. Management was looking into obtaining emergency generators but any purchase had to be approved by HUD, which provided subsidies for tenant’s living expenses.
National disability rights leader Evan J. Kemp Jr. passed away. He was a former chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and a lifelong advocate for people with disabilities. He was deeply influence by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement.
Disability and civil rights activist Justin Dart was Courage Center’s winner of the National Courage Award. Dart, who often visited the Twin Cities to work with the disability community, was involved in efforts including the ADA, civil rights and employment issues. Dart served on a number of national-level disability boards, commissions and committees and founded Justice for All.
Mayoral candidates Sharon Sayles Belton and Barbara Carlson in Minneapolis and Sen. Sandy Pappas and Norm Coleman in St. Paul addressed disability issues.
Diane Hovey, mother of a disabled child, wrote about the lengthy and difficult process her family faced in trying to get a bathlift for her daughter, who has a diagnosis of dystonic quadraperesis. Hovey wrote that the entire process made her feel like a criminal.
Seward Square residents were battling drug dealers. The 81-unit Minneapolis building for residents with disabilities had had problems for many months but tenants felt helpless until the Minneapolis Police Department’s Community Crime Prevention SAFE unit came in to help.
Metropolitan Council and its Transportation Accessibility Advisory Board held public forums on Metro Mobility and the move from three service providers to two. The switch resulted in numerous service complaints about trip denials and customer service problems with one of the providers. But those at the hearing said they were glad not to hear a repeat of horror stories from several years ago.
DEAF Incorporated announced a Deaf Refugee and Immigrant Citizenship program, funded through the Minnesota Department of Children, Families and Learning.
A three-year battle over use of a standing wheelchair was outlined. Forrest “Frosty” Johnson fought for three years to obtain the standing wheelchair. The 39-year-old with multiple sclerosis used a power scooter for mobility but wanted a standing wheelchair since 1994. The wheelchair would allow him to move between sitting and standing positions. But DHS rejected Johnson’s request for the device. The dispute went to Washington County District Court and then to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, after the district court ruled in Johnson’s favor. The appeals court ruled in Johnson’s favor and he was able to obtain the standing wheelchair.
Members of communities of color were seldom seen at disability community events and organizations. Why that situation existed, concerns about under-representation and how it could be addressed was discussed by disability community leaders.
Access Press officially became a non-profit publication. That allowed the newspaper to apply for grants and expand the size of the newspaper. The process had taken several months.
Disability organizations geared up for the 1998 legislative session and for a Minnesota State Council on Disability roundtable prior to the session’s start. Priorities for several organizations were outlined, including work on managed care, more money for children’s mental health and increased funding for medically related transportation.
The problems of MCS or multiple chemical sensitivity was outlined. The condition causes hypersensitivity to most chemicals, including household cleaners, tobacco smoke, pesticides, home improvement and construction products and personal products. In Minnesota persons with MCS were represented by Chemical Injury Resource Association of Minnesota.
Raising the Medical Assistance income standard and increasing coverage for durable medical equipment were two bills the MN CCD and other organizations were advocating for at the capitol. People on Medical Assistance could only keep $420 per month to live on; the increase sought was an additional $47.
MN CCD was introducing legislation to create the Metropolitan Area Transit Accessibility Board. The board would conduct a comprehensive assessment of transit needs for the disability community and the elderly in the seven-county metropolitan area. It would also conduct an evaluation of existing transit services and would develop short-term and long-term plans to met transit needs.
Concordia University prepared to host the 1998 National Women’s Wheelchair Basketball Tournament. The Minnesota Rolling Timberwolves would be among teams competing.
Metropolitan Center for Independent Living’s (MCIL) decision to permanently hire David Hancox as executive director sparked controversy. Issues centered on whether MCIL should be led by someone with a visible disability, the amount of compensation offered to the new leader, changes to services MCIL offered and perceptions of the center. A panel of people involved with and outside of MCIL responded to a series of questions raised by Access Press. Hancox indicated that the intent of MCIL was to add back services which had been cut in the past. He urged community members who had concerns to get more involved with MCIL and to communicate their concerns to the center.
Opportunity Partners was celebrating 45 year of helping people achieve greater potential and independence. The organization was serving almost 900 adults with developmental disabilities or brain injuries.
Monte Meier of Hastings won gold and silver medals at the Paralympics in Nagano, Japan. Meier skied on one leg; his other leg was amputated after a childhood accident. He skied in the slalom and giant slalom events. He had competed as a U.S. Olympian since 1994 and had been on the U.S. team since 1991.
Once again the health and human services omnibus bill was in jeopardy at the state capitol. The bill was threatened by the addition of language on late-term abortions in the House version of the bill. Senate leaders said they would not vote on the bill if the abortion language stayed in. Disability community activists were concerned that many measures they had sought during the session could be lost.
A U.S. Court of Appeals ruling was eyed warily, with some describing it as a death sentence. The ruling centered on the state of Connecticut’s attempt to deny Medicaid recipients access to durable medical equipment. The case was appealed all the way to the high court, which ruled in Connecticut’s favor. The case had nationwide implications for people needing equipment.
The health and human services omnibus bill and other measures important to the community passed before state lawmakers adjourned a special session. But gubernatorial vetoes meant some initiatives were lost for another year. Increased coverage for durable medical equipment, increased Medical Assistance income limits, more patient protections and a health care consumer advocacy and assistance office were approved, but Carlson vetoed a home ownership program.
The University of Minnesota struggled to comply with the ADA, much to the unhappiness of workers there. Employees with special needs felt that the efforts at accommodation were viewed by some management as a distraction. Nor was there awareness of what the university’s Disability Services Office could do to help employees. The office would mediate disputes over accommodations and help find equipment for employees.
Access Press received its first grant, of $7,500 from Headwaters Foundation. The grant was for general operating support.
The St. Paul Department of Human Rights and Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services were collaborating to increase enforcement and education on housing laws. Landlords and tenants would gain information on reasonable accommodations.
Courage Center, Sister Kenny Institute and Becklund Home Health Care joined forces to start AXIS Healthcare, to take the lead in managing care for people with disabilities in the Twin Cities area. Becklund at the time was the state’s largest PCA provider. AXIS hoped to start enrolling clients by July 1999. AXIS was touted as providing many benefits for its clients. AXIS would work with UCare Minnesota to help administer the new program. Getting AXIS up and running would take many steps but organizers were confident they could be serving consumers next year.
David Phillips announced he would leave the helm of Courage Center to work with Young Life, an international Christian outreach ministry based in Colorado. He had worked at Courage Center since 1996.
MN CCD was represented at a U.S. Senate work incentives improvement act hearing. At the time 29 percent of people with disabilities were employed, while 72 percent stated they wanted to work. To that Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kansas, aid, “To access basic care, prescription drugs or personal assistance service through Medicare or Medicaid, we say to individuals with disabilities, stay home, don’t work. As a matter of public policy this is senseless and unjust.”
Very Special Arts Minnesota was the featured organization at the Minnesota State Fair, in the Fine Arts Building. Several visual artists involved with the organization would have their works on display during the fair, in a way accessible to people with disabilities.
A story of life and death, and difficult medical decisions, involved a Bloomington couple. Despite traumatic brain injury and doctors’ statements that he would be a “vegetable,” Jim Nestande fought back. This was despite poor medical care decisions that began at the scene of the 1993 car accident that left him badly injured. His wife Nicky worked for years to get better care for Jim and get him out of a nursing home. He made progress under her care but asked in 1998 to be taken off of life support. The couple then had to discuss that decision with a panel of health care professionals. He died that spring at home in his wife’s arms. The story raised difficult questions about prevailing attitudes toward people with disabilities.
Freedom of Speech Inc. was profiled. The Minneapolis-based company helped people find a wide range of adaptive technology solutions, ranging from devices for people with low vision to those with limited hand mobility. The company was started by Mark Dzuik, who himself battled dyslexia. The company had grown and obtained a key state contract. Dzuik was able to hire people with disabilities to work for him.
A phone system glitch wreaked havoc for a day with Handicabs, one of the Metro Mobility service providers. People calling for a ride got a busy signal or a message saying the number had been disconnected. Metro Mobility was looking into ways to keep the problem from happening again.
DEAF Incorporated was developing advocacy services for its clients who were victims of domestic violence or sexual assault. There was only one trained advocate in the entire state who could serve deaf women, prompting the need for better services.
DHS was considering a recommendation to license PCA service providers. Providers had to register with DHS but there was no license requirement tied to that. Licensing was seen as providing more consumer protection and control, as well as making it easier for some consumer to hire PCAs. But the potential downside included potentially higher costs without providing better service. The challenge of developing a licensing system was also debated. The topic was the subject of upcoming public forms.
The Richman versus Ramsey County Human Services and DHS lawsuit illustrated the difficulties those seeking Minnesota Supplemental Aid (MSA) interim assistance had faced. The Richman family applied for MSA assistance, was turned down, took the dispute to court and won. The case revealed that the state hadn’t been making the aid available to qualified people. The aid could make a big difference when a person became disabled and hadn’t qualified yet for other help. The new court ruling would make it easier for people to receive interim assistance while waiting for decisions on other benefits.
Metro Mobility’s demand service system was the topic of public forms. Forum participants also discussed problems with current services, as part of a Metropolitan Council study of Metro Mobility and paratransit services.
Leadership was changing at Advocating Change Together (ACT). Mary Kay Kennedy and Rick Cardenas were named co-directors. The board also made some changes and added a board seat. Ways to change leadership had been studied for several months.
The 1999 legislative session got underway. Many disability advocacy groups prepared their legislative agendas for the session. One of the most ambitious proposals came from National Federation of the Blind in Minnesota, which sought an additional $1 million for State Services for the Blind. Many groups were seeking more funding for transportation and transit, housing and services to families and children.
Eric Stevens became the new director of Courage Center. He previously led St. David’s Child Development and Family Services.
Irving Martin, a St. Paul disability rights activist and role model, passed away after a bout with cancer. In 1981 he was the first person with a developmental disability to be elected to the national board of director of Arc. He was a founder of the St. Paul chapter of People First and was co-founder of ACT. He was described as a friend and a hero to others.
At the state capitol, PACER Center was closely following efforts to change special education rules and regulations. Last year there was a push to eliminate all Minnesota special education rules and regulations that exceeded federal law. State officials and stakeholders met but couldn’t agree on what changes. PACER was fighting to retain key rules and regulations that were important to Minnesota families.
Self-defense options for people with disabilities were described. Mary Brandl, a third-degree black belt holder, developed self-defense classes for women with a range of disabilities. She emphasized that women have many more options for dealing with dangerous situations than they realize. She also provided information on how to avoid confrontation and keep confrontations from escalating. Women who had taken self-defense classes said the classes helped them build confidence and feel safer.
Kurt Strom of Oakdale, who served 22 years with the Minnesota State Council on Disability, passed away. He didn’t let ALS keep him from being an effective and well-liked community program director, information officer, co-director and acting director.
A number of bills affecting Minnesota’s disability community were in play at the state capitol. One closely-watched piece of legislation was the waiting list bill, which was meant to help about 3,500 people eligible for developmental disabilities/related conditions home and community-based services waivers get the help they needed. The bill would also help about 900 people waiting for family support program services and another 500 waiting for semi-independent living skills program services.
Another bill drawing attention would provide $40.1 million for Metro Mobility for the next two years, a $5.5 million increase that would provide expanded services. While these bills and many others won praise, advocates were fighting proposed cuts to other programs, including one that allowed people with epilepsy to live independently.
A Disability Culture Conference drew 100 people to St. Paul. Keynote speaker Dr. Carol Gill described how the concept of disability culture is formed through people with disabilities coming together, developing their own set of values and norms, and strengthening each other through sharing the disability experience. Conference-goers learned about disability history as well as current issues. The conference drew attendees with a wide range of disabilities and featured a number of accommodations.
A new Harris Poll showed that nine out of 10 Americans familiar supported the ADA The findings were especially timely given a pending U.S. Supreme Court case out of Georgia, which had ADA implications nationwide for state and local governments.
The 1999 legislative session was reviewed. One highlight was passage of the special education compromise bill. It would set age 21 as the limit for students to receive services (the age limit had been 22). It also set a number of policies and procedures on specific special education issues and allowed the Department of Children, families and Learning to make many rule changes. The omnibus education bill provided an additional $100 million for special education. Persons with epilepsy were pleased to have funds restored for one of their programs. Increased funding was provided for home and community-based services for people with disabilities.
Chris Berndt, who had helped Access Press become a nonprofit publication, drowned in a fishing accident that was related to his Parkinson’s disease.
Minnesota was leading the way with a new work incentive option. State officials hailed the new work option for people on Medical Assistance, saying it would help many people with disabilities return to work. DHS Commissioner Michael O’Keefe unveiled the program to enthusiastic response. One of those at a press conference was Kathy Rathcke, who had to quit teaching after becoming a quadriplegic. She hoped to return to the classroom soon.
But the news was less positive for the ADA, which had three separate U.S. Supreme Court decisions diminish its effectiveness. The gist of the rulings was that people with correctable physical impairments were not considered disabled and not eligible for protection under the ADA. An example was someone whose vision could be corrected with glasses.
Home buying was made easier for people with disabilities thanks to the new HomeChoice program. The program, which involved several disability advocacy groups, helped people with physical or cognitive disabilities buy homes of their own. Home buyers had to undergoing training on home ownership, including one-on-one counseling.
Options for Independence, a Grand Forks-area service profiler, was profiled. The agency covers more than 18,000 square miles of territory in Minnesota and North Dakota and helped people overcome barriers to independent living in a variety of ways. The group also was active in lobbying efforts in both states.
Sculptor Helene E.R. Oppenheimer was leading a group effort to create an ASL/Braille-theme sculpture in St. Paul’s Western Park. Community members were invited to participate.
The custody struggles of mothers with disabilities were described. Three mothers described their long fights to gain or regain custody of their children. One woman was blind, another had cerebral palsy and the third was mentally ill. Disabilities of parents in and of themselves are not grounds for removal of children from parents but all three women felt unfairly judged as a result of their disability.
Gov. Jesse Ventura’s veto of $250,000 for ACT’s Common Vision Leadership Program had self-advocates and Department of Economic Security staff scrambling to find replacement funding. About half of the funding was restored for the first year; the second year was in question.
Access Press won the 1999 Arc Minnesota Community Media Excellence Award.
Changing Futures, a new program to help people with disabilities find and retain employment, was launched by Courage Center’s Vocational Services Department. The program involved several local companies and helped provide job training and job-seeking help.
The possibility of a disruption of services was being eyed with the start of a new century. People with disabilities were urged to prepare for Y2K. Checking on any essential computer-controlled equipment, keeping extra cash, food and water on hand and stocking up on needed medicine and medical supplies were among suggestions. Having a battery powered radio was another suggestion, in case power was shut off.
Former U.S. Senator Bob Dole won the National Courage Award.
History was made as the Remembering with Dignity project dedicated a cemetery at the former Faribault State Hospital. For the first time, people who had died at a state facility had proper grave numbers with names and dates of birth and death. Replacing old numbered markers would help people find loved ones as well as provide proper recognition.
Minnesota was planning its first light rail line, from downtown Minneapolis to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and Mall of America. Access Press looked into accessibility issues and found that attaining maximum access may not be a priority for the agencies involved in rail planning. Concerns were raised about the gap between platforms and train doors, and whether a wheelchair’s front wheel or wheels could get caught.
“Why does this always have to happen?” was heard from a Metro Mobility rider who was picked up more than two hours late. Increasing problems with the paratransit system were documented. Complaint after complaint was heard about vans that never showed up, late vans and poor service. One man told Access Press he had to quit his job due to lack of reliable rides to and from work.
Congress passed the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Bill. The bill was expected to start a five to 10-year process of changes that would help people with disabilities get back to work, by providing a number of work incentives and related services.
Bob Zimmerman was honored by the National MS Society for developing wheelchair ramps for home use.
State Rep. Lee Greenfield, DFL-Minneapolis, stepped down after 20 years. Greenfield was regarded as a champion of disability legislation. He worked on many key pieces of legislation, including PCA programs, TEFRA and MinnesotaCare. Greenfield served for many years as chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee. His retirement was for personal reasons.
A Metro Mobility forum on service drew an angry crowd of people complaining about poor service. Ironically, two people arrived very late for the forum because they traveled there on Metro Mobility.
The Minnesota Association for Children’s Mental Health launched a campaign using children’s drawings on billboards. The intent was to educate the public about mental health issues affecting children, suing children’s own words and art.
Hennepin County NAMI held a forum on proposed legislation addressing the issue of civil commitment. Sen. Don. Betzhold said the system was currently designed so that patients couldn’t be helped until they had hit rock bottom. But Betzhold and Rep. Mindy Greiling wanted to pass legislation that would help individuals and families before they reached a crisis point. The issue was complicated by a number of questions raised by mental health advocates.
For the first time prior to the state of a legislative session, advocates from six Minnesota cities participated in an interactive videoconference to discuss their legislative agendas. Groups from Duluth, St. Cloud, Brainerd, Moorhead, Rochester and Marshall were able to participate with Twin Cities groups and discuss legislative priorities for 2000.
Telephones could be a source of fear for persons with difficulty speaking. A new service offered by Minnesota Relay could address those fears. Speech to Speech would serve people with a wide ranging of speech difficulties make themselves understood. The technology included a three-way conference call feature.
Discrimination complaints against Metro Mobility were filed with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, due to poor service, late or missed rides and poorly-organized and lengthy trips. Shortages of vehicles and drivers caused significant problems.
New appointments to the Minnesota State Council on Disability were announced by Ventura. They were Carolyn Stensland, Geraldine Drewry, Julianne Degenhardt, Joan Willshire, Gary Beringer, John Schatzlein and Robert Cooper.
Hundreds gathered at the capitol to ask “Who Cares?” about people with disabilities. The event was organized by MN CCD and highlighted the need for better pay for the direct care staff workers who cared for persons with disabilities. The group chanted and held signs in support of cost-of-living increases and related issues. Many direct care staff couldn’t remain in their jobs because they pay was simply too low.
University of Minnesota design student Jennifer Stahlberg centered her senior year fashion show on the need for clothing for women with mobility impairments. Stahlberg was inspired after being injured in a car accident. Cut of clothing and types of fabrics were among the issues she studied, Her five models for the show had mobility issues.