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 fourth five years of newspaper coverage.
Major differences were seen in the Minnesota House and Senate’s proposed health and human services legislation. Both bodies proposed policy changes for private agencies that assisted people who wished to leave nursing facilities and transition back into the community. Cost-of-living adjustments were proposed for community services and long-term care providers. But both the House and Senate wanted to adopt significant caseload restrictions for home and community waiver programs for people otherwise eligible for CADI, traumatic brain injuries and developmental disabilities. The House wanted to eliminate MinnesotaCare and included several of Pawlenty’s proposals for cuts.
Proposed cuts to bus service were debated. Metropolitan Council Chairman Peter Bell responded to those fearing cuts, saying that while no one wanted to cut service, a $60 million shortfall loomed for transit.
Jan Malcolm was named new CEO at Courage Center. Her career included work in health care policy, leadership positions at Health Partners, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Allina, and a term as Minnesota Commissioner of Health.
The 2005 legislative regular session ended with no agreement on packages for health care, education and transportation. A special session would be needed, frustrating many who worked hard on bills affecting the disability community.
Metropolitan Council couldn’t make decisions of service reductions yet but did decide to implement a fare increase.
Can headaches be considered disabling? That was a focus of Access Press this issue. National Headache Awareness Week was marked, and ways to treat migraines and other chronic headaches were outlined.
CONNECT/US-RUSSIA promoted greater understanding and connections between the United States and Russia. Its focus expanded to include people with disabilities. Seven Russians with disabilities visited the United States to learn more about programs and services here. One of their stops was at the Minnesota Business Leadership Network at Medtronic. Access Press staff and board members participated in the visit and shared information.
With no state budget deal in place, parts of government shut down. Critical agencies that affect Minnesotans with disabilities stayed open but other programs and services closed. Rural paratransit service shut down. Applications for MinnesotaCare and Medical Assistance were put on hold. State Services for the Blind, the Work Incentives Connection and State Council on Disability also closed.
A special legislative session reopened shut-down programs and services, much to the relief of many community members. Several core components of MN CCD’s, Minnesotans with Disabilities Act were implemented, including lower parental fees for families, choice of community care provider for those leaving nursing homes, lower prescription drug co-payments and an increase in the personal needs allowance. Many state health programs were protected, including MinnesotaCare, thanks to an additional 75 cents per pack charge on cigarettes. The “health impact fee” was opposed by smokers but would raise an estimated $401 million per year.
Another bright spot was increased Metro Transit funding and preservation of services. But limits placed on Medical Assistance waiver program were a worry.
The Age and Disability Odyssey Conference in Duluth provided useful information on a wide variety of topics. Linda Morrow of Elder Circle was one of the conferences’ many award winners.
Two important changes to PCA services were announced by DHS. A new law would prevent a PCA from working unsupervised unless his or her agency had submitted the results of a background check to DHS and received clearance from DHS. This change was meant to eliminate a loophole that allowed people with criminal backgrounds to work as PCAs. A second change required individual PCA, not just their employers, to have a state registration number. This would improve recordkeeping and make it clear when services were provided, and by whom.
For the first time, Access Press printed an article in two languages, Hmong and in English. The article described how parents could find resources and services for children with disabilities and how parents could help their children.
Luther Granquist retired after 36 years with the Minnesota Disability Law Center. His many accomplishments included work on the 1972 Welsch versus Likens case, a landmark lawsuit which sought to improve and change the way Minnesotans in state institutions were treated. As a result most state institutions closed and people moved into community settings. He worked on numerous cases that improved the lives of Minnesotans with disabilities. He was also honored as recipient of the Vincent L. Hawkinson Foundation for Peace and Justice Award.
MN CCD was given the third annual Charlie Smith Award, at the annual Access Press banquet. It was one of several awards the statewide disability advocacy coalition had won. Co-chairs Joel Ulland of National Multiple Sclerosis Society Minnesota and John Tschida of Courage Center accepted the award. MN CCD had started informally about five years and quickly became a force at the state capitol.
November was set aside to recognize the work of family caregivers. The National Family Caregivers Association noted that about half a million Minnesotans served as caregivers for family members. These volunteers provided services that often went unrecognized.
The Access Press Web site had passed the 10,000 visit mark for 2005.
The National Council on Disability called for changes in federal policy. The organization wanted to see more creativity in program design; more accountability in measuring civil rights compliance for people with disabilities; and greater cross-agency coordination in managing disability programs. Gaps in these services and supports meant that many Americans with disabilities were underemployed or unemployed.
Changes in the history books and use of Braille were described. Braille writers, which produce documents for the blind, were once noisy, heavy and costly to repair. Now computerized transcribers could convert electronic documents into Braille hard copies.
Home accessibility issues for holiday guests were discussed. How to accommodate visitors with disabilities was described. Ideas included raising dining room table legs with blocks, use of temporary exterior door ramps and rearranging furniture.
The U.S. Senate passed an agreement with the House on the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, which was seen as having significant negative implications for people with disabilities. The agreement succeeded by a very slim margin, with Vice President Dick Cheney casting the deciding vote. While many agreed that the proposal contains several valuable items, including the Family Opportunity Act and the Money Follows the Person Rebalancing Demonstration, opponents assert that the benefits of the widely agreed upon portions do not outweigh the cuts to programs depended upon by families and individuals in need. Supporters stressed the immediate need to slow government spending in order to control our nation’s deficit.
The VotePAD, an assistive device to help people with hand mobility impairments, was tested.
Thirteen-year-old Josh Scanlon of Delano was selected to attend the 2006 Paralympics Academy at the 2006 Paralympics Games in Torino, Italy. He and other young people would get to meet the athletes and attend the games. Scanlon was active in sports at Courage Center.
Artis Sandstrom was named executive director of the Brain Injury Association of Minnesota. She succeeded Thomas Gode.
The Oregon Death with Dignity Act (ODDA) and its ethical implications were explained. The ODDA enables terminally-ill individuals, defined in statute as individuals with a permanent and irreversible condition that is expected to result in death in six months or less, to request a lethal dose of medication for the purposes of ending his or her life in a “humane and dignified manner.”
A group of blind people filed a class action lawsuit against Minneapolis-based Target Corporation, centering on alleged problems blind people have with a Web site that is not totally compatible with screen reading programs. The National Federation for the Blind charges “that Target’s Web site, www.target.com, is inaccessible to the blind, violating the California Unruh Civil Rights Act and the California Disabled Persons Act.” But Target officials argued they have always been committed to respecting diversity.
A consortium of Minnesota hospitals announced a partnership with Communication Services for the Deaf, Inc. of Minnesota, to respond 24/7 to sign language requests.
VSA Arts of Minnesota launched its 20th anniversary year.
Members and friends of the disability community gathered in front of the Ted Mann Concert Hall at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis to protest philosopher Peter Singer. It was the first disability-related protest on campus in over ten years. Although the focus of Singer’s lecture was on factory farming and vegetarianism, he was challenged by people with disabilities for his controversial views advocating the right to euthanize babies and in some cases, adults, with severe disabilities.
Jason McElwain of Rochester, a student-athlete with autism, was featured. He’d managed his high school team before getting the chance to play in the final game – and scored 20 points. Most of his points were on three-point shots. He was enjoying the media attention.
DHS implemented a new registration process to track PCAs and home health aides who perform services in the community. The program was meant to provide accountability. Approximately 21,000 PCAs were assigned identification numbers. As a part of this process, DHS determined 230 people shouldn’t be providing services, due to failure to pass criminal background checks or tax issues. But some questioned whether the screening process would lead to delays in obtaining PCA services and would add to costs.
May’s observance of Mental Health Month put the spotlight on issues and services, including St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church and its ministry to the mentally ill. Support, ministry and a resource library were among the church’s offerings.
Barb Smith of the Minnesota Work Incentives Connection received the Skip Kruse Memorial Return-to-Work Award for “tireless energy, compassion and vision, demonstrated in promoting the use of Social Security Administration (SSA) employment support programs for people with disabilities.” In 1993, Smith initiated the Minnesota Work Incentives Coalition, which sponsored training on a variety of Social Security, Medical Assistance and other work incentive topics. Smith was also the Coalition’s liaison to MN CCD.
Changes loomed ahead for managed care as a result of changes adopted by the 2006 Legislature. One key change was that people eligible for MA were now required to join a managed care plan. That change affected more than 286,000 people.
The AutoMARK voting machine was making its debut in many Minnesota polling places. People with disabilities hailed the ballot marking machine because it made it easier to vote independently and privately. Voters could use a keypad or touch screen to vote. The device aided blind and deaf voters, and had audio and written instructions. “This is an exciting breakthrough for blind Minnesotans and for other people with disabilities. For the first time, blind people will be able to vote without any assistance from another human being,” said Steve Jacobson, NFB of Minnesota.
The need to keep TTY technology, in a time of emails, instant messaging and relay services was debated in the deaf community.
Mark Olson, president of the National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals (NADSP), announced the first-ever national credentialing program for direct support professionals. The program was voluntary. Anyone interested had to complete a training program before seeking credentials. Those seeking credentials also had to show a clear understanding of the NADSP code of ethics. NADSP had 28 affiliates in 19 states.
Medtronics announced first first-ever formal mentoring program for college students with disabilities. Awareness Benefiting Leadership and Employees about Disability (ABLED) promoted workplace inclusion.
Candidates for governor and U.S. Senate and their stand on disability issues were featured.
Minnesota native and stand-up comedian Josh Blue was featured. Blue, who grew up in St. Paul, didn’t let cerebral palsy stop him from having a successful career He won top honors on the television show Last Comic Standing and won the 2004 Royal Flush Comedy Competition in Las Vegas. His humor centered on how he perceives life and how he has been seen as a “victim” of cerebral palsy.
Breaking the cycle of problems for disabled and homeless veterans was the challenge facing the St. Cloud Veterans Administration Center and other Minnesota programs and services. One huge need was for more transitional housing for veterans.
MCIL celebrated its 25th anniversary.
After a whirlwind tour of Minnesota to educate people with disabilities and their families on state and federal health care policy changes, leading disability advocates were excited about the many families they connected with. “We reached hundreds of families, particularly in rural Minnesota,” said Joel Ulland, cochair of MN CCD. “People are hungry for this kind of information and eager to know how they can get involved to preserve these critical health services.” MN CCD partner organizations prepared for the 2007 legislative session and wanted community members to be ready to speak out on budget issues.
Courage Center opened a chronic pain clinic, to replace one that had recently closed at Abbott Northwestern Hospital.
Remembering With Dignity was seeking people with knowledge of the City of Rochester, to help them find the Rosemont Cemetery, where the earliest residents of the Rochester State Hospital are buried. A plat map was found, showing the location of graves and names of each of the 75 people buried in the cemetery but the exact location had not been found. Remembering With Dignity was in the process of marking 12,500 graves like those at Rosemount, with patient names and dates of birth and death.
John G. Smith was honored as 2006 Charlie Smith Award winner. Smith was a longtime advocate with various Arc organizations in the Twin Cities and with People First Minnesota. He was also recognized for his work at U of M Institute on Community Integration.
High school students and St. Cloud residents Heather Breitbach, Amelia Boos, Ashley Antonelli, Craig Roering and Charles Schumacher wanted to learn to drive. But their deafness became a roadblock. After private drivers’ education schools in their community refused to provide sign language interpretation they and their parents contacted the Minnesota Disability Law Center. Attorneys told the students and parents that the schools were violating the Minnesota Human Rights Act and ADA by refusing to provide an interpreter. The center filed a lawsuit, which resulted in a settlement. The students were able to take drivers’ education with the services of an interpreter.
Actor and playwright Kevin Kling and Interact Theater were performing in Australia. They would perform with Australia’s Tutti Ensemble, which included performers with disabilities.
Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie focused on barriers to voting. Although Minnesota is a national leader in voter turnout, Ritchie noted that Minnesotans with disabilities are less likely to vote than other eligible voters. He was looking at ways to improve voter turnout.
Mary Bailey Bustos of St. Paul won Metropolitan State University’s fall 2006 Outstanding Student Award. She wrote poetry and took part in many activities despite short-term and long-term memory loss as a result of TBI. She majored in human services, chemical dependency and corrections. She made many accommodations to get through college.
Nationally known disability activist Robert G. Sampson died. He earned a law degree when few people with muscular dystrophy did so. He served on many national boards, commission and committees.
Local disability community leaders debated the “Ashley treatment.” Parents of a physically and cognitively disabled nine-year-old Seattle girl, Ashley, were having her undergo medical treatments so she wouldn’t mature into womanhood. Ashley’s family defended the treatment, saying they would make her care easier. Many advocates were horrified, saying convenience shouldn’t usurp the girls’ rights. But some parents said that Ashley’s parents shouldn’t be judged, citing the challenging in caring for their children as they grew up.
Local disability activist Chuck Frahm was remembered for his work with United Cerebral Palsy, especially his community organizing efforts and work to make voting more accessible.
Gillette Lifetime Specialty Healthcare announced it was expanding its adult services clinic.
A survey by the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disability showed that Minnesotans’ attitude toward people with developmental disabilities had changed favorably over the past 45 years. A vast majority of people favored full integration into the community, as well as use of public money to assist families. Advocates were pleased with the findings and saw an impetus to seek continued change.
The 2007 Minnesota Legislature was looking at several changes to managed care. Expansion was being considered for enrollment in prepaid health plans. People with disabilities would benefit from expansion, as well as other changes.
Pet Crossings’ Animal Hospital and Dental Clinic in Bloomington and its hiring of employees with developmental disabilities was highlighted. Five employees there came from the Partnership Resources Inc. Program.
Restoration of rights under the ADA prompted discussion throughout the nation. Since the ADA was adopted, U.S. Supreme Court cases were seen as eroding its effectiveness. Several members of Congress planned to introduce legislation to restore legal rights and reverse impacts court decisions had had.
A new statewide network had formed. SAM or Self-Advocates Minnesota was meant to help people with developmental disabilities and other disabilities assert their rights to self-determination and independence. ACT had worked for almost two years to help set up the network.
Litchfield resident Brian Heuring wrote about his years of misdiagnoses before being found to have high-functioning autism. He had worked to live independently, attend school and find a career. He credited several advocacy groups for helping him.
Representatives of the United States sparked outrage when they skipped a United Nations ceremony to mark the signing of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Disability community advocates urged a letter-writing campaign to members of Congress and the White House, to urge the United States to sign the convention.
Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) rewrote its taxicab guidelines after dog guides and their users were denied cab rides. Cab drivers who failed to allow access to their cabs faced fines, suspension and in the worst cases, revocation of their licenses.
Dudley Hansen showed off the Liberator three-wheeled motorcycle. The rear-engine vehicle helped Hansen, who had lost his legs in a farm accident, enjoy the open road again.
Brave New Workshop’s new show, Rise of the Celebretards, drew protests for the offensive title. Many individuals and disability organizations protested, including the Arc of Minnesota and Self-Advocates Minnesota. They flooded the theater Web site and mailbox with their comments. But Brave New Workshop defended the title, saying that in satire offensive language was sometimes used.
The health and human services legislation adopted by state lawmakers was analyzed. Significant improvements were seen for the mental health, deaf and hard-of-hearing communities. Another plus was the reduction in co-payments for MA and GAMC users. Advocates were also pleased that funding was retained for the Disability Linkage Line. , But many other key pieces of legislation, from improved voter access to more help for transit, were shot down.
Access Press hosted visitors from Uzbekistan, through the Minnesota International Center’s International Visitor Leadership Program. Two visitors brought copies of their disability newspapers they published in their homeland. We Want to Talk About Ourselves is a publication for children. Dignity is a publication for adults.
Minneapolis City Council passed an ordinance requiring that new taxicab companies have at least 10 percent of their fleet be wheelchair accessible within 60 days of getting licensed. Existing cab companies had until the end of 2007 to comply.
Area celebrities played the Midway Lions Beepball Team in a game at Midway Stadium. Beepball players are blind or wear shades to block their vision. A beeping ball and modifications to the game of baseball are used. The Lions easily won.
Disabled Vietnam veteran John Fields fought unsuccessfully for years with the Veterans Administration (VA) over benefits. He and his family worked closely with other disabled veterans. He claimed disability due to war-related physical and mental injuries but the VA denied his claims for disabled veterans’ life insurance. His family lost their home after his death from cancer.
Controversy over the Brave New Workshop and the “R” word continued with community forums and a call to action. Many called for a broader campaign to combat negative references in popular culture.
The Road to Freedom bus tour stopped in Minneapolis and St. Peter. The bus museum was full of information about the history of the disability rights movement.
The Minnesota News Council upheld two of three complaints centered on Minneapolis artist Mari Neumann and the play The Mad Woman of Chaillot. Newman complained to the News Council that she was unfairly depicted in an article. The Daily staff defended the writing, saying the intent was to draw parallels to real life, and to speak critically about societies that label people as “crazy.” But some panel members said the writing had an underlying negative tone that was unfair to Newman. The council debated whether Newman was a public figure.
Blind customers were filed complaints with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to force change in the cell phone industry. The cited poor access to phone service and a growing need for accessible cell phones.
ADAPT members in Chicago confronted the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFCME) over the union’s support of reopening an Illinois institution for people with disabilities. AFSCME and ADAPT also clashed over the union’s refusal to endorse legislation support home and community-based services for people with disabilities. More than 120 ADAPT members and supporters were arrested for blocking AFSCME office doors.
Two major Stillwater construction projects, Washington Park and Lift Bridge renovations, were criticized for violating or ignoring the ADA. Curb cuts weren’t installed in some places. In others they were made incorrectly.
Minnesota North Stars quad rugby’s intersquad event was a hit at the Abilities Expo in Minneapolis.
A DHS photo exhibit of Minnesota state hospital history and nursing homes was criticized for what it didn’t show. While there were many pictures of buildings on display, little was shown about the people who lived in the facilities. Information was displayed about the 1949 decisions to stop using restraints and other steps taken to improve the treatment of people who lived in the institutions. But exhibit visitors said they would like to have seen more about the facility residents.
Northwestern College in Roseville conducted eye-opening activities during Disabilities Awareness Week. Many buildings were marked due to their lack of access.
People Enhancing People founders Jim and Claudia Carlisle were honored as winners of the Charlie Smith Award.
ACT members traveled to New York City to launch a new human rights manual, lead training sessions for people from around the world and celebrate the recently adopted UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The Minneapolis City Council would soon equip 11 crossings with accessible pedestrian signals. APS technology would make it safer for people with low vision or blindness to cross intersections. The city hoped to add the technology at more intersections on the future.
United Cerebral Palsy Minnesota hosted its fourth annual Celebrity Waiters’ Dinner fundraiser. Figures from sports and television served as waiters for the event, which raises funds for UPCMN’s operations and services.
Advocacy groups rallied to block proposed new rules which would make it more difficult to move people from nursing homes back into their own homes. The rule allowing for 180 days of coordinated relocation services was eyed for a change to 60 days. The Metropolitan Center for Independent Living (MCIL) Nursing Home Relocation Program, which helps people make the move, was publicizing the proposed change. The story featured Toni Mitchell, who had just moved back to her home after a nursing home stay with the help of the MCIL program and the funding from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS).
A new chapter of ADAPT formed in the Twin Cities. Organizer Galen Smith answered reader questions about the 25-year-old grassroots disability advocacy organization.
MN CCD prepared for the 2008 legislative session, which began this month. Healthcare reform, transportation needs statewide, caregiver tax credit and other issues were to be brought forward at a time when the state faced a general fund deficit of $373 million.
Pat Mellenthin was named to head the Arc of Minnesota. She replaced Steve Larson, who became public policy director. Mellenthin previously worked for the agency’s branch in southwestern Minnesota. There she worked on the merger of several local chapters into a larger regional group.
Advocating Change Together (ACT) and its Disability History Exhibit were invited to the Hungarian Eotvos Larand University and other destinations. ACT Co-Director Rick Cardenas said the exhibit would spread the word about disability as a human rights issue.
The Institute on Community Integration at the University of Minnesota hosted an art show featuring works by artists with developmental disabilities, from Partnership Resources Inc. The show was held at Pattee Hall and began with an open house where many of the artists were on hand to discuss their works. The artists received art instruction and studio space at PRI’s facilities.
Writer and wheelchair user Tiffiny Carlson is out to redefine the American concepts of beauty. She has written for many Web sites and national magazines and has her own blog, BeautyAbility.com. She also writes the Tiff’s Corner column on the lovebirds.com Web site, dispensing relationship and dating advice.
The Work Incentives Connection provided information about how to receive federal economic stimulus checks and what the eligibility standards are.
Disability Day activities at the state capitol drew a large crowd. About 360 people attended the sessions and visited legislators. Participants came from around the state, including many organizational representatives, self-advocates and family members of persons with disabilities. Many participants feared a repeat of the 2003 session, when the state budget was balanced on the backs of those with disabilities. The state budget projected out for 2009 had ballooned to $935 million.
The Social Fun-Joyment Program was featured. This program is a unique therapy program for teens with Asperberger’s Syndrome and highly functioning autism. Reach for Resources was offering five groups and planning to add several more. Participants got to meet other teens, participate in fun activities and develop social skills.
Health care reform was still being debated at the state capitol. The main sticking point was how to pay for changes to the system and how to expand coverage to more uninsured Minnesotans. Pawlenty wanted to use some of the Health Care Access Fund to help cover the state’s budget deficit. Legislators wanted to use the funds only to pay for health care. Other ways to streamline the health care system were being sought. Impacts on the disability community were still debated.
The Courage Center’s Junior Rolling Timberwolves varsity wheelchair basketball team was honored for placing first in a national tournament in Seattle. The group, which includes nine boys and girls ages 13-18, was honored by state lawmakers during a visit to the capitol.
The 2008 legislative session wrapped up. The biggest challenges for persons with disabilities during the session were the budget deficit, as health and human services had been targeted for substantial cuts. As a result home and community-based waiver services limits were set for persons with traumatic brain injury and for persons eligible for nursing home care. Limits mean more people will have to wait for services.
Education for persons with disabilities also faced challenges. Pawlenty vetoed the E-12 Educational Policy Bill and the E-12 Omnibus Education Budget Bill. Only a handful of items eventually did pass, including an increase of $51 per student in state aid.
The first Service Dog census was underway, to count the number of service dogs in the United States.
The proposed Central Corridor light rail line was well into the planning stage yet few people were speaking out about platform and train access issues. The 11-mile rail line, which will connect downtown St. Paul to downtown Minneapolis and the Hiawatha line, was the focus of a series of public meetings. One issue that had to be sorted out was how plans for public art at the stations would affect rider access and ease of use. One challenge with Hiawatha is that stations can be difficult to navigate.
Living at Home/Block Nurse programs around the region lost state grant funding and had to lay off staff. The programs are praised for keeping persons with disabilities and senior citizens in their homes, by providing home nursing care and other needed services.
St Paul skyway access generated debate. The City Council adopted regulations calling for skyways to be open between 6 a.m. and 2 a.m. but many building owners were asking for exemptions. Closing segments of the skyway system would mean that persons using the skyways would have to navigate to an elevator to get to street level, and then find another open door and elevator to get back inside. Building owners argued that requiring longer hours would add to their security, utility and maintenance costs.
Elections were on many community members’ minds as they made preparations to vote. The prospect of long lines in November prompted a push for more information about absentee voting and how it can be an option for persons with disabilities.
For very different reasons, two movie premieres captured the attention of community members. The movie “Tropic Thunder” was released despite protests from activists and community members objecting to the release of a movie full of “retard” slurs. The documentary “Offense Taken” was released to cheers. It was produced locally by the Self Advocates of Minnesota (SAM) and filmed and directed by Jerry Smith of the Institute on Community Integration. It was based on a 2007 Brave New Workshop play and protests there.
Finding gainful employment and adaptive services were among the barriers disabled job seekers were facing. The Statewide Independent Living Council, Minnesota State Rehabilitation Council and Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) hosted a jobs forum, which drew numerous individuals with disabilities.
Target Corporation settled a lawsuit with the National Federation of the Blind over Web site access. Lack of accessibility for customers who use screen readers was at the center of the lawsuit, which was filed in 2006. The settlement resulted in changes for the Target Web site and $6 million set aside for lawsuit plaintiffs to share.
Target and NFB officials announced that they were satisfied with the settlement and that they hoped this would better serve visually impaired Web users. Web site access for persons with visual disabilities was also the subject of this month’s Web sitings column.
Access Press published an extensive elections edition in preparation for the Nov. 4 national, state and local elections.
The significance of the ADA Amendments Act was outlined. The act, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2009, restores the ADA to its original intent. More than 200 organizations throughout the U.S. lobbied for Congress to make the changes to the ADA. The ADAAA basically undid a number of court decisions and federal actions that had undermined the ADA’s intent since the ADA was adopted in 1990. Advocates hailed the changes as long overdue.
Speaker, writer and artist Pete Feigal was honored as the 2008 Charlie Smith Award Winner.
The brutal attack of Justin Hamilton, a developmentally disabled man, was detailed. The Lakeville resident was attacked and tortured by a group of people he considered to be his friends. Five people were charged in connection with the attack.
The disability community said a heartfelt thank you to outgoing State Rep. Shelley Madore. The Apple Valley DFLer, who had lost her bid for another term in the Minnesota House, was honored at the annual Minnesota State Council on Disability banquet and awards ceremony. She is the parent of a son with autism and a daughter with spinal bifida. Madore was inspired to run for office after the state cut budgets in 2003.
Disability advocates from around the country watched a situation unfold in Iowa, where parents and adult children were trying to prevent disabled family members from voting. A developmentally disabled man from a group home was allowed to vote against his mother’s wishes. Also, a woman challenged her elderly mother’s right to vote.
Minnesotans and the state agencies that serve them were looking at a difficult 2009 legislative session. Unallotment of state funds was one worry. Another was Pawlenty’s announcement that he would not support spending reductions for the military, veterans, K-12 education and public safety. That meant human services programs would be vulnerable to cuts. The state budget deficit was $35 billion.
Disability organizations planned a Disability Advocacy Day in February, and organized other rallies to draw attention to disability community issues and the need for continued state funding. However, most community leaders conceded that it would be a very tough year.
The People and Places column featured photojournalist Dan Habib’s film, Including Samuel. The film focused on Samuel, who has cerebral palsy. Samuel is Dan Habib’s son.
Newman, a service dog belonging to eight-year-old Wally LaBerge, couldn’t accompany the boy to classes in St. Paul Public Schools. Wally is autistic. Wally’s parents Victoria and Tim were considering their options in light of the school district’s decision. Wally’s parents said Newman keeps their son calm and focused, and helped him in school. But after a trial period school district officials said the dog couldn’t remain in school. Schools allow dogs to be tried in a classroom on a case-by-case basis, looking at whether or not a student is making progress with the help of a dog, and how student and dog relate to other students.
A state audit of personal care agencies and the assistants they provide was released, and immediately generated debate.
The federal economic stimulus and how it would affect struggling state budgets was outlined. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) would provide needed help to education and health and human services. But how federal money would play into looming state budget cuts was still a question mark. Budgets were expected to sustain deep cuts but federal funds would have a variety of impacts. Some levels of federal funds for Medicaid and Medical Assistance would increase.
Columnist Stephen Gold, an attorney and Americans with Disabilities (ADA) expert, explained the economic stimulus would affect Medicaid programs, and how effects would vary.
Writer Mai Thor introduced readers to baby Matthew Nam Loob McIntosh. His birth marked the final chapter in Pregnancy Journal, which described how disability can affect a pregnancy.
The difficulties of being a long-distance caregiver during a natural disaster were described in Two Sisters’ Story. Cynthia, who lives in St. Paul and other family members set up a care network for Diana, who lived in Fargo. Diana was developmentally disabled, had mobility issues related to cerebral palsy, and dementia. Diana was in hospice care in Fargo when the 2009 Red River Valley flooding hit. Her family found she had been taken to a small town in rural North Dakota. A companion article provided information on emergency planning and preparedness.
Thousands of Minnesotans with disabilities rallied at the capitol to draw attention to the looming problem of budget cuts. Rallies were being held throughout the session to spotlight programs that were threatened with cuts.
Minnesota’s disability community braced for severe budget cuts, as one of the most difficult legislative sessions in recent memory wound down. The inability of the House, Senate and Pawlenty to reach agreement on spending meant unallotment would take place. MN-CCD and many other groups rallied community members for a final round of outreach. MN-CCD Coordinator Anni Simons told members, “We are at one of the most critical times in the evolution of our community-based service system – maybe the biggest challenge to the system we have ever faced. Individuals and programs are all at great risk.”
MN-CCD filed a federal Department of Justice complaint against Minnesota Department of Transportation and other governmental agencies, alleging that highways, streets, bridges and sidewalks aren’t in compliance with the ADA.
The dust settled at the capitol after a difficult legislative session. Inability to reach agreement on budgets meant Pawlenty would soon start the process of unallotment. The state had a $4.6 billion hole. A majority of lawmakers wanted to use taxes and budget shifts to fill the gap but the governor vetoed those proposals. What did get signed into law were many substantial cuts in healthy and human services programs affecting people with disabilities. Especially hard-hit was the PCA program. Those cuts would affect more than 8,000 Minnesotans.
Other legislative actions that would have huge impacts included a line-item veto of funding for General Assistance Medical Care (GAMC), cuts to disability waiver programs, cuts to care providers and foster home operators and dental service cuts.
The threatened unallotment of funding became a reality. The impacts were wide-ranging for the disability community. The PCA program was further hit, with the number of hours per month for a worker was cut from 310 to 275. While that would save the state money it would result in persons with disabilities not getting access to needed PCA hours.
The Minnesota Disability Health Options program, the state’s only integrated managed care program for people with disabilities, had been threatened with $6.7 million in cuts as a result of actions during the session and unallotment, but the cut finally came out to $4.7 million.
2009 marked the 30th anniversary of the Sister Kenny Institute’s Golf League and the 26th year of the annual golf tournament.
Improper use of restraints at the Minnesota Extended Treatment Options (METO) facility in Cambridge sparked a lawsuit in U.S. Federal District Court. Employees at the state mental health treatment facility were accused of routinely restraining patients, causing injury. Patients were placed in seclusion rooms for extended periods and deprived of family visits. METO was insisting that use of the restraints is “essential” but family members said otherwise. “This lawsuit is about human dignity and respect for people with developmental disability and their families,” said attorney Shamus O’Meara.
Changes were coming in 2010 to the many dial-a-ride programs in the Twin Cities, which serve many elderly and people with disabilities. The service would become Transit Link. Service would be curb-to-curb, hours of service cut and assistance from drivers limited.
Anne L. Henry, staff attorney for the Minnesota Disability Law Center, was honored as 2009 Charlie Smith Award winner. For more than 30 years Henry has advocated for the rights of people with disabilities. She was involved with a pivotal court case that led to the closing of state hospitals for persons with developmental disabilities.
A proposal to provide needed housing for young people with disabilities met a hostile reception in the Twin Cities suburb of Centerville. Zumbro House, which owns and operates more than dozen similar facilities in the region, dropped its plans to purchase and develop two group homes in Centerville. Anoka County Social Services was in support of the plan. But some Centerville and Anoka County officials lobbied hard against the proposal.
Two types of flu—the seasonal ailment and H1N1—hit Minnesota hard. The Minnesota State Council on Disability, Department of Health, Centers for Disease Control and other agencies spread the word about how to cope with the diseases, how to recognize symptoms and when to seek medical help. Two different vaccines were needed to fend off the two types of flu. But in some cases, health care providers recommended ill people stay home, rather than spread the flu. Persons with disabilities and their care givers were advised to be especially vigilant against the spread of flu.
ACT celebrated its 30th anniversary with a cruise on the Mississippi River and a dance. The grassroots social change organization began when there was no self-advocacy movement in Minnesota.
How the planned Central Corridor light rail line would affect disability service-related businesses, clients and employees was discussed. Construction of light rail would start in 2010, with operations underway in 2014. One huge concern was that about 85 percent of the on-street parking would be lost. That would affect businesses including Handi Medical and the Low Vision Store. It would also affect businesses that had petitioned the city and paid extra for on-street parking spots signed for persons with disabilities.
The Justin Hamilton case ended, with the conviction of the fifth and final person who had assaulted the developmentally disabled young man. Hamilton was beaten, kicked, burned and tortured over a two-night period in October 2008.
MN CCD was gearing up for the 2010 legislative session, with proposed legislation on PCA regulations, housing, employment, health care and transportation. With another state budget deficit, the main issue for the upcoming session was maintaining services and funding, rather than trying to restore past cuts. Another concern is that not all of the issues raised could be addressed by the whole coalition during the upcoming session. Instead, each advocacy groups would have to take leadership roles on specific bills.
The biggest concerns remained the looming cuts to PCA services and GAMC.
The Arc of Minnesota and other community members honored the late Gerald Walsh, who led The Arc on a major change of course as its executive director from the 1950s into the 1970s.
GAMC was set to end March 1. Protestors appealed to Pawlenty and the Minnesota legislature to preserve at least part of the program, which serves many of the state’s poorest and most vulnerable residents. About 36,000 people would be affected by the end of GAMC, many of them mentally ill or living with other disabilities. Pawlenty’s administration urged people to transition to MinnesotaCare but that program wouldn’t be able to expand enough to serve them.
Everyone was reminded to participate in upcoming precinct caucuses, to have a say in choosing candidates for Congress and state office.
Arc Mower County volunteer Lavonne Marie Mallan passed away. She was a longtime Special Olympics coach and friend to many people in southern Minnesota.
The end of GAMC was postponed for a month as state funding was extended. Legislators worked to find a compromise solution, which could go into place until federal health care reform took effect. Advocates flooded hearing rooms to make their case for a continued program in some form.
In Minneapolis, city officials and disability advocates disputed the levels of city staffing for ADA compliance and the qualifications of a staff member hired to handle those concerns.
Two notable community leaders passed away. Richard Mathison was a longtime ACT and Arc volunteer. Ken Nitsche, Sr. served on the Minnesota Association of Children’s Mental Health Board of directors, volunteered with and was a foster parent for children with disabilities.
A projected state budget deficit of $994 million has brought a proposal for deep cuts in state budgets. The cuts include $347 million in various health and human services programs. This devastating budget news comes on top of the current efforts at the capitol to save GAMC. The crush of issues added a sense of urgency to upcoming disability community events at the capitol.
Four hundred self-advocates family members, advocacy staff and direct care staff gathered at the capitol that day to make their case at Arc Disability Day. Advocating Change Together, Arc Greater Twin Cities Brain Injury Association of Minnesota, People First of Minnesota, Self Advocates Minnesota and The Arc of Minnesota organized and sponsored the event. Many people spoke about the impact of cuts.
A small part of GAMC was preserved through a legislative compromise but quickly became undone as hospitals around the state opted out. Many health and human services programs remained on the chopping block as the legislative session continued.
Paralympics skier and biathlete Kelly Underkofler was profiled. The Highland Park High School graduate competed in events at the Vancouver games. This marked her third competition, as she also was on the U.S. team in Salt Lake City and Torino, Italy.
Polar Plungers were recognized for raising more than $1.4 million for Special Olympics Minnesota, at events in lakes throughout Minnesota. Many wore costumes as they took the plunge into frigid waters