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 first five years of newspaper coverage. Subsequent installments will appear in future issues.
Access Press published its first issue, describing itself as “a new monthly publication assumes an advocacy role for tens of thousands of previous under-represented Minnesotans – those with physical or mental disabilities.” The issue included a congratulatory letter from Gov. Rudy Perpich, who wished founding Editor Charlie Smith good luck in the new venture. The first-ever Access Press Directory of Organizations was published.
A profile featured Rep. Lee Greenfield, DFL-Minneapolis, who had been involved with key human service legislation over the past 12 years. Greenfield was a strong advocate for the disability community. Another article described the approaching vote in Congress on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Access Press published a detailed summary of the proposed legislation.
This issue was not found.
Articles described the difficulty of finding accessible public transit. The Regional Transit Board (RTB) hosted meetings to seek input on the need for better transit access. Metro Transit buses were being equipped with lifts, but it would take 12 years to make the bus system 100 percent accessible.
A feature began on community agencies, with a profile of Midway Training Services, a Ramsey County day habilitation and training service for adults with developmental disabilities. Another new feature was The Frugal Diner, which focused on area restaurants in terms of costs as well as accessibility issues.
Survivors of traumatic brain injury were invited to join a support group organized by the Minnesota Head Injury Association. The Community Support Network Program was working to reduce barriers.
Passage of the ADA was front-page news. “The bill is the most comprehensive antidiscrimination law to go into effect since the 1964 Civil Rights Act,” an article stated. “The ADA will bar discrimination in transportation, telecommunications, public accommodations and employment.”
But while ADA was celebrated, another story raised concerns about spend-down requirements passed by the Minnesota Legislature. Amendments to state law, to comply with federal law, put many Minnesotans in a bind. Wage earners with disabilities were now required to spend more of their income on medical costs than previously required.
Some feared losing their homes or having to quit jobs and apply for assistance. Other features included political questionnaire about universal health care and a description of accessibility improvements at the upcoming Minnesota State Fair.
Several thousand low-income older Minnesotans who are eligible for cash benefits from the federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Program miss out because they either didn’t know about the benefits, don’t understand them or can’t figure out how to apply; as many as 50 percent of those eligible weren’t participating in the program.
The Homeshare Program in Washington and Dakota counties, which helped persons with disabilities and senior citizens retain their homes and independence, was highlighted. The
program screened potential participants and matched home owners with live-in companions. Another feature described challenges faced by eight year-old Erica Schuldt, who was in a dispute with the Mankato Public Schools. She and her family couldn’t get the school district to make wheelchair accessible improvements to their neighborhood schools.
Growth in the assistive technology field was described, with a focus on state efforts for the past five years. Perpich was noted for leadership in promoting assistive technology and for an awards program to honor those who devised assistive technology items. The Minnesota System of Technology to Achieve Results or STAR Program was described.
The winners of STAR awards were announced. A sampling of cultural opportunities in the Twin Cities, headlined you can get there from here, described how museums and theaters provided—or didn’t provide—accommodations. Parking, drop-off points, seating and restrooms for each were detailed as were accommodations for people who needed ASL or AD services. The first-ever Scott Adams cartoon appeared in Access Press.
How does a quadriplegic carve a work of art? Very, very carefully was the headline for a feature about Lakeville resident Bill Buckley. Buckley was an avid outdoorsman who took up carving after a motor vehicle accident. He began with a decoy purchased at a rummage sale, and then began carving his own detailed birds.
The Closing the Gap conference in Bloomington offered a way to exchange information on special education and rehabilitation. More than 1,300 people attended the many workshops and visited more than 500 exhibitors.
The Minneapolis Rehabilitation Center, celebrating its 30th year, served people with a wide range of disabilities. Its most recent program was a computer aided design or CAD training program, the first of its kind in Minnesota.
New Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin was profiled. The commissioner, whose district includes much of South Minneapolis, wanted people who use county health and human services to be more involved in decisions affecting those services. McLaughlin would write an Access Press column for a few years.
One focus was a state budget shortfall and pending program cuts. Smith warned readers that cuts could have a dramatic effect on the state’s disability community. Some articles described protests of state offices as well as the various legislative issues that would be in play during the 1991 session. Two features centered on issues for the deaf community. The Hearing Dog Program of Minnesota was featured, as was ALDA – the Association of Late-Deafened Adults.
Organizers were preparing for the Eighth Annual Special Olympics Games, to be held at locations throughout the area in July. It would be the largest international multi-sports competition ever held in Minnesota. Volunteers were sought to help with events at the Metrodome in Minneapolis, the state capitol in St. Paul, the University of Minnesota campus, Minnesota State Fair and National Sports Center in Blaine. Team Minnesota would include participants in 13 sports.
Much of the issue had a sports theme, including a look at how Wilderness Inquiry provides outdoor recreation for persons with disabilities. The issue also included a profile of St. Paul boxer Gene Schultz. Schultz won Golden Gloves titles in 1978 and 1979 before losing part of his right leg in a motorcycle accident.
The Minnesota Health Care Access Commission, appointed by state lawmakers in 1989, presented its final report on the state of healthcare. The fact that thousands of Minnesotans lacked health care pointed to a system in need of reform, according to the report. High costs of health care and difficulty in even finding basic health insurance were other issues raised. More than 10,000 Minnesotans were surveyed as part of the report.
The Twin Cities’ many organizations serving visually impaired persons were profiled. At the time Minneapolis Society for the Blind was one of the state’s oldest groups, dating from 1914. Other groups described include Prevent Blindness/Preserve Hearing, Blind, Incorporated and State Services for the Blind and Visually Handicapped. A related feature was a list of resources.
Affordable, accessible housing was the focus. Smith noted that the problem was growing as federal home ownership efforts hadn’t expanded significantly since the 1940s. More subsidies were needed to provide needed housing.
State legislators wrangled over proposed reforms to health care access. Ideas included formation of a new state agency to oversee health care, as new health program for the uninsured and under-insured, and a reinsurance pool for high-cost cases. One key conclusion of the commission was that universal health care was needed.
Renovation of St. Paul City Hall/Ramsey County Courthouse was criticized because only nine of 25 courtrooms would be made accessible to persons with disabilities. The decision, made by the County Board, was criticized by disability advocates and the St. Paul City Council.
The future of the Metro Mobility system was debated at the state capitol. Hundreds attended a state capitol rally to object to Regional Transit Board decisions to cut service and raise fares, in response to state budget cuts. United Handicapped Foundation put forward a counterproposal with a different level of fare increases.
In his editorial, Smith wrote, “The Metro Mobility Program needs full funding and a commitment of future growth.” He noted that Metro Mobility was improving and drawing more riders each year, but that its funding needed to come from general taxation and not just riders who could least afford rate increases.
Access Press debuted its first camping and outdoor recreational directory in this issue, outlining options including Courage Center’s Courage Camps, Eden Wood Camping and Retreat, Confidence Learning Center and Camp Winnebago.
Waning days of the 1991 legislative session were met with dismay by Smith, who chided lawmakers for lack of action. He scolded disability community members for not being more involved. He said discussions of the state’s budget shortfall were used as an “alibi for inaction” to ignore issues including health care reform. There was also frustration with possible personal care assistant (PCA) and Metro Mobility cuts.
Minneapolis Rehabilitation Center graduated 14 computer-aided design specialists. All had gained experience before graduation through a three-month internship program and most had found jobs by the time they graduated. The Access Press reader profile featured John Schatzlein, who oversaw the spinal cord injury program at Sister Kenny Institute. Schatzlein was a member of 15 boards, associations and committees.
Access Press reviewed its first year, with the headline “Win Some, Lose Some.” Smith said the next six months would be a turning point for the paper. He urged readers and donors to support the newspaper’s advertisers.
Smith called Gov. Arne Carlson “Reagan in a Gopher Suit.” Carlson had just vetoed the health care access bill. “Minnesota was to be a trend-setter in the nation in this piece of legislation, even the watered-down version which finally passed,” Smith wrote. “The important feature was the commitment being made. Minnesota was about to demonstrate that we were willing to join the ranks of the human beings of the world. But chose instead to stick with the policies of insurance companies and our only ally in the developed world, South Africa.”
Despite 97-degree temperatures, Metro Mobility riders in the Fair Fares Coalition rallied in front of the governor’s mansion. Not only had service been cut, fares had doubled. One protest sign stated “RTB is taking us for a ride.” Carlson addressed the large crowd but told them they should be directing their concerns to state lawmakers who had failed to provide enough funding for the program. Carlson set up a loan of $400,000 to $500,000 to tide Metro Mobility over to the end of 1991.
In a commentary, RTB Chairman Michael Ehrlichmann explained the cuts and the efforts for all to have public transit. Ehrlichmann said lawmakers only provided RTB with $25.3 million for Metro Mobility, $4 million short of what was needed.
St. Paul Rehabilitation Center announced a new program for job seekers with disabilities. The new office technology program would train office workers in skills that would help them land jobs. The program was housed at St. Paul Companies. Metro Mobility was still in doubt. Prohibitions on Metro Mobility spending and problems with a voucher program for the neediest riders complicated the problems riders faced.
Smith noted the frustration with transit funding, noting that while Metro Mobility funding was hard to find, funding for light rail transit seemed to magically appear out of nowhere. A photo retrospective reviewed at a very successful Special Olympics competition. Athletes, their families and an army of volunteers all enjoyed a successful event.
The dispute over Metro Mobility service cuts and fare hikes continued as Minnesota Department of Human Rights Commissioner David Beaulieu charged that the RTB discriminated on the basis of disability under the state human rights act. The RTB entered mediation with state officials to settle the dispute. Morgan Grant of United Handicapped Foundation said it was a victory for Metro Mobility riders.
Judy Hoit, winner of the Handicapped Women of Iowa pageant, wrote about her experiences and opportunities. “Everything may not be done in a so-called normal fashion, but that doesn’t matter,” she wrote. “It’s more important to have a full life the best way possible and to live life – to focus on what you can do, and do it.”
In the battle for universal health care, the Minnesota Council of Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) announced a proposal that would provide health care coverage for all Minnesotans by mid-1997. Reforming the HMO and insurance industries and making coverage available to everyone was the basis of the plan. Debate over Metro Mobility continued, with an offer by RTB to have fares of $1.70 for non-peak and $2.20 for peak hours. This was lower than proposed but still higher than riders had paid. It was also much higher than the bus fares paid by bus riders.
In an editorial, Smith urged more be done to lower fares and improve services, noting that many had had to quit their jobs or cut travel in light of higher fares.
Ways to become self-supporting while retaining benefits was the topic of a series of articles. The Plan for Achieving Self-Sufficiency or PASS was outlined. It allowed a person with a disability to work toward financial independence.
Yet another fare change for Metro Mobility was announced. This one imposed a fare of $1 for most rides. Disability community members were angered at a series of public hearings held by RTB. Some accused the board of not knowing how to set a budget. Community members also felt that efforts by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights and Carlson fell far short. Smith called for the return of the Fair Fare Coalition and suggested another mass protest be held outside of the governor’s mansion.
History and current services of Gillette Children’s Hospital were featured. Gillette had served children with disabilities for 100 years, with about 850 patients admitted each year and more than 30,000 annual outpatient visits. Gillette was at capacity and planned to expand. The hospital had added a center for technology as well as more medical specialists. The University of Minnesota spared its occupational therapy program. The dean of the School of Medicine had proposed eliminating the program.
Community members prepared for the 1992 legislative session. Restoring funding for Metro Mobility, health care access and other priorities were outlined. Metropolitan Center for Independent Living weighed in with a guest editorial on the importance of Metro Mobility and how it should be supported along with other accessible transit options.
Wheelchair aviators were flying high. Mindy Desens, owner of Lucky Mindy Aviation in Litchfield, offered training and support for pilots, with Richard Logan. Logan provided ground training and training on use of hand controls.
United Cerebral Palsy of Minnesota, which began in 1953, was the agency featured. Its educational and support services were described, along with new programs. The “Hello Nicole” advice column featured a letter from a young person with cerebral palsy, preparing to move to his first apartment despite family objections.
The community was ready for the start of the 1992 legislative session. Rep. Paul Ogren outlined the prospects for healthcare reform. He warned that the proposal could face a governor’s veto, as it did in 1991.
Rehabilitation counselors Julie Redenbaugh, Linda Sourbis and Lowell Aird volunteered at El Centro de Indepenia in San Miguel de Allenda, Guantsjuanto, Mexico, a center for lowincome people with disabilities. The center opened its doors in 1987, starting a wheelchair factory and then expanding programs and services.
Disability community activists wrangled with RTB over the ADA Paratransit Plan. The RTB was trying to use new ADA rules as a means of further cutting services. The United Handicapped Federation had issued a transportation alert to draw attention to the problems the RTB was creating. Access Press and the ADA statewide Steering Committee on Accommodations were gathering information on business that didn’t provide access, with the intent of publishing that information at a later date.
Access Press published information on the federal universal health care act of 1992, which Sen. Paul Wellstone was championing. Other plans were outlined, by California Gov. Jerry Brown, President George Bush and Minnesota Medical Association. Readers were urged to compare plans.
At the capitol, community members jammed the rotunda twice to protest further cuts to Metro Mobility and cuts to PCA programs. For Metro Mobility, elimination of suburban routes, cuts to evening and weekend service and elimination of trip assurance were proposed. Pending PCA program cuts were part of $100 million in Department of Human Services cuts proposed by Carlson. PCA services had already been cut in 1991 and advocates feared further cuts would result in institutionalization of people who currently live independently.
The battle over PCA services was won, as written comments and personal testimony swayed state lawmakers against making further program cuts. But Metro Mobility was not faring as well, with less attention given to service reductions. Jackie Alfonso of United Handicapped Foundation wrote that most legislators needed information about what daily life is like for people with disabilities, and how further cuts now would cost more later. Alfonso noted that state administration seemed to have targeted people with disabilities for cuts. But community members had mobilized this session and were active in telling their stories.
Sister Kenny Institute announced a new temporary help program, providing employment for people with disabilities. The jobs ranged in length from four hours to two years, and provided many opportunities.
Sen. Linda Berglin and Ogren explained the HealthRight Program, the state’s new medical plan. They explained who is eligible and how to apply, as well as how the program would be financed. The program would provide more access to health care, while containing costs. The program was not free and people would have to pay for coverage.
Metro Mobility again didn’t fare as well, getting $1.5 million added to its budget instead of the plus $5 million sought. One of the key issues in the ongoing transit debate was, should all transit be more accessible or should more resources go to Metro Mobility?
Access Press announced the start of its first personals ads. Steps had been taken to ensure privacy for those seeking to meet others.
Debate continued to flare over RTB’s handling of Metro Mobility. Riders and advocates packed a recent open house. There was frustration that information was not clear and was at times contradictory. “It seems the confusion will never end,” Smith said. He scolded the board for presenting and then retreating from plans. Many were angry and confused, and unclear as to how services would be affected.
The United Handicapped Federation, Handicabs, Ebenezer Transportation and riders weighed in with editorials. One huge concern was that RTB intended to contract with one or a few large service providers, shutting out smaller companies.
The RTB also responded, noting that board members were still considering a new service concept. The RTB was using savings to provide the same level of service while changes were made.
Access Press unveiled a new column to answer questions about the ADA. Access Press wanted people to understand their rights to access to public places and to clarify how businesses and institutions should comply.
The Minnesota Society for the Prevention of Blindness and Preservation of Hearing was profiled. The group was founded in 1939 and worked to prevent the loss of two of our most precious senses, vision and hearing. The society’s many programs and services were described.
More than 200 people attended the first-ever national conference on violence and substance abuse for the deaf community. The conference, organized by Perspectives Inc., was held in Bloomington and was considered to be a great success. The conference theme was “Breaking the Silence.”
New rules covering employment discrimination under the ADA became effective this summer. Disability community groups were working hard to ensure small businesses that they could help meet their employees’ needs without incurring high costs.
Voices for Disability Rights had formed. The new political action committee had a booth at an ADA celebration at Lake Phalen. The group formed in response to recent actions at the Minnesota Legislature.
Another newcomer to the community was DRAGnet: Disability Resources, Activities and Groups Network. Volunteers, one from United Handicapped Federation and the other a parent of a child with disabilities, created the new electronic bulletin board service. DRAGnet would be available 24 hours a day, providing a wide range of information for people with all types of physical and cognitive disabilities.
Access Press published a special higher education edition, explaining how most state colleges and university meet if not exceed ADA regulations. A school-by-school review of accommodations was presented, for students with learning and physical disabilities. Contact information was given for campus organizations for students with disabilities. Augsburg College was one of the leaders. The school was investing more than $1 million to improve its accommodations.
Just in time for Disability Awareness and Education Month in October, Social Security, Supplemental Security Income and other programs were explained. Congressman Jim Ramstad hosted a forum to discuss barriers in current laws that prevent Americans with disabilities from finding gainful employment. Ramstad wanted to improve work incentive program and hear from community members.
Disability Employment and Awareness Month was marked with a rally at the state capitol and other events, and in articles. Smith remarked that the event was positive and had a good impact on the community, but questioned why it didn’t get more coverage from Twin-Cities news media.
One inspiring story was about a PTA group in Columbia Heights, which decided to plan and build an accessible playground at a site between Columbia Heights High School and Highland Elementary School. The playground, called Castle Heights, would accommodate up to 150 children. At the time it was one of the few playgrounds in the country that provided for the integration of children with disabilities into a wide range of fun activities.
The early days of Arc of Minnesota were outlined. It started as a Minnesota group focusing on children but had grown into a national organization for people of all ages who face developmental disabilities. Arc of Minnesota President Virginia Hanel explained how the organization was working to help families today. One change was switching to fact sheets, rather than longer handbooks and manuals, The fact sheets would be more concise and easier to update.
Access Press was publicizing Expressions, a new bi-monthly magazine that would showcase writers and artists with disabilities. Art, poetry, stories and essays would be accepted, but not political viewpoints. Editor Sefra Kobrin Pitzele didn’t want readers to pity the writers and artists, saying she didn’t want a “poor me rag”.
Sister Kenny Institute and Sister Elizabeth Kenny were featured. She began her nursing career in Australia, treating polio patients with her own therapies of heat and stretching of muscles. She opened her first clinic in 1933, starting what would become a worldwide treatment model. She came to the United States in 1940, traveling to Minneapolis to help doctors deal with a polio outbreak here. Her work expanded to its own ward at the University of Minnesota, and then to a rehabilitation center in Minneapolis’ old Lymanhurst School.
United Handicapped Federation had a new name. The Disability Rights Alliance name was announced at the group’s annual meeting, held at Courage Center. The organization included more than 50 groups.
The Guthrie Theater announced the implementation of its audio description or AD program, a new service to make theater-going more enjoyable for the blind or people with low vision. AD was gaining popularity across the country.
The Coalition on Health Care Issues for Persons with Disabilities worked with other advocacy groups to shape and disseminate information on pending state health care reform proposals. The coalition was working on many issues during the 1993 legislative session, including equal coverage for mental health conditions, opposing reductions in PCA funding and legislation to increase coverage for medical supplies. At the national level the group was focused on the ongoing national health care reform debate, where the main focus was single-payer versus managed care programs.
Changes and challenges were ahead for Metro Mobility. Disability community members were following legislation closely, to stave off further cuts to routes. One bit of good news was that the “trip assurance” program was to be restored in April. Still, the program was short of money. But there were questions about a proposed centralized approach to the program and how that would affect service as well as service providers.
One more provider, National School Bus Service, was terminating service because it could not cover its costs. Users of service worried that other providers would follow suit.
Access Press and Smith were honored by the Goodwill/Easter Seal Society with the outstanding print media award. The award was given for outstanding reporting and analysis of issues affecting people with disabilities.
Sticks and Stones, a video documentary produced by Advocating Change Together (ACT), made it debut at the Minnesota History Center. The documentary highlighted the state’s self-advocacy movement and its history.
In an article headlined Smug non-compliance is the norm, Mindy Desen described the difficulty in finding accessible public facilities in rural Minnesota. The places she described include a bank-turned-library with inaccessible restrooms and children’s room in the basement, store owners parking in and blocking signed parking spaces, and a post office whose postmaster refused to install a ramp because of building aesthetics. “In a small town, I hear it’s important to get along with everyone,” Desen wrote. “I’d certainly welcome a contingent of out-of-towners to help stage a protest.”
Disability and the Dollar, a Program on Rationing and Allocation of Resources in Health Care was the theme of a well-attended conference in St. Paul. The Minnesota State Council on Disability and the Coalition on Health Care Issues cosponsored the conference, which offered a wide range of views on the complex topic of universal health care.
Minnesota ADAPT was involved in debate over PCA care versus nursing homes during the legislative session and in the community. About half a dozen activists used their chairs and chains to block the entrance of the LaSalle Convalescent Home in Minneapolis. ADAPT leader Barb Knowlen was among those arguing that nursing home admissions were more about the financial health of the facility and less about the client’s health.
Exposure and sensitivity to chemicals was a growing health problem, but sufferers were frustrated to have the condition described as a neurosis. The disability was caused by exposure or overexposure to chemicals ranging from lawn chemicals to personal care products.
Shriners Hospital for Crippled Children/Twin Cities Unit was featured. The hospital, one of 22 in the United States and Mexico, provided care for children with a wide range of orthopedic disabilities. The services helped families who could not otherwise pay for a children’s care.
Crystal resident Jeff Bangsberg was honored for his work on behalf of Minnesotans with disabilities, with the Minnesota Department of Jobs and Training’s Volunteer of the Year honors. He not only worked for state rehabilitative services, he also devoted time to many community groups.
RTB hired an outside management firm to run Metro Mobility to provide better services as well as program efficiencies. The firm ATE Management and Services was chosen from eight companies. Riders hoped the new firm would provide improved service.
Help Yourself, an all volunteer group that provided people with speech synthesizer, software, computers and printers, was seeking donors to open a communications center to help the disability community. The volunteers were currently operating out of two home offices but wanted to set up a drop-in center.
John B. Hockenberry, a former National Public Radio and current ABC News correspondent, was honored with the 1993 National Courage Award from Courage Center. Hockenberry, a paraplegic, traveled the world as an award-winning reporter.
Just weeks after celebrating its first anniversary, the Disability Rights Alliance closed its office and shut down. The DRA, formerly the United Handicapped Federation, represented more than 50 groups in research and lobbying for people with disabilities. Differences in policy direction prompted board members and staff to quit. The DRAGnet program would continue on its own. Other groups were trying to salvage parts of DRA’s work.
Nine-year-old Rachel Esparza and her mother Ann, both of Mendota Heights, testified before a U.S. Senate subcommittee on disability policy. Mother and daughter described how assistance technology has made life easier for the young girl, who was diagnosed with serve spastic quadripartite cerebral palsy. Her power wheelchair and augmentative communication device helped her be fully engaged in home and school life.
Metro Mobility’s trip assurance program, which was restored in the spring, was canceled again. The RTB had to cut the program due to scheduling problems, throwing work and personal schedules of riders into disarray. Providers indicated they could not keep up with ride requests. Some providers threatened to quit if trip assurance was required. RTB officials were working to restore trip assurance by fall.
The recent ADA celebration at Boom Island was a success, although windy weather got the best of a couple of tents. Students from the University of Minnesota Disabled Student Cultural Center wore T-shirts with a starry sky and the phrase “To go boldly where all others have gone before.”
Implementation of a new Metro Mobility system was more uncertain than ever due to a lawsuit by Metro Ride, a firm that unsuccessfully bid for a provider contract. The RTB hired new providers Handicabs and Mayflower Contract Services Inc. to start providing rides in October. Other firms would provide supplemental service. RTB Board Chairman John H. Riley said that despite the lawsuit, RTB was committed to the restructuring of and improvements to Metro Mobility. But the lawsuit could potentially delay or even scuttle long-awaited restructuring, further frustrating Metro Mobility riders.
Former Navy Frogman and SEAL Jim Mantalas, owner of Dive Shop in Eagan, was offering scuba diving lessons to swimmers with disabilities. Tim Boyle, a paraplegic, was one of the divers Mantalas worked with.
The soap opera that was Metro Mobility continued as the agency lacked experienced drivers and had to stop taking trip requests. The program could provide 3,200 trips per day, far short of the 4,000 trips requested. The situation was a nightmare for riders who could not get to work or appointment, or could not get home from work. Carlson called in the National Guard to help.
School District 197 in northern Dakota County offered a new access project for people with disabilities and for people who wanted to learn more about disabilities. Community education programs were offered on the topics of service dogs. Sign language for emergency personnel and community service opportunities. Programs were also established to help deaf students obtain their GEDs, and develop writing skills.
Dan Hibbert of Metro Mobility’s management company, ATE Management and Services, met with disgruntled riders. He said improvements had been made to improve the transit service but many riders weren’t convinced. Their concerns filled three pages of the newspaper. One writer, Lolly Lijewski, wrote that one of her friends had only been picked up twice from work in the last three weeks. Getting rides home from coworkers meant leaving her wheelchair at work. Access Press, for its part, checked ATE’s references from around the country and found negative responses.
Minneapolis and St. Paul each no longer had a Society of the Blind. The groups merged to form a new entity, Vision Loss Resources, Inc. The merger began in 1992.
President Bill Clinton’s efforts to get a national health care bill passed were foundering, which disability community members saw as a lost opportunity. Smith wrote that the proposal was too cumbersome and that recent response from the community indicated a preference for single-payer plans. Several forums were held to discuss the Clinton proposal and other plans.
Achilles Track Club, a group that promoted long-distance running for runners with disabilities, had started in the Twin-Cities area. “Mainstreaming is our goal, people doing the most they can is our philosophy,” an article stated. Scrutiny of Metro Mobility and RTB continued., Transit providers as well as disgruntled riders had filed lawsuits. A study of the service was also underway.
James Brady, former press secretary to President Ronald Reagan, visited Minneapolis to present awards from the National Organization on Disability. Brady was disabled in the attempt to assassinate Reagan. He honored the community of Columbia Heights for building the accessible Castle Heights playground and the accomplishments of the Minneapolis Advisory Committee on People with Disabilities. Both groups received cash awards.
Community Involvement Programs hosted a discussion with U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone to discuss housing and health care for people with disabilities. Wellstone announced a federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grant of $3.2 million to help the agency provide housing for homeless mentally ill adults. CIP would use the grant to create more housing opportunities.
Rider outrage was finally having an effect on Metro Mobility as state lawmakers took notice of the complaints streaming in. Sen. John Marty was one of the first to step in, suggesting the formation of a riders’ board to manage Metro Mobility, taking control away from RTB. More than 20 community organizations were pressuring state lawmakers for change. Metropolitan Center for Independent Living was organizing community members to contact state legislators.
Open Door – New Abilities, a new Twin Cities theater group, was raising money to travel to Brussels for a performance at the international Very Special Arts Festival. Open Door promised to change the way audiences view theater. The group performed at several Twin Cities theaters.
At an ARC of Hennepin County health care forum, Anne Henry of the Minnesota Disability Law Center urged community members to carefully evaluate proposed reforms. She warned that some proposals could result in the loss of benefits people with disabilities had won in past years.
ATE Management and Services Company would no longer operate Metro Mobility, as a result of a class action lawsuit settlement. ATE and RTB also had to pay $1.35 million to Metro Mobility riders who suffered damages when the transportation system collapsed in 1993. Included in the settlement amount was $200,000 in free ride coupons.
For the first time in its 40-year history, United Cerebral Palsy of Minnesota elected a president with cerebral palsy. Rob Chalmers had been active with UCP since 1972.
Planning was underway to redesign the troubled Metro Mobility agency. The RTB held community forums to discuss needed changes and hired an ombudsperson to resolve and mediate disputes during a period of transition for the agency.
RTB was in the process of hiring a new management company. But there were still problems. One letter to the editor described a rider who watched as not one but two Metro Mobility vans pulled near her apartment building, then drove away. She had called the agency to complain but didn’t get a good response. Jimmie Lee Gaulden, a member of the Goodwill/Easter Seals Board, was profiled. He didn’t let a neuromuscular disorder keep him from working for First Bank Systems and being an active volunteer.
KTCA-TV became the first television station in the country to offer a new technology device to make programs accessible to visually impaired viewers. Descriptive Video Service was hailed for providing narrated descriptions of key video elements of programs. “DVS does for the blind what subtitling does for the deaf,” said Glenn Fishbeck, president of United Blind in Minnesota.
U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone explained in a guest opinion piece that mental health and substance abuse disorders should be included in federal health care reform programs. He urged other members of Congress to look at cost-effectiveness benefits of mental health and substance abuse treatment.
The group Voices for Disability Rights hosted its second annual meeting, with State Sen. Linda Berglin as keynote speaker.
The Minnesota State Council on Disabilities was at odds with the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. Public safety officials routinely sold lists of information, including lists of persons who had obtained disability parking certificates or license plates. The state council objected, contending that many listed are vulnerable adults. The fear was that scam artists could easily use the lists to find victims. Disability community members had recently been contacted by out-of-state companies selling medical equipment and insurance.
The Minnesota Head Injury Association was challenging U.S. Sen. Dave Durenberger. The senator was trying to repeal helmet and safety provisions in federal transportation legislation. He angered local activists by using their information to claim that public education is more important than federal mandates.
The Minnesota Health Commission, created as part of MinnesotaCare, had two new members. The Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities chose Jeff Bangsberg to represent them with Tom Brick as alternate, The Mental Health Association and Americans for Recovery chose Bill Conley as representative with Bruce Nelson as alternate. This was the first time the disability community had direct legislation on the commission, thanks to a change in state law.
Minnesota sent a delegation to the second International Very Special Arts Festival, which was held in Brussels. The VSA-MN delegation included organization Executive Director Craig Dunn and artists Gene Chelberg (sculptor), Jane Gerus (painter), and Open Door Theater troupe members Brian Shaughnessy, Shawn Needham, Joy Mincey Powell, Kirk Mattson and Jaehn Clare.
Metro Mobility continued to face problems, especially with trips from area to area. One service provider in particular was also the focus of complaints, for long riders, late pick-ups and rude drivers. Riders also reported difficulty in booking rides at the needed times. Riders were urged to call Metro Mobility so problems could be documented.
Plans were underway for Disability Pride ’94, an alternative Labor Day event to be held in St. Paul’s Highland Park and televised regionally. The event was meant to counter the annual Jerry Lewis Telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, which many community members criticized for its depictions of people with disabilities as objects of pity. The Labor Day event would include performances, information about disability culture and pride, and information about organizations.
More than 40 Minnesota self-advocates attended the National Conference on Self-Advocacy in Alexandria, Virginia. They were part of a group of more than 1,000 people interested in learning about other’s self-advocacy efforts and in forming a national self-advocacy organization. Gloria Stenbring from Advocating Change Together and Diane Jellison from People First Central were elected to that organization.
Courage Center hosted the annual disability rights conference, Know Your Rights. Keynote speaker was Ed Roberts, president of the World Institute on Disability. Several disability community organizations were event co-sponsors.
Scott Hallonbeck and Jean Driscoll broke national men’s and women’s records in the Kaiser Roll in Bloomington. The 8KM wheelchair race had been held annually since 1981, with 15,000 in attendance this year.
Major changes were proposed in Medical Assistance Rules, related to medical equipment and supplies. Prosthetics and orthotics would also face new regulations. A number of new regulations were proposed. Disability community advocates worried that the proposals would make it difficult if not impossible for people to obtain needed equipment and supplies.
“When Billy Broke His Head. . . and Other Tales of Wonder” opened to a standing-room-only crowd at the Walker Art Center. The story of Billy Golfus and his life after an accident and head injury drew rave reviews for its frank approach to disability and the barriers people with disability face. Producers Golfus and David Simpson wanted to have the film shown on national television. Funding was sought to more widely distribute the film.
Metropolitan Council took over operations of Metro Mobility, raising more questions about the transportation provider’s future. John Walsh, executive director of Metropolitan Center for Independent Living, addressed the council’s Transportation Committee to outline ongoing concerns about Metro Mobility and ways service could be improved.
DHS rule changes were still being debated. Objections to the proposed changes, which would affect medical equipment and supplies, prosthetics and orthotics had resulted in a delay. DHS was convening small group meetings to discuss the proposed changes after hearing from many concerned community members. DHS was also reconsidering restrictions on eyeglasses and vision care.
Independence Crossroads announced two new support groups, for adults with disabilities and for children with disabled family members.
Pending 1995 legislative proposed were reviewed. A cost of living increase was requested for PCAs. PCAs had seen one 3 percent increase in five years. Increases of 4 percent were proposed for 1995 and 1996. Full funding for Metro Transit and statewide paratransit services was sought. Metro Transit’s funding crunch meant the program was near capacity, and fare increases and service cuts loomed.
Support programs were also being sought for parents with developmental disabilities. Increased funding and housing for mentally ill Minnesotans and health care reform were other issues state lawmakers would consider.
Tom Botzet, a special education student at Columbia Heights High School, was chosen to represent Minnesota at an Austrian celebration marking the 50th anniversary of the nation’s liberation during World War II.
Nationally recognized disability advocate Justin Dart sounded the alarm about potential threats to ADA and other disability programs. Minnesota groups quickly mobilized to meet with members of Congress. The proposed Contract with America, a Republican initiative, would have a destructive effect on laws meant to protect and ensure equal opportunity for people with disabilities. Republicans around the country were calling for elimination of the ADA, calling it a costly unfunded mandated. Medicaid and the Individual Disability Education Act were also under fire.
The Metro Mobility lawsuit settlement was approved, with riders sharing $680,000 in cash and $155,000 worth of free ride coupons. An additional $45,000 in free rider coupons were distributed earlier. Riders were compensated for lost wages, payment for alternative transportation and other costs.
Carlson proposed a 25 percent cut to PCA services, as part of his state budget proposal. The governor’s proposal threatened to roll back PCA service gains made in recent years. Advocates argued the cuts were unrealistic, given the recants moves to deinstitutionalization and the growing population with disabilities.
In Congress, a bill to eliminate unfunded federal mandates was being debated. In a guests column Wellstone explained that the bill’s intent to limit unfunded mandates on state and local government wouldn’t affect anti-discrimination programs – including the ADA. That provision had been eliminated thanks to the hard work of disability rights advocates.
Arc Ramsey County opened a toy and adaptive equipment lending library, with games, toys, cognitive and adaptive equipment available.
Governor in Wonderland was the front page headline, above an article describing Carlson’s proposed budget cuts. The PCA cuts were presented as part of a proposal to restructure the program, raising red flags for the community. DHS suggested reinvesting the PCA savings in other waiver programs but community activists were skeptical. Community members were urged to pack upcoming rallies and legislative hearings to make their objections heard.
Another fear was the proposed elimination of aid to children with disabilities, which was provided through TEFRA Medical Assistance. Almost 4,000 families would be affected. The cut would have mixed effects on children and families. Some called for moving children and families to other programs, but children with mental health diagnoses had no alternative waived services program available.
Protests against pending state budget cuts at the capitol included a sit-in in the governor’s foyer. Approximately 30 people, including 20 using wheelchairs, said they wouldn’t leave until Carlson met with them. Carlson’s staff said he wasn’t available but the group stayed and security was called. Some left the foyer but seven others stayed and were detained by security and Minnesota State Highway Patrol. The seven, including Smith, thought they were arrested for disorderly conduct. But after other news media arrived the officers stepped back, saying they weren’t actually arresting the seven and would only ticket them for trespassing. Group members said they were willing to go to jail but that there was no way to transport so many people in wheelchairs for processing.