Hi, remember us? We’re back with a familiar plea for the 2024 Minnesota Legislature.
Back in December 2021, Access Press made the case for changes to the Minnesota Open Meeting law. At that time we were in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We said, “If the COVID-19 pandemic has had any kind of bright spot, it is in the area of remote work and virtual accommodations. We people with disabilities have fought for such work and community access for many years.”
We also said, “Many of us lost out on opportunities for meaningful work and to be involved in our communities. Our health and disability needs were all too often pushed aside.”
If the pandemic has had any kind of silver lining, it is that we Minnesotans with disabilities and our peers around the world can fully work and participate virtually.
In recent months we sadly watched as virtual work options were cut back or eliminated by many companies. This leaves many of us with disabilities out of job opportunities.
We at Access Press are just as concerned that nothing has been done at the state level to open other doors for people with disabilities. The Minnesota Open Meeting Law needs to change. It hasn’t.
The Minnesota Open Meeting Law at times creates barriers for people with disabilities to fully participate in local and state government. We have the capability for virtual meetings of all types, statewide. Why not fully use them?
The right to have access to and participate in a wide array of government hearings and meetings is something that opened up more during the pandemic. Groups met virtually. Once the pandemic emergency was ended, many of those opportunities were taken away.
The pandemic allowed an array of groups, including local government advisory committees, to meet virtually. The ability to virtually join a local planning commission or library board or advisory committee on disabilities was a great thing for many of us.
We could more easily have a say on issues that affect our lives, be those issues a zoning change, a new city regulation or a policy discussion. Pandemic restrictions gave people the option to be on groups and to present testimony.
We appreciate and praise the Minnesota Legislature and many city councils and county boards around the state that allow virtual testimony. But we’d like to see other boards, committees and commission able to have this option. We’d also like to see more options to have members be able to participate virtually.
We Minnesotans with disabilities already deal with so many barriers. The doors to the halls of power sometimes don’t open for us, literally and figuratively. When we can get to a meeting, we may deal with a lack of American Sign Language interpretation, closed captioning or accessible agendas. We might not even be able to use the podium if it is too high.
Our editor recently had to leave a city meeting she was covering because too many people were drenched in scent, in spite of a sign on the meeting room door asking people to be mindful of wearing excessive scent and how it affects others. She got very sick. Yet she cannot stay home and watch every meeting because all meetings aren’t livestreamed.
Livestreaming more meetings and allowing more people to more broadly participate in government need to happen. It would not only help people with disabilities. It would help working parents, elders and people whose work hours would otherwise prevent them from getting involved.
We continue to hear of and see first-hand groups that cannot meet quorum and do business, because they do not have a virtual meeting option. Not having a quorum delays important decisions.
Can we argue this on the basis of the Minnesota Human Rights Act and/or federal Americans with Disability Act (ADA)? The challenge is that those really don’t address virtual accommodations as they should.
We said it in 2021 and in 2023 and we’ll say it again. It is time to change the Minnesota Open Meeting Law. State lawmakers must be open to changes which allow full community participation, especially by people who cannot physically get to a meeting.
Don’t leave us out. Don’t leave us out of decisions that affect our daily lives. Don’t block us from having a seat at the table and having meaningful input.
Session is starting!
Here’s a quick reminder from us at Access Press. The legislative session starts February 12. It’s a policy year, a bonding year and a time to lay groundwork for future budget issues. Get involved with the group or groups of your choice and have a say this session. And ask us about the possibility of a guest commentary.