The Minnesota State Council on Disability has a new Executive Director. Joan Willshire, former Chair of the Council has been named as the new Executive Director. Joan is not new to the Council she has been a member since the early 1990s and was appointed by the Governor as Chair in 1999. She has knowledge of the staff, the current Council members, and the issues that affect the disability community. Willshire is no stranger to the disability community, she has been on the Minneapolis Committee for People with Disabilities, and she has been a consultant to many disability education organizations throughout the Twin Cities. She has volunteered for the MS Society and has won awards for her commitment to the cause. Willshire has a Masters degree from the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs with an emphasis on the rights of the people with disabilities. And she, herself, has a disability.
I have gotten to know Willshire sinceI began working for Access Press lastv spring. She is a go-getter and she will work to fulfill the mission and strategic plan that the Council created in 2001under the leadership of David Skilbred.
That mission states that the Minnesota State Council on Disability is an agency that collaborates, advocates, advises and provides information to expand opportunities, increase the quality of life and empower all persons with disabilities.
While creating this mission, the Council also created a two-year strategic direction that includes:
serving as a source of information to the public regarding all services, programs, and legislation pertaining to persons with disabilities;
providing an advisory function to the governor, legislators, state agencies, and the public on matters pertaining to public policy concerning persons with disabilities;
being responsive to its customers and collecting systematic information on customers needs and satisfaction;
evaluating the existing data available about people with disabilities in Minnesota, to concluding whether that data is comprehensive and/or sufficient.
The overall strategy of this plan was to have MSCOD recognized as a statewide public policy leader in providing disability-related information and leadership to empower all persons with disabilities. Under the leadership of David Skilbred, the Council implemented many portions of this strategic plan. In 2001, with legislative support, they passed the “visitability” law, which significantly expanded accessible housing in Minnesota. The Council implemented a training program to the Minnesota Department of Employee Relations (DOER) by training state managers in areas related to disability awareness and employment. They published in collaboration with the Department of Human Rights, Know Your Rights and Responsibilities, which also has a website at www.therightsplace.net/disability.
In the summer of 2002, I met then Executive Director Skilbred and heard what the MSCOD was about and how it works for people with disabilities. Before meeting Skilbred, I did not know the Council existed or what they were all about. As I became more involved with the disability community through the Minnesota Business Leadership Network, I learned many things about the disability community that I hadn’t known. His vision to create more public awareness of the Council has strengthened it internally in order to flourish in the present and be successful in the future. Skilbred left the Council in October 2003 for a career in policy creation for the banking industry.
This leaves Joan to continue to build on the mission and complete the strategic plan. She is currently working on the legislative summaries and issues affecting persons with disabilities in the upcoming election. She is also implementing a Minnesota-wide Get Out To Vote effort, working with the Secretary of State’s office and the American Association of People with Disabilities to ensure that all persons with disabilities are informed on their right to vote. In addition to all this, the Council annually hosts an awards and recognition luncheon presenting awards that recognize the work of organizations and individuals from several communities around the state. The date has been set for September 30, 2004. Mark your calendars and watch for more information. Of course, all of these projects collaborate the efforts of the Council becoming more recognized as a resource to the disability community.
As the latest slogan in business has more and more companies and organizations “Doing More with Less”, the MNCOD, like so many others, was hit hard by the last round of budget cuts, and they are working hard to stay afloat in these tough times. I’m seeing that Joan will not only implement the strategic plan, she will surpass it and bring the Council to the forefront as a leader in the disability community, and she encourages all Minnesotans to contact the Council with disability related issues. She is striving to keep this world a better place to live, work and play.
If you need information on a disability issue or want to join the Council to further their mission and vision, contact the Minnesota State Council on Disability at 651-296-6785, TTY 1-800-945-8913 or go to their website www.disability.state.mn.us