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People with Disabilities Speak for Change in Public Programs

Updated: 05/20/2014 1:33 PM
Created: 05/19/2014 3:45 PM WDIO.com
By: Travis Dill
tdill@wdio.com

Officials from several Minnesota departments gathered in Duluth on Monday to hear from people with disabilities. Their input will guide changes to public programs that impact the disabled, but several were frustrated with the bureaucratic process.

Minnesota's Olmstead Plan is meant to direct public programs for people with disabilities while giving the disabled a voice in the process. That was why the Olmstead Subcabinent set up shop in Duluth's city council chambers on Monday. The group of state officials wanted to hear how they could better serve people with disabilities, but Bridget Riversmith said the meeting itself was a problem.

“While I really appreciate the listening sessions, three minutes once a year does not feel adequate for me to give my input,” Riversmith said.

She said many disabled people like her did not hear about this opportunity to speak up, and those who did had to work or could not make it to city hall. Advocate Laura Birnbaum said people with disabilities in the rural reaches of the Northland have a tough time arranging a ride.

“Transportation is rural areas is a huge issue so transportation just to get to their daily jobs, fun activities or just daily life things that a lot of us take for granted they don't have access to,” Birnbaum said.

Birnbaum hopes more can be done on the transportation front, but she said an even bigger issue is that people with disabilities don't always see independence as an option.

“So a person with a disability, if you don't see other people working in the community getting paid competitive wages or you don't see people living in their own apartments on their own it's about informed choice or even knowing that's is an option. So how do you advocate for something that you want if it's not even part of your reality,” Birnbaum said.

She said people with disabilities can feel secluded even living in communities, but social workers bridging the gap could make a difference.

“To really connect people and kind of get rid of that label so people will see a person and not just a label,” Birnbaum said.

That takes time and resources, but people with disabilities and their advocates said they will continue to rally for state support. 

The Olmstead Subcabinet has two more listening sessions scheduled on June 9 and August 11 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. The location of those meetings is still being determined.

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