By Sheryl Grassie, Director/ MNCCD
The State of Minnesota’s Department of Human Services (DHS) is the regulatory agency that provides support to people with disabilities. In other words, they control the money and enforce the parameters for how people with disabilities will live. If we the public don’t like those parameters, it is up to us to change them. The question is, “How do we do that?” We must approach change through legal avenues such as asking our legislators for mandated reform, or initiating lawsuits.
I strongly disagree with DHS Commissioner Piper’s reference in her August 22, 2016 Star-Tribune Op-ed Counterpoint article reprinted in last month’s Access Press p.5, that, “It is unfortunate that we now must divert precious resources meant for people living with disabilities to defend lawsuits.” This, in my mind, is circular thinking. If the resources were allocated in the first place, there would be no need for lawsuits. Lawsuits, like the one currently going forward from Disability Law regarding DHS segregating people in group homes, are not frivolous or unfortunate; they are necessary responses to a lack of proactive programming and funding on the part of Minnesota legislators, lawmakers, and DHS.
Currently our state faces a number of, shall we say, untenable parameters being maintained by legal decree and DHS. These include below poverty level income for people with disabilities, poverty level income for direct support staff working with people with disabilities, policies that restrict an individual’s ability to live in the community, and a lack of living and employment options that meet the needs of the wide spectrum of disabilities served in our state.
As an outsider looking in, one might view our state as an oligarchy that supports “one size fits all models” like the four person group home. We are a state that continues to keep people with disabilities living in deep poverty, a state that offers a very limited selection of choices for individuals with disabilities, and a state that continues to equivocate when it comes to real change.
Commissioner Piper invites us to “pull together in the same direction” to support people with disabilities. We in the greater disability community are “pulled together,” and we are weary of what feels like an old and well-worn litany on our part of “things must change.” Often DHS will tell us they support needed change, but then hedge, throwing their hands up and saying their systems are just too complicated to accommodate a change; it would be cost prohibitive and take years and years to implement.
However, change is a necessity and governmental systems should not be a roadblock to improving services. Advocacy efforts will continue through the avenues available, including lawsuits and legislation. At The Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities we have a new set of policy priorities for the 2017 legislature. Our hope, as always, is to create needed change for people with disabilities and the support workers who care for them. If funded, these priorities would positively affect many of the untenable parameters currently being maintained, namely the right to live and work independently in the community, in settings of individual choice, free from poverty. May the current law suit from Disability Law be a catalyst for some of this needed change, and may the coming legislative session bring us closer to our goals.
(July 21, 2015, St. Paul, Minn.) Video games can mimic real life. Just as a game’s missions can include moving from screen to screen, collecting things to increase life capacity, and leveling up to be more effective, people in real life move from day to day, collect resources to improve life, and gain knowledge to contribute to society. And just like video games, life can come with obstacles.
For Nate Allard, a 15-year-old from Chanhassen, Minn., obstacles don’t stand a chance at keeping him away from his life’s missions, including creating, designing, and building a video arcade game from scratch, a feat he accomplished despite some challenges.
When he was 3, Nate was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a neurological disorder that falls on the autism spectrum. Autism often affects social interaction, the ability to communicate ideas and feelings, imagination, self-regulation, and the ability to establish relationships with others. Autism also can encourage focus or fascinations on specific subjects, creating focus and evolving deep passions for those subjects.
Shyla Allard, Nate’s mom, said “Nate’s area of high focus is gaming. Game development seems to be Nate’s social outlet.”
Nate’s interests in programming began when he was 2 and figured out how to change the screen saver on his family’s home computer. His natural knack for programming and electronics quickly became evident to his family. “It comes easy,” he said. “It’s like I already know how to do it.”
Nate’s parents helped him develop his gaming fascination by allowing him to participate in multiple after school programs. In first grade, he started learning a game development program called Game Maker, and attended after school classes with fifth graders. “Nate was so interested and could read at a fifth grade level – we knew he could take this class,” Allard said.
Nate continued with programming classes throughout elementary school, and he searched the Internet to self-teach and dissect game animation. He went on to take Scratch classes at the Science Museum of Minnesota where instructors quickly learned that he was too advanced for their curriculum. Allard then found an ID Tech Camp for Nate, and this summer he will take classes in the computer language C++ as well as Engineering and Programming. “He continues to grow and challenge himself,” Allard said.
Not only is Nate talented at video game creation, he also uses it as an artistic outlet. “Creating video games helps me express my creativity,” Nate said.
Since 2012, Nate had a vision of making an arcade machine out of Lost Glitch, a game he developed from countless pencil sketch concepts and then programmed using Game Maker 8 for Windows. He named the game based on what happened when he removed a game cartridge from an old gaming system – the game would “glitch out”.
“He had been wanting to make the arcade machine since he was in seventh grade,” Allard said. “I told him he should hold off until high school so the accomplishment could go on his resume.
The time was right in the summer of 2014, the summer before Nate’s freshman year at Chanhassen High School. A huge undertaking, the project required ordering parts, painting, carpentry, working with a graphic designer for the artwork, electrical wiring, grounding buttons, installing a monitor, wiring for sound and light, and detailed assembly of the actual arcade machine. Nate’s dad helped with painting and wiring. “Wiring the buttons was really hard,” Nate said.
Allard said, “Not only was this a technical challenge, but it also was a great lesson in collaboration and using social skills to work with others.”
By winter 2015, Nate realized his dream when Lost Glitch – Special Arcade Version was complete.
Allard’s video game includes a main character, “Neito”, whose mission is to eliminate enemies and collect points while eating a variety of foods, including fruit, hamburgers, French fries, to make it through 20 increasingly challenging game levels. Showing his respect for the influence of Japanese game designers, Nate chose the name “Neito” because it translates to “Nate” in Japanese.
“The main character is basically Nate,” Allard said. “The character wears a green T-shirt, a joker hat, and blue shorts – an outfit Nate used to wear a lot when he was younger.”
Allard notes that Lost Glitch is a happy, feel good-type of game that’s full of adventures. “It’s totally Nate’s personality,” she said. “A lot of other kids Nate’s age are into the more violent, destructive kinds of games – Nate just isn’t into that. He likes the positive, and his game reflects that.”
When Nate’s friends visit, they eagerly head for the Allard’s basement so they can give Lost Glitch a try. “My friends who have played the game call it ‘Nintendo hard’ because it’s very difficult to solve,” Nate said. “They’re shocked by the game – they can’t believe I made it.
“I’m so proud of him for accomplishing this huge project,” Allard said. “He worked many hours with minimal help, and it has been wonderful watching him use all of his gifts.” Allard said she hopes Nate’s story of persistence and positivity serve as hope and inspiration to others touched by autism.
Nate continues to build his gaming ideas and has his sights set on a new mission. “I want to be a game director so I can design and direct the creation of games,” he said. “For now though, I’m really satisfied to have finally accomplished one of my major life goals.”
Provided by Kelly Thomalla, Director of Marketing and Communication, Autism Society of Minnesota (AuSM), with Shyla Allard’s permission.
Readily Achievable Barrier Removal
The ADA requires that small businesses remove architectural barriers in existing facilities when it is “readily achievable” to do so. Readily achievable means “easily accomplishable without much difficulty or expense.” This requirement is based on the size and resources of a business. Therefore, businesses with more resources are expected to remove more barriers than businesses with fewer resources.
Readily achievable barrier removal may include providing an accessible route from a parking lot to the business’ entrance, installing an entrance ramp, widening a doorway, installing accessible door hardware, repositioning shelves, or moving tables, chairs, display racks, vending machines, or other furniture. When removing barriers, businesses are required to comply with the Standards to the extent possible.
Priorities for Barrier Removal
Create a Readily Achievable Barrier Removal Plan
Tax Credit and Deduction
This information was provided by the Minnesota State Council on Disability. For more information on accessibility visit www.disability.state.mn.us
We want to hear your opinions on the revised Olmstead Plan before it’s officially submitted to the Court on August 10, 2015.
1. Revised versions of the Olmstead Plan’s measureable goals will be available for review on the Olmstead website on Wednesday, July 22.
2. A full version of the draft Plan will be posted on the website on Friday, July 31.
Your comments are welcome at any time throughout the year, however, comments submitted by Monday, August 3, will be reviewed by the Subcabinet prior to Court submission.
There are several ways to submit your comments:
Follow instructions for the online form on our Participate page.
Olmstead Implementation Office, 400 Sibley Street, Suite 255 St. Paul, MN 55101
651-296-8081 (it’s ok to leave your comments the voicemail)
– In person
Attend the Olmstead Subcabinet meeting on Monday, August 3 from 3-6 p.m.
Sign up to speak in advance by contacting Tristy Auger at Tristy.A.Auger@state.mn.us or 651-296-8081. Sign-up will also be available at the meeting. More information about this meeting is available on the Olmstead website.
On May 6, 2015, the U.S. Court ordered a revised Olmstead Plan be submitted by July 10, 2015. Since that time, members of the Olmstead Subcabinet, state agency staff members and parties involved in the Jensen settlement, have met several times to reach agreement on Plan goals, and the data used to achieve those goals. These discussions have been valuable and the Court extended the deadline for revised Plan submission to August 10, 2015.
We have learned much during this process, through Plan implementation, and from the comments and opinions you have shared with us. Thank you for your input and help.
More information on Minnesota’s Olmstead Plan is available on the Olmstead website.
MN-CCD Button Design Challenge now accepting submissions!
Have YOU been positively impacted by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) since it was passed in 1990? If so, show us how by submitting an original design for the MN-CCD’s first-ever Button Contest!
Button designs – created by individuals who have disabilities, Direct Support Professionals/ caretakers, family members, and advocates – should honor the 25th anniversary of the ADA by celebrating self-direction, achieving independence and life in the community.
All design submissions will be displayed in the Minnesota State Council on Disability’s (MSCOD) booth at the Minnesota State Fair, located in the Education Building. Up to two winning designs may be chosen by the MN-CCD Grassroots Committee and made into buttons, which will be distributed at the MSCOD booth, as well as during the 2016 Legislative Session at MN-CCD “Tuesday at the Capitol” events.
The deadline for submissions is July 6th.
Thanks in advance for participating in this exciting button contest – we can’t wait to receive all of your designs!
Become a Sponsor
The MN-CCD is seeking sponsors for their 2015 Button Design Challenge. This is a great opportunity to demonstrate not only your support of the MN-CCD, but your organization’s commitment to fulfilling the promises of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Sponsors will have their logo displayed with the design entries in the MSCOD booth at the MN State Fair, which will be seen by thousands of fairgoers and increase name recognition in the community at large.
If you would like more information on becoming a sponsor, please contact Jo Erbes at email@example.com .
Action Needed This Week
While Congress is on its Memorial Day recess this week, contact Sen. Al Franken, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, and your representative in the U.S. House. Give them the following message:
“Medicaid and SSDI are lifelines for people with disabilities and their families. Reject any cuts to these vital programs.”
Contact information for the above officials:
Senator Al Franken: 202-224-5641;
Senator Amy Klobuchar: 202-224-3244;
Find out who your representative is at:
Lifelines for people with disabilities and their families are under attack! Medicaid and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) could face major cuts in Congress this year.
** Majorities in the House and Senate have voted for deep cuts to Medicaid and fundamental structural changes that would eliminate the entitlement to services and undo the system of supports and services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
** Congress must act by the end of 2016 to prevent a 20 percent, across-the-board cut in SSDI benefits. Instead, on day one of the 114th Congress, the House passed a rule creating hurdles to making the financial adjustment needed to prevent benefit cuts. In both the House and Senate, members have proposed bills to cut SSDI and create new barriers to work for SSDI beneficiaries.
Medicaid and SSDI are lifelines for millions of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and their families. These programs provide supports, services, and income that enable many people with I/DD to live in the community, and they assist many families in supporting children and adults with I/DD. Any cuts to these vital systems could be devastating.
This summer is a critical time. Congressional leaders plan to write legislation to implement the Medicaid cuts and will continue to consider actions that put SSDI at risk. Congress is on its Memorial Day recess, but it can’t take a break from protecting these lifelines.
Please contact Sen. Al Franken, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, and your representative in the U.S. House this week, and urge them to protect Medicaid and SSDI. Use the contact information and message above. If you need extra talking points in your contacts with them, use the sample letter from The Arc, or use the following points:
** Protect the individual entitlement to Medicaid, and reject Medicaid reductions, caps, block grants, or flexible state allotments.
** Reallocate Social Security payroll taxes to prevent a 20 percent, across-the-board cut in SSDI benefits at the end of 2016 and to ensure that SSDI can pay full scheduled benefits through 2033.
** Reject proposals that would include a short-term financial patch for the SSDI Trust Fund, or would include cuts to benefits or eligibility along with reallocation.
If you hear back from your senators and representative, please share your response with The Arc of the U.S. staff! Email firstname.lastname@example.org with a copy of any response that you receive. Thanks for your advocacy!