VIEW: What We Need for the Disabled Community

The more people with disabilities like myself can tell our stories and be involved publicly, the better off we will be at the end of this legislative session.
Photo Sarah Whiting

Hello, and Happy Black History Month!

My name is Beth Blick. I am a disabled Jewish woman and a new columnist for the Minnesota Women’s Press. I live in Saint Paul. Currently I am in a public housing building. I have a seizure disorder that is now largely under control thanks to the help of my neurologist. I also suffer from anxiety and depression on a situational basis, due to certain things in my life and environment that are out of my control at times.

I am a cat lover and a bookworm, and I have been an advocate for peace and human rights for the last 20 years. I am on the board of a number of nonprofits and started my own organization, Able Media, in 2019.

In my first column, I would like to introduce you to some of the important issues being raised in Minnesota and national legislatures that impact people with disabilities.

Home Ownership

When people with disabilities want to become homeowners, there are many things that can get in our way. If you have a representative payee — someone who helps you pay your bills with your own money — some lenders disqualify you for a mortgage. Many also want you to have an “official” paid job for two years, which is hard for those of us who have been underemployed. Many people whose income relies on government assistance, including Social Security, have been legally restricted from owning assets like property.

This year, the U.S. legislature will revisit the asset limit laws, which could open up Social Security as an income source and be very helpful for people with disabilities.

I hope to become one of those new homeowners. I am tired of having someone that I do not know tell me what I can and cannot have. I deserve a house of my own — an investment. I have been renting for too many years from landlords — some of whom care very little about their tenants. That is my income going out to someone else every month for a space that will never become mine. I have been trying to become a homeowner for more than two years. I hope I am finally able to do so later this year.

I am an advocate for Universal Design, which is a way of designing and rehabbing buildings so that they can be as accessible to as many people as possible, with special attention paid to the needs of the disability community. This could mean special paint colors for people with visual impairments, and larger spaces — such as in bathrooms and kitchens — for navigating. It can include lights and doors that are motion activated or otherwise more automatic. It means any light switches or surfaces are accessible at the appropriate height for individuals and can be adjusted for fit.

Health & Parenting

Another change I hope to see is to eliminate the use of chemical restraints on people in nursing homes, group homes, and assisted living buildings. Chemical restraints can be pills and other medicines that are used to tranquillize a person. These restraints can cause problems like tardive dyskinesia, an involuntary neurological movement disorder.

The Hearing Aid Affordability Act is a voucher program being discussed that would help people afford hearing aids.

There is also legislation to help parents with disabilities hold onto their parental rights, navigate parenthood with the proper supports, and live where they want to, as independently as possible.

Nikki Villavicencio, a friend of mine who has been a disability advocate for over 12 years, offered a legislative report for people with disabilities on the most recent episode of my podcast, “Speaking on Ability with Beth Blick.” She serves on the Maplewood City Council and is the chair for the Minnesota Council on Disability.

Nikki worked with her partner and others on a pilot program to help parents with disabilities keep their rights with the supports they need. “Because of our full forward motion of wanting parents with disabilities to have rights,” she said in my podcast, “there are other groups now who have legislation around parenting . . . [such as] the guardianship of people with disabilities,” she told me. When people with developmental and intellectual disabilities become parents, “their parental rights [are] taken away almost immediately.”

The ARC Minnesota and the Autism Society are working together to change this.

Education

Think College at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, is dedicated to developing, expanding, and improving Transition and Postsecondary Education Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities (TPSIDs). They maintain a website of college options at thinkcollege.net.

Currently there are only four institutions of higher education in Minnesota that fully support students with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

There is energy to get more schools onboard with such programs this year. The Minnesota Department of Education and The ARC Minnesota are working on bills to combat the disparities in education for people with disabilities.

Inclusive K-12 education will be another important discussion this year. It has been difficult to give the proper supports to students with disabilities when they are learning virtually, as we have seen during the pandemic.

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/82BL6TQ

Inclusive Decision-Making

In a future column, I will offer bill numbers and let you know how you can impact legislation. For example, there will be conversation in Minnesota about revamping waivered services for people with disabilities, which are a part of the governmental system of supports.

Waivers can help pay for services, such as Personal Care Attendants (PCAs) or Independent Living Skills (ILS) workers, and home modifications. The process for getting things covered by waivers, however, can be very challenging and frustrating.

We need a fully supported process that helps people on waivers be part of discussing how the system could work better.

I am hopeful about the passing of the legislation mentioned here. The more people with disabilities like myself can tell our stories and be involved publicly, the better off we will be at the end of this legislative session.

I derive hope from Minnesota Women’s Press readers. I look forward to interacting with you in this column and through my podcast. We are in this together!


Resources

State Disability details

Details: Beth Blick’s podcast


Action = Change

The Minnesota Council on Disability is leading efforts to increase disability representation in the Minnesota state government workforce. Senate File 1570 (SF 1570) improves the hiring and retention of Minnesotans with disabilities. You can help this effort by contacting Senator Mary Kiffmeyer and urging her to hear SF 1570 in the Senate State Government Finance and Policy and Elections Committee as soon as possible. For SF 1570 to succeed, the bill must pass out of this committee.  

Call Senator Kiffmeyer by phone at 651-296-5655 or email at [email protected] Include two of Kiffmeyer’s assistants when you email or call: 

If you are a person with a disability and have a personal story to share, please include that in your message. Relevant stories include working for the state or applying for a state job. 

Sample Message

Dear Chair Kiffmeyer,

My name is [Insert Name] and I live in [City, State].

I am contacting you to urge you to give Senate File 1570 a hearing in the Senate State Government Finance and Policy and Elections Committee.

The state of Minnesota should be a model employer. We must do more to hire and retain people with disabilities. Senate File 1570 improves the hiring and retention of Minnesotans with disabilities among our state government.

This bill ensures that Minnesotans with disabilities are better represented in our government. It creates a pipeline to advance state leaders. These leaders will use their professional and lived experiences to craft better disability-related policies.

Sincerely,

[Your name here]

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