Minnesotans more accepting of disabled

Support for involving the developmentally disabled in society increased since 1962.

by Allison Wickler

Less than a year ago Tim Moots became a self-advocate for his disability, Asperger Syndrome, which has given him a new focus.

“I have a new power within me,” he said of his new role model position.

Moots, 22, will be attending Disability Day at the state Capitol today, where he plans to learn about increasingly public issues regarding disabled people in Minnesota.

Though some people don’t understand all aspects of developmental disabilities, Moots said, he has noticed a change in the public’s attitude toward himself and others with developmental disabilities.

A survey sponsored by the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities, which focused on Minnesotans’ attitudes toward the developmentally disabled, confirmed Moot’s observations.

The results, presented on the St. Paul campus last week, show increased support for involving the developmentally disabled in society.

Colleen Wieck, the council’s executive director, said the survey was first conducted in 1962, and the newer version was done to see if attitudes had changed.

“We knew there would be a real difference,” Wieck said. “What we didn’t know was the level.”

She said notable results included people’s support of government spending to help the developmentally disabled and their families – just six percent of Minnesotans said the government spends too much money on the developmentally disabled.

The results also showed 94 percent of respondents disagreed with institutionalization; instead, they supported home care.

As proof of this belief, Wieck said Minnesota’s last state institution closed in 2000, making Minnesota the tenth state to close all of its institutions, though one “human services” center still exists for those whose disabilities might threaten public safety.

At the University, the Institute on Community Integration researches ways to support those with developmental disabilities, trains college students who will work with the developmentally disabled in their respective fields, and tries to impact public attitudes about developmental disabilities.

Sheryl Larson, research director of the Research and Training Center on Community Living, said the results could influence public policy in special education and community integration.

“It’s not just about looking back,” she said. “It’s about looking forward.”

Geared toward University students, the Disabled Student Cultural Center brings disabled and nondisabled students together to raise awareness and create an accessible campus.

French and political science junior Rachel Garaghty, president of the center, said the people who participate in their activities are open-minded about disabilities.

However, Garaghty and others said while the presence of disabled people in the community has increased over time, some issues still need to be addressed.

Sometimes the media unnecessarily portrays disabled people in an inspirational light, Garaghty said, and she wants people to fully accept those with disabilities, rather than just acknowledging them.

“They are just trying to get by like everyone else,” Garaghty said. “It’s not something that needs to have glowing light surround it.”

Wieck said while the federal government pledged to fund 40 percent of special education, they only provide about 18 percent of funding for Minnesota.

Mike Gude, education and communications associate at The Arc of Minnesota, a nonprofit group that advocates for community participation for the developmentally disabled, said the public still has mixed feelings about integrating developmentally disabled students into traditional classrooms.

Only 52 percent of survey respondents agreed it is better to teach developmentally disabled students with more traditional students, he said.

Moots said some people might not be as supportive of those with developmental disabilities because they are afraid of something they might not understand.

Yet, he remains optimistic, and said he was “very content and happy” when he saw the 2007 survey results.

“I think we’ve come around,” he said.