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Accessibility advocates tell lawmakers hurdles remain for many applying for disability services

Applying to disability services should be the most accessible thing that a disabled Minnesotan does, says Jules Edwards, co-founder of Minnesota Autistic Alliance.

Yet, it is not.

Hurdles include using the wrong words, system errors and lack of access to a fax machine.

Sponsored by Rep. Kim Hicks (DFL-Rochester), HF1043 seeks to establish the Task Force on Disability Services Accessibility that would identify where problems in the system are and how to fix them.

“People with disabilities who use disability services find the process of accessing those services incredibly difficult,” she said.

With no audible dissent, the House Human Services Policy Committee approved and referred the bill Wednesday, as amended, to the House Human Services Finance Committee.

Though a one-time appropriation, the bill has not yet specified its funding amount.

To improve access for people with disabilities, Hicks believes the task force and its corresponding pilot projects would tackle logistical and sensory barriers to avoid confusing, disjointed or even traumatizing experiences.

Jillian Nelson, a community resource and policy advocate for the Autism Society of Minnesota, calls the pilot programs “intuitive fixes.”

She says they would create solutions like communication before denial to reduce the need for appeals and electronic communications options, which would avoid the need for fax machines.

“If we can’t fill out a 20-page application form, how could we possibly appeal a denial based on our disability-related needs within a certain time frame?” Edwards asked.

Instead, she says numerous people with disabilities go homeless, hungry or institutionalized. More extreme cases may result in death.

“Minnesotans have died of suicide and systemic neglect because they could not access services they desperately needed,” she said.

Rep. Debra Kiel (R-Crookston) is “nervous to support more studies rather than action,” but nonetheless supports the bill. She wishes the issues could have been addressed much more quickly.

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