State Launches Plan to Improve Lives of Disabled Minnesotans

Updated: 11/02/2013 1:30 PM By: Stephen Tellier

About one in five Minnesotans has some type of disability. And on Friday, the state took a big step toward improving the lives of each and every one.

Jonathan Friesen is as an affable author. His disability does not define him.

"When I was young, it was much more pronounced, and really caused me to go into a shell," Friesen said.

Friesen has Tourette Syndrome. But he said he's not at odds with it. He's at peace with it.

"If you could give me a pill to take away my Tourette, and I could just pop it in there and it would be gone, I wouldn't take your pill. I don't want your pill. That's now a part of me," Friesen said.

He's one of the keynote speakers at this year's The Arc Minnesota state conference on disabilities.

"My whole goal is to bring some people into the light, to show them that there is a light on the end of that tunnel," Friesen said.

On Friday, that light got brighter. The state is unveiling its Olmstead Plan. Five Eyewitness News first covered the drafting of the plan in June, but it's been years in the making. It seeks to ensure the disabled are integrated into society and have the same choices as other Minnesotans.

"If people have choices, their quality of life is so much better," said LeeAnn Erickson, the acting executive director of The Arc Minnesota, a nonprofit that promotes and protects the rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Eight state agencies will work together to improve access to employment, housing, transportation, and support services.

"When you're looking ahead at those types of things, you are really creating quality and opportunity," Erickson said.

Erickson said it's about moving beyond the bare minimum. Exhibits on vacations at this year's conference drive that point home.

Expectations are rising -- for disabled Minnesotans, and the state.

"Any plan that draws folks like us out -- and in -- is something that I think is a wonderful deal," Friesen said.

The state's hand was forced on this issue, in part, by the recent settlement of a lawsuit filed against it. That prompted an executive order from Gov. Mark Dayton in January, stating that Minnesota must become a better place for the disabled.