Quote: "Judge Donovan Frank has probably done more for people with disabilities in the state of Minnesota from a judicial perspective than anybody I'm aware of - Ditschler."
"The honored guest" took on new meaning at ProAct, Inc. in Eagan, with a two-hour visit from U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank, who answered questions, spoke about the legal system and learned more about the jobs people with disabilities do.
The friendly and approachable Minnesota judge often talked about stereotypes that impact people with disabilities, and even some regarding judges. "It is true that there is a word for some judges, when they let the job go to their heads, that's called 'robitus' or the black robe disease," said Judge Frank.
The judge introduced himself and met dozens of people. He also shared his own history, growing up in a southeastern Minnesota farming community and the interactions he had with people with disabilities that helped shape his views.
ProAct President Steve Distchler said the organization was honored by the visit from a long-time supporter of issues for people with disabilities. "Judge Donovan Frank has probably done more for people with disabilities in the state of Minnesota from a judicial perspective than anybody I'm aware of," said Ditschler. "His works, his court order, the Olmstead Plan... have ramifications and impact on us, today, tomorrow and well into the future."
After personally meeting a small group of individuals with disabilities served by ProAct, Judge Frank was guided by the same group through the facility. He sat down in a classroom to talk about equal justice under the law, listened to people on the production floor who described their work and shook hands to visit briefly with others along the way.
In a larger session, Judge Frank said he has received a number of letters and phone calls from people saying that the Olmstead Plan and the court orders have been interpreted to mean that people cannot receive services in facilities like ProAct's, that everybody has to live by themselves or with a roommate in the community, they have to go find a job in the community, and that government is going to eliminate facility-based options. "Absolutely false," the judge said. "It's personal choice ... one size doesn't fit all."
The Olmstead case was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1999, and was followed by the court approved Minnesota Olmstead Plan in 2015. It was revised and adopted by the Olmstead Subcabinet and submitted to the U.S. District Court in February 2017. Olmstead is a "broad series of key activities our state must accomplish to ensure people with disabilities are living, learning, working, and enjoying life in the most integrated setting," according to a description offered online by the Minnesota Department of Human Services.
Judge Frank heard from several individuals with disabilities who are working in the community. They talked about their jobs, dreams and achievements. Each was applauded by the group.
One individual with disabilities talked to the judge about an employment rejection she had received at a fast food establishment, where staff had said it would not be safe for her to work there because she was blind.
The judge then talked about classes he's been involved with to teach lawyers about disability discrimination and stereotypes and the devastating effect these have on people. He's since helped offer free continuing education to train more than 1,000 lawyers about these issues. The trainers put people with disabilities on a presenter's panel to further help dispel such stereotypes.
"You can't believe what happened, training all these highly-educated people," said Judge Frank. A number of lawyers said to the judge, "We had no idea we were carrying around these stereotypes."
In addition to educating lawyers, the judge offered an invitation to the people at ProAct to visit the courthouse and learn more about the legal system.
Some years ago, the federal courthouse in St. Paul became the first federal building in Minnesota to receive a national award as the best maintained building, the judge explained. Nearly all of the people providing maintenance at the courthouse have disabilities.
With facilities in Eagan, Red Wing, Zumbrota and Hudson, Wis., ProAct is a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit corporation which has served the needs of people with disabilities for more than 40 years.
U.S. Judge Donovan Frank speaks to people at ProAct, Inc. in Eagan about the need for people with disabilities to make their own choices.
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