Approximately 20 percent of Minnesotans are living with a disability. And living means doing just that—today people with disabilities are working, going to school, and accomplishing extraordinary things in every sector and in every community across our state. But there are still many barriers to break down. More work needs to be done to ensure that all Minnesotans with disabilities have the resources and opportunities to participate fully in our society.
The Improve Group is deeply committed to that goal. Since our founding 16 years ago, we have taken on numerous research projects to better understand the specific needs of people with disabilities—in terms of health, employment, communication, and much more. We have also created supported employment opportunities on our own staff—and have worked with Governor Dayton’s office to help identify best practices for opening the workplace to people with developmental disabilities.
Through all this work, the Minnesota State Council on Disability (MSCOD) has served as a key partner and invaluable resource. MSCOD was established by the state legislature in 1973 to advise the governor, state agencies, state legislature, and the public on disability issues. Its mission is to advance the rights of Minnesotans with disabilities through policies and programs in both the public and private sectors.
MSCOD plays three critical roles:
- Policy Advisor and Advocate: MSCOD’s team advises policymakers and other leaders, helping them to understand how policy initiatives will affect people with disabilities. They also create opportunities for people with disabilities to speak directly to policymakers and elected officials—from hosting a statewide legislative forum and town hall meetings to facilitating the annual Disability Day at the Capitol.
- Facilitator and Trainer: MSCOD facilitates comprehensive, high-quality trainings for state managers, employers, and others on everything from ensuring adequate housing accessibility to protecting employment rights.
- Expert Technical Resource: MSCOD helps public and private institutions understand how to comply with legal requirements, from federal statutes like the Americans with Disabilities Act to local building codes and parking rules.
The Improve Group team continues to look to MSCOD for expert counsel on many complex projects. To strengthen our research and evaluation work, MSCOD has helped us create accessible and effective data collection tools—from surveys to focus groups and interviews—that allow us to connect with people with disabilities on a deeper level and to draw out more authentic reflections and insights. MSCOD has also helped us ensure that our research tools, publications, and resources are accessible to all, regardless of their disability.
With MSCOD’s guidance, we have been able to build more trusting relationships with people with disabilities, advocates, service providers, and others in the disability community. Those strong relationships allow us to collect more accurate data—and to identify policy and program recommendations that will truly support and empower people with disabilities.
No matter where we work or who we serve, each of us has a role to play in supporting equal access and opportunity for people with disabilities. If you need information or assistance around disability issues, we encourage you to learn more at MSCOD’s website or to begin a conversation with their staff. Their expertise can empower us all to make Minnesota communities stronger and more inclusive.