Beyond the serious threat to our health and safety, COVID-19 has brought on significant challenges for many communities here in Minnesota. We’ve heard plenty about the hurdles that small businesses are facing, how restaurants are innovating to stay open and the difficulties of distance learning, but one group of people has been consistently left out of the conversation. Our neighbors with physical and mental disabilities are experiencing extreme hardship, with many being at higher risk because of underlying conditions and increased exposure from living in group homes and relying on public transportation to get around.
Moreover, nonprofit disability day service providers and employers of people with disabilities who provide much-needed resources have been closed since mid-March to help curb the spread of COVID-19. These providers offer work and life enrichment activities, opportunities and support for people with disabilities – all things that are easy to take for granted, but greatly affect a person’s quality of life. As we enter the seventh week of our state’s stay-at-home order, lost revenues make it very likely that many disability day and employment service providers across the state will not be able to offer these services following the outbreak.
At MDI, we employ people in an inclusive work environment with the mission of providing employment opportunities for people with disabilities both at our facilities and within the community. We employ 364 people in four communities across the state, of which 173 are folks with documented disabilities. Even though we are deemed an essential business, many of our employees with disabilities are not working due to their risk level. Without the resources provided at MDI or from community service providers who are currently shuttered, they are struggling, as are many across the state. Their families and residential programs are stepping in to fill the gap left by the closure of these service providers, but this is not a viable long-term solution.
As we close in on the end of the legislative session, I implore our legislators to take the step that many other states have already taken to provide one-time grant funding for our disability day and employment service providers. Without these organizations, our community members with physical, mental and developmental disabilities will lack the crucial, individualized services to support them in their employment and day enrichment activities that provide meaning, empowerment and purpose in their daily lives.
With this one-time, limited financial relief, we can guarantee a stable support system for Minnesotans with disabilities as we emerge from this pandemic. And with the help of employers across the state, we can ensure that people with disabilities are not left out of the conversation of how we all get back to work. At MDI, we like to say that while our differences make us stronger, inclusion makes us better.
Peter McDermott is the president and CEO of MDI, a trusted Minnesota manufacturer and social enterprise with the mission to provide employment opportunities and services for people with disabilities.